An Emotional Journey for a Daughter, a Mother and the Memory Care Unit
While Marilyn Friedman had always dreamed that one day she and her mother would have a closer relationship, it was not to be. Her mother had dementia. She forgot the word for “dog.” She got lost on the way home from the grocery store. She experienced hallucinations of flashing lights at 2am and strangers in her bedroom. She stopped eating and lost 20 pounds in a month. She’d fallen several times, could no longer write a check or drive. When her doctors recommended 24-hour care, her mother rejected it. This is the story about a family, their mother’s dementia and the memory-care unit.
In a New York Times article, The Dementia Heist, Ms. Friedman tells the heartbreaking story of caring for her mother. In this story, Ms. Friedman and her sister resorted to tricking their mother to get her into the memory-care unit. They hid in the back of a car and watched a paramedic escort their mother into the facility.
She felt like the worst daughter ever, yet she was doing the most caring thing
Ms. Friedman reminded herself that her mother had had a hard life. At 27, she fell from a train, shattered her kneecap and nearly died from gangrene. Friedman’s parents had abandoned everything when they immigrated to the U.S. from Russia in 1964. Mother-daughter relationships are often complex, and they can be volatile and unpredictable. For the Friedmans, good moods meant blueberry blintzes and movies; bad moods resulted in an endless cycle of slaps.
The sisters toured memory-care facilities
“My sister worked hard to enable mom to remain at home, but she couldn’t juggle my mother’s multiplying needs with those of her own family. Our choices were to let her die alone from starvation or trick her into memory care.”
The sisters toured memory-care centers, where cost is based on the level of care. They found a facility with a B&B vibe and patient staff members who gave lots of hugs. They signed a 40-page contract making their mother liable if she injured another resident or destroyed property.
Next up: Getting mom admitted to the facility required “therapeutic lying”
The sisters had her admitted to the hospital, blaming her high blood pressure. Professionals call it “therapeutic lying” because honesty can increase anxiety. Once she was in memory care, the sisters couldn’t contact her for ten days—an effort to help her adapt. They did, however, get reports: Mom wouldn’t sleep in her room; rather, she parked herself in the lobby all night.
Their mother’s belligerent behavior continued in her new environment
She refused to eat. If she kept starving herself, she’d be sent to a more depressing, regular nursing home. She refused medication because the pills were making her lose her memory. The staff hid meds in her food, but she resisted her glaucoma drops, risking blindness. When finally allowed to visit, Ms. Friedman found her mother belligerent, insisting that her daughters take her home. They resisted for a number of reasons.
Understanding that the last chapter of her mother’s life would be painful
“We ate cake at a courtyard table beside a classic convertible. She complained that everyone there was crazy, so we changed topics–another strategy for dealing with dementia patients. This next chapter of her life would be painful. My only hope was that she’d become enveloped in a pleasant memory.”
Testamentary capacity is a growing legal concern
Testamentary capacityis the legal term defining a person’s legal and mental ability to make or alter a valid Will. With the increased occurrence of some kind of dementia, the matter of testamentary capacityis being raised more frequently when it comes to signing legal documents. In every case, capacity is specific to each time and situation. Legal capacity can fluctuate. In terms of the law, there is a presumption of capacity until it is disproved. If you have legal documents that need to be signed by someone who has been diagnosed with dementia, it’s important to do this as soon as possible. Most important are a Living Trust, a Power of Attorney and Advance Healthcare Directive.