Hanging Out with Old People
I’m getting my dose of old people once again. My mother-in-law, Rose, is 92 years old and lives in an assisted-living home. We visit almost every day to check on her. My Dad spent the last days of his life in a similar facility. I got to see a lot of him and his old people pals.
It’s common for old people to have a lousy memory. When you mention memory, most people go right to Alzheimer’s. This isn’t that, at least we don’t think so. Her short-term memory is not worth a darn. For example, the facility serves her meals in a restaurant-style format. The waiter comes by, takes her order, and if he’s gone more than a few minutes, she forgets what she ordered.
Rose lived independently until 3 years ago. She fell a few times and needed more attention. My wife’s sister in Indiana took care of Rose for three years. It gets to you after awhile. Sister needed and deserved a break. Luckily, Rose served in the Armed Services during WWII and we hope she qualifies for military aid.
Rose doesn’t remember much of Indiana. It snowed in the winter and she spent much of her time doing what she loves – sitting in her easy chair reading J.D. Robb novels. She reads them over and over and I think each time is a new adventure for her. When I think about her memory it scares me a little. What must it be like to not know what you did 5 short minutes ago?
Complaining vs Lack of Freedom
When I visit we walk up to the Residents’ Library. I have a Phillips Go-Lite which is supposed to help with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and energy levels. While the light shines on her, I have her read aloud. The books are motivational and positive thinking pieces I have collected over the years. I use the readings to stimulate conversations. If left to her own devices, Rose would complain about the staff, meal services, or some other aspect of the facility. From everything we see, it is a very good facility with lots of extra services and caring people.
Rose usually isn’t a complainer. My wife and I concluded she doesn’t like having her freedom taken away and it’s left her a bit sour. Her memory problems don’t allow her to walk very far because she gets lost. She can’t make friends because she can’t remember anyone’s name or what they said. She wears hearing aids, but can’t remember how to put them in, so even if she engages someone in conversation, she can’t always hear them.
A Remarkable Person
Rose knows she is special as one of the “old people”. She thinks she is special for being 92, but in a building full of 90 year-olds, it’s more than that. Rose doesn’t use a walker. She takes no prescription meds. Occasionally, she experiences back pain and indigestion, but -and here’s where her lack of memory works to her advantage – she forgets she’s uncomfortable.
While she was in Indiana she didn’t have much physical stimulation. Her muscles atrophied and she lost strength. She doesn’t enjoy getting up early (9 am) to go to senior exercises classes, but she will walk the halls later in the day. As we walk I call out words for her to spell and she complies correctly almost every time. I also call out basic multiplication, addition, and subtraction problems and she is quick and correct most of the time. Our newest drill is having her spell the names of staff and residents in the hopes she will learn their names. We’ll see how this goes.
Rose is a good sport when it comes to my ideas for helping her. In an effort to help her memory we started a journal. She doesn’t write in it every day. It’s difficult to come up with things to write about. She will write about how’s she feeling and sometimes I can get her to talk about an event. It’s fascinating on the days I have her flip back through pages and read her past entries. She recognizes her handwriting even if the words are unfamiliar.
While I’m not sure any of this is making a difference in her memory or even quality-of-life, it is interesting to observe. Seeing how she approaches this stage in her life, how difficult it is to stay positive when her body aches, and the effects of poor memory and reduced motor skills is an inspiration, even when she is not successful. In the struggles against aging, time always wins.