One of the challenges of spending time with mom is keeping her busy. With a house and yard to look after you'd think it would be easy, especially as she was raised on a farm and used to thrive on hard work. She still talks about working outside. She is always complaining that my brother won't let her cut the grass. But Alzheimer's has affected her ability to perform complex tasks like laundry, or tasks that require planning, like cleaning a bathroom. Its hard to "help" her. If she is having a really bad day she can go about tasks in ways that are messy. Not a big deal, but its normal to intervene when you see someone overflowing a pot with water----but mom's reaction is unpredictable. She may laugh and say "oh, look what I did," or she may have a an angry outburst. She doesn't like to feel managed."
This weekend, I helped her fill her bird feeders and sweep the back porch. It was hard because she'd hidden her broom. She hides things. She doesn't know that she has hidden them. She sometimes claims the kids are coming over and hiding her stuff, but she doesn't know which kids--sometimes she says my brother "is a scamp." I cannot tell her that her middle aged a scamp wouldn't drive up from Hamilton to hide her broom--she doesn't remember how old he is. We never found the broom.
I pulled an old broom out of the garage--hardly more than a handful of straw left on it--and set her to sweeping. I left the back door open and the dog out to watch mom. Then, I went in the house, ran the vacuum, washed the dishes, wiped all the tables and the counters down, grabbed up all the old newspapers she will never let me take away and cleaned out the fridge of food that she's always going to "heat up in a minute." I tied up all the trash and carried it out past her to the dumpster. I was inside ten minutes. She was sweeping exactly where I'd left her. The dog was asleep in the grass.
I came up next to her and said "Isn't it a beautiful day?" and she threw the broom down and said "it's too cold." She went in the house and closed the door. I picked up the broom and stowed it away, shut the garage and went in the house.
Mom said "oh honey, here you are! Do you want a cup of coffee?"
I said "What have you been up to?" and she said "oh just cleaning up around here."
I remember last winter with mom as hard. I look at my journal of those days, and it seems like she was always grumpy. I had hoped it was just the adjustment of the move, but now I am thinking its more that short days don't agree with mom. She's an outside girl.
Last year we worked on embroidery together. It was hard. She had trouble following a pattern. I had to find small, easy designs that still looked nice, and I had to help her by color coding the patterns, so she would put the right thread in the right place. This year she can't focus on the pattern long enough to embroider. She can't thread her own needle. She can't fasten her own embroidery hoop. She doesn't remember the work she has already done, and complains that someone has messed with her hoop. It's been months since she's embroidered anything. Although, she loves to tell me about the luncheon set she embroidered for Lulie Burns when she was "just a girl," she can't actually embroider any more.
One thing she loves are pictures. This weekend, we took a bunch of pictures and put them in a photo album. I let her tell me all about each picture, if she remembered who the people were, and I told her all about the ones she couldn't remember. Always careful to introduce the memory by looking long at the picture and saying "Isn't this that time..." Or "look at your hair...." so she could "recognize the picture and tell the story back to me. 3 hours of fun.
My sister called just as we finished the album and mom told her all about how we were putting pictures in an album and having so much fun. I cleaned up all the cut paper and debris from the table. Mom came in from the phone and sat down at the table. She turn ed the album towaard her and looked at it. "Is this your book?" she asked me.