Sunday, December 22, 2013

Dominican Republic: experiencing Alzheimers

It had been more than 8 years since I last visited the Dominican Republic, my birth country and about five years since I last saw my parents.  As I write this I experience feelings of regret for not making more of an effort to see them sooner. With kids, military moves, and our busy American life it seemed as though time just flew by and every year there was another promise to go soon and that time came and went. Don't get me wrong, we talked on the phone often, but it's just not the same.

When we last visited my parents I noticed mom was forgetting simple recent events like the fact that she just served us coffee or breakfast.  She would have mood changes from happy, elated to angry and aggressive. Immediately I thought "oh my gosh, I think she has the onset of dementia."  That thought made me so sad but I did not say anything at the time. I'm not a doctor and my only experience was in working with others and watching them progress through this disease.  I did suggest they take her to see her doctor and please mention all these symptoms, he might be able to help.


When my dad last visited us which was a few years after our visit he told me she was really forgetful, repeating herself a lot. He did not know what to do or how to handle it. He thought she was going crazy "loca" he said.  That's when I contact the Alzheimer's Association and requested information in Spanish for him to read and learn about the disease.  I explained she wasn't crazy and a lot of patience and personal care would be needed for her.

Fast forward to this trip.  I decided to go by myself because, honestly, I did not know what to expect. I knew he had been sick and unable to walk on his own and of course her condition had worsen because one day I called and she was no longer able to talk to me on the phone, she did not know how to use the phone or who was on the other end of that call.  That day I broke down crying and cried for a few days. I think I became slightly dehydrated in the process.  Then my brother told me about his visit with her her and how she had no idea whom he was. He was also hurting. It is very painful to not be able to share new experiences or have a talk about hour family history anymore.

Dad is just chillin'

When I arrived she was sitting on the front porch, "la galeria" which faces the front yard and house entrance.  My dad was sitting there along with their caregiver Natalia.  I went to her, held her hands, gave her a kiss, a hug and she smiled. She said she's a pretty girl "muchacha muy linda" and just giggled like I was meeting a shy five year old for the first time.  Once again, I tried not to cry but as you can imagine, it wasn't easy.  She really did not know who I was and she did not know much about herself either.  Based on the Alzheimer's web site she can be classified as Stage 6. I again hugged my dad and for what would probably be the 9th time in his life, he cried with me.

Mom showing me the chickens in the yard.

Once my crying was over I decided I needed to be strong. After all, in her absence of thought and consequence she really doesn't understand what all the crying is about.  I needed to be strong for him because he does get it and although he is healthier now than he was a week or two ago, he is still recovering and healing.  He walks a lot slower but still tries to do everything himself. He will salvage just about anything and find use for things most of us toss on a daily basis.  He cleans the yard daily, walks laps around the house daily, eats well if someone is there to make sure he eats and is religious about taking his medication.  He's also a little OCD about putting things in their place each and every time they are used.

Squeaker toys that entertain Mom.

My mom had moments that made me super happy.  She asked about my mother in law whom she always called the lady "la senora" and asked about the kids and my husband. That might have been a reflex reaction to something she always said to me when we talked on the  phone but it was a precious moment for me.  She began to say sweet things to me she only said when I was young and in my teens and occasionally she would tell me a story about something she knew, however the story was not in a recognizable order so I just smiled when she smiled. It made her happy to converse.

Eating our noon meal with Meena, their furry companion.

Alzheimer's Disease is a sad for those of us watching it happen, but for her, well the fact is that each day is a new day and yesterday doesn't exist and if anything painful is happening she does not realize it and therefore does not suffer. She doesn't find it offensive to be bathed and cleansed by someone else, to be assisted to go places, to be placed in a safe area of the house to keep her from getting hurt, and to be provided with food someone else cooked, a task she mastered and was proud to be such a great cook in her time, yet now she was not allowed in the kitchen, for her own safety of course.

I love my mom. She's not my biological mom but she raised me as if she was.  Always telling everyone about her little girl.  She took pride in everything I did and I was proud to have been raised by such a loving, caring, compassionate woman.

Papi is 84 and still a ham.

My trip to DR was more than just learning to be strong and learning about my mom's disease and helping my dad establish care and take care of other business. I did manage to find humor in their daily routines, we manged to laugh about a lot of things because there is no point in crying all the time.  My dad does a great job helping her as needed and he is very patient with her.  I trust she is in good hands with him and their caregiver Natalia.

Selfie with Mami. She's so sweet.

If you believe someone in your life might be suffering the early stages of Dementia, please click here to go to the Alzheimer's website to learn about the symptoms and what you can do to help prepare your family member and yourself for the long road ahead.

Take Care,