no longer on a plateau

When caring for an elderly person, you can measure status as being on a plateau or in a decline. As a friend said to me, “Over time, the plateaus get shorter and the declines get steeper”. This is true. My mother has experienced this pattern of a fairly even pace for years and then decline. She worked until she was 75 and she was still sharp and energetic, but had slowed a bit. She still traveled, did crafts at a high quality, and enjoyed her family and friends. By the time she was 80, she experienced mild decline. She no longer drove the 10 hours down to Baltimore, she chose to fly. She took on fewer projects and was a little less meticulous with her work. She was more forgetful. She was on a new (lower) plateau. By the time she was 85, she was into a new decline. She was having difficulty caring for herself, managing money and an apartment, shopping for food, and so on. She required help from family and friends, and eventually could not live on her own anymore. She came to live with me when she was 87.

For the first four years, Mom was okay. She could follow TV shows, particularly older shows with a slower pace and documentaries that grabbed her attention. She could knit well (so long as the pattern was not complicated), come up with her own patterns to color or paint, and decide for herself what to do with her time. She could get her own breakfast and lunch. She liked to go shopping with me. She was again on a plateau and actually had regained a little of the energy she had lost when she lived alone.

About two years ago, she started to decline again – a little at first, but then a plunge. She can no longer do most of the things she used to do. Even following basic plots on TV shows she has seen multiple times is a challenge. She needs help remembering how to get dressed in the morning and where she lives and who has died. This is a steep decline and it’s unclear how deep it will go and when (or if) there will be another plateau.

We now have someone who comes in to be with her later in the afternoons. These are the times when she is most lonely, scared, and confused. She loves having this new friend and having someone to talk and laugh with. They have been doing jigsaw puzzles. It has been lovely hearing her laughing with someone again. Prior to this, she would sometimes cry later in the afternoon when I was working, because she was alone in the living room and couldn’t remember whether I was at home or away.

I now help her dress in the morning and undress at night. I get breakfast and lunch for her, and help her find the bathroom. I find things for her to do during the day – knitting a cat mat, coloring, and so on. In sum, I help her navigate the slings and arrows of daily life. As a caregiver, it’s hard to figure out when to push her to do things and when to help. For example, I never help her get out of bed – she can do that on her own and as long as she is able, I leave it to her. I do come in to her bedroom to be there if she needs me. Yet, I always help her with her socks and shoes! Footwear is a bridge too far.

I’m fortunate that my job is flexible and that my supervisor is compassionate. So many of the people I work with have had an elderly person live with them. They understand the declines and the changing needs and the challenges. I start work early now, usually by 7 am, so that I have flexibility in the afternoon. Being a caregiver for an elderly person means lots of changes in routine (a bit of an oxymoron) as we adapt to changing times and capacity. Unlike with child care, there is an understanding that things will not get better or lessen over time. My mother will not become more independent or better able to care for and express herself. There aren’t many advances upward from the plateau – the changes measure loses of skills, abilities, joy, and accomplishment. She was so proud on her 90th birthday, but she seems surprised and a little sad to now be almost 94. She has started to see herself as “old” and to dislike the fact that she is the sole survivor of her siblings – survival doesn’t make her feel strong, only lonely and afraid.

thoughts on books: my family and other animals

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell is such a fun book! It’s easy to see why it has been adapted in TV shows and movies, but I think the book is better than the adaptations. It’s hard to capture that level of craziness on the screen. The eccentric family and their friends and neighbors create a very interesting and enjoyable read. Is all of it true? Well, I’m thinking there is some exaggeration here and there!

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thoughts on books: one day in the life of ivan denisovich

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn is an amazing book that profiles one day in the life of a prisoner in a Soviet gulag. The story is short and focuses on the daily routine – the little details that come to mean everything in a life that is diminished by imprisonment. Ivan is a poor, uneducated man who is in prison because … well, it’s not really clear. Some other Russian novels use extraordinary characters to describe the dramatic and terrible circumstances of imprisonment, which then inform the prisoner’s struggles. Others tell of people whose special skills or knowledge are exploited, hidden, or contained by an authoritarian government. Ivan’s story is quieter. He represents “the poor” or “the lower class” person who ended up in the gulag for some minor crime or for breaking the rules at the wrong place and time – in the eyes of many, he is a nobody. In reality, he is in a Stalin-era work camp to do menial labor (under horrible conditions) that needs doing – fixing up buildings, repairing things, and anything else that the powers that be deem appropriate.

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the human-cat compromise

My mother is not really a “pet” person. That’s not to say that she doesn’t like dogs and cats – she does – but she’s not used to being around pets. She doesn’t really understand that cats get into stuff, want to explore every nook and cranny in the house, and jump on furniture. She doesn’t understand that cats think everything is a toy or something to kill. And she doesn’t understand that it is generally ok that they explore and get into and play with stuff … so long as they are safe from anything that can do them real harm. She likes my cat Toby and is entertained by him, but also is startled by him tearing around the apartment and jumping on the furniture. I’d hear her “No, no, no” multiple times a day.

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renovations: finishing touches to the kitchen

So, we are here. It is done … well, almost.

It took a while to get to the home stretch but it was worth it – the kitchen looks great! There are a few small pieces to finish – bits of trim, a little paint, reorganizing storage. But, overall, it was worth the effort and it’s really come together nicely. The process was long, but the end result is really lovely.

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keeping up with life while stressed

I debated whether to publish this or not. I’ve reworked it a few times. I’ve set it aside for a while. But, I decided to go ahead with it.

How do you keep going when life just seems to be a little overwhelming? This was me until a couple of months ago. For several months before that, everything seemed to be a little too much. I needed to find ways to shift the balance in order to move forward. One foot in front of the other … and I’m finally getting back on track. Some of this was physical, some psychological and some emotional. Once I was able to get the physical stuff under control, the other issues were easier to tackle. This will not always be the case and it won’t work for everyone, but for me at this time, I found what worked.

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my cat’s person?

We often hear that cats choose their person, rather than the person choosing their cat. When I adopted Oscar, we were in sync immediately – there was a connection and, by the end of our first day together, a strong bond. We were meant to be together. Since adopting Toby almost a month ago, I’ve contemplated that “cats choose their person” adage. I chose him but wondered whether he would have chosen me. Let’s face it, I had the power in the adoption decision – even if he had jumped into my arms at the rescue shelter, I had the final say about whether to adopt him or not.

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a new arrival: week 1

THURSDAY: In the afternoon, I went to the rescue shelter to look at cats. I wasn’t sure I would get one, but wanted to see who was available. There were only a few cats living at the shelter – the shelter puts most available cats in foster homes. On one hand, I understand and it’s great for the cat to have a place to live during the transition to a new home. On the other hand, it makes it more cumbersome to find a cat to adopt because each visit has to be arranged. I think it’s important to see if there is a connection with a cat and that needs to be done in person – nose-to-nose. When I met Tobias (his name at the shelter), I was charmed. He was listed as an orange and white tabby, but he’s not the standard tabby. He is darker orange – almost auburn in some places. His stripes are not straight (e.g., like a tiger), but curve around. He has white feet and a white chest. He is lovely.

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thoughts on books: the heart is a lonely hunter

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter was published in 1940 and is the first novel by Carson McCullers, who was 23 at the time. I feel like a complete slacker now! I really enjoyed this book. It is not a fast read – in some ways the pace of the book reflects the pace of life among the characters of the book. This is not a plot-driven book; it is more of a slice of life among people living fairly isolated and solitary lives. 

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