Routine is Key

Fall is approaching. The leaves are turning beautiful colors of orange, yellow, and red. In my mom’s younger years, Fall was her favorite time of year. She relished working the garden and raking the leaves to keep a tidy lawn.

In the Fall of 2014, my mom was fearful of someone breaking and entering her precious house. Before her diagnosis of dementia, it was what she talked about the most. Her home.

  • How she tended the gardens with such tender care.
  • Loving the smell of fresh roses in the house.
  • Loving the fact that she had a modern kitchen with the latest appliances.
  • Loving to feed her family, even when they were not hungry, she would always insist that you eat a meal.

From reading about people with dementia, I learned that they love a set routine every day. That means having breakfast at a certain time, lunch at a certain time, church every Sunday (in my mom’s case), going out to nurture her flowers, etc.

The importance of routine was clearly stated by Janis King in her book entitled, “Are You Prepared?” when she says: “…with Alzheimer’s patients, familiarity and routine is vitally important, so the least amount of changes, the better!”

Each day began okay. We would check every morning to see that my mom had her favorite cereal, Cheerios or Raisin Bran every day. For lunch each day, she would have rotisserie chicken, mixed salad, and baked sweet potatoes without fail. And there was always ice cream. From my research, sweets were the last thing she needed, but my sister decided that since she was in her 80s, she could have whatever she wanted. That was hard on us because it made her hyper. She would jump up and down, not knowing what to do with herself.

POA sister (Jessie) comes in one Saturday and decides that she wants to rid mom of the boredom of having the same old thing all the time. Louise, the home care aide, reminded Jessie that mom was perfectly happy eating whatever was brought to her on Saturdays.

Out of the blue, POA sister brings mom some broiled chicken, cut in pieces, that her husband had prepared for mom and some mashed up sweet potatoes. My mom would just push the meat around on her plate at first, not knowing what to make of this new dish. She enjoyed eating the drumstick and the wing, but with chopped up chicken, that choice was gone. She reluctantly ate the sweet potatoes, but in the end, she ate it since that was her only choice.

Eventually, she began taking the food that me and my daughter bought for ourselves. She would help herself to our luncheon meat, our bread, our drinks, our milk. It was annoying and became somewhat expensive to be replacing the food we had previously bought.

There wasn’t much we could do about it because even if you tried asking mom what she did with the food, she had no memory of it.

We ended up hiding our food in different parts of the refrigerator and in different parts of the house. The only drawback to that was we sometimes ended up hiding it from ourselves. Sometimes the food would spoil before we remembered where it was.

Another routine that my mom started was checking the blinds to see if anyone was peering into the house. Opening the front door to see who was outside and if anyone looked suspicious. Checking the blinds in the living room to make sure no one could see in. Checking the front door to see if it was locked. Going up to her own bedroom to see who she could see and tell us about it when she returned downstairs.

The poor thing had her days and nights mixed up. She would close the blinds because, “I don’t like living in a dark house”. At times she would ask if we wanted the blinds closed at 12:00 noon and if we said no thank  you, she would become angry and say, “You are all stupid because no one wants to sit in the dark.” Alternately, she would open the blinds and say, “Why is it so dark in here? We need to close the blinds. I can’t stand the darkness.” Sometimes we just let it go, but other times we would try to explain to mom that when you close the blinds it causes the room to be dark, not light.

All day, every day, at least ten times a day, mom would check the front door, open and close the blinds in the living room, open and close the blinds in the kitchen, open and close the blinds in the family room, and open and close the garage door. All the time, she would accuse us of opening the blinds to let the sun fade her carpet.

My mom was so agitated that the doctor prescribed Namenda to calm her nerves. The only thing wrong with that was that since my mom did not think anything was wrong with her, she refused to take medication. POA sister use to insist that we administer the medicine to her, but she would resist every day. After finding the pills behind couch cushions, on the counter top in the kitchen, or under the pillows in her bedroom, it was clear that she would not be taking the medicine, so her doctor recommended that we stop trying to give it to her because due to missed dosages, it was ineffective. It was clear that in the end, she would require long-term care.

We were all concerned about my mom’s physical health as well as her dental health. POA sister had set my mom up with a doctor in Dublin long before her dementia diagnosis, so it became a bit of a chore to get her to the dentist. Mom would always worry that she did not have the money to pay the dentist, but we would always reassure her that we had already paid for the dentist to help her.

On the first trip to the dentist, mom was a little agitated, but she calmed down somewhat with the radio on. During the 18-mile ride from Fremont, CA to Dublin, CA, mom would begin asking questions, such as:

  • Why are you driving me? Do you even have a driver’s license?
  • You don’t know anything about driving.
  • You need to call Peter (her youngest brother) to tell you what to do.

My response would be: “Yes, mom, I have a driver’s license, so I am the one taking you to the dentist. Jessie asked me to take you. We won’t be long.”

“I’ll bet you don’t even know where you are going, do you?” my mom would ask, with a triumphant look on her face.

“Yes, mom. I know where I am going. I have been to his office before. Just be patient. We will be there soon,” I said.

After staring at me for a minute or two, for what seemed like forever, my mom would turn her head and look the other way.

I was always shaky when I got to our destination because I never knew how my mom would react to the dentist. Usually she would be alright, once she was there and talking to the dentist about her teeth. She always took great care of her teeth and considered them to be exceptional. They were indeed.

Another trip that my mother enjoyed to the fullest was playing bingo at the senior citizen’s center. She would ask Louise to pick up the schedule and Louise would drop my mom off to play Bingo while she took a walk around the lake. My mom took great pride in the fact that she knew most of the other elderly women who played the game. Usually everyone got a little prize even if they did not win.

The all-time favorite place for my mom to eat was Hometown Buffet in Newark. Most of the time, my uncle Peter would take her to Hometown. It was the only place where she would eat a lot of food. She loved the chicken, the sweets, and a big salad. She would make comments on the other patrons which made her smile.

Even though my mom had dementia and she did not remember some things, like where her glasses were or where she had put her shoes, she used to play Monopoly like a champ. Her and her youngest brother, Henry, would play at least two hours two or more days a week. She got great joy out of beating my uncle at Monopoly. He got more joy out of beating her. It appeared that Monopoly was one of the few things that she absolutely remembered how to play.

Stay tuned…