Thursday, 31 May 2012

Sock it to me (x 30 plus)

 Would you rather have your sock selection like...this?

or..... this?

If you have a nice, kind Oyomesan you will have below: the artfully arranged basket of neatly-paired socks, all pegged to their partner and in color piles.

If you are Okaasan: you'll have the above. Three spreading clusters of socks at different points around your room on the carpet. When you go out you have to play Hunt the Missing Sock...endlessly...scurrying from cluster to cluster with more than 60 odd socks in varying shades of pink, beige and brown.

So. I tried. Washed them all, bought the pegs and the basket. Sat down and had my own Match the Sock game, which was hard even with my short-term memory skills.
This morning I took the basket into Okaasan and said: wouldn't it be nice to keep yours socks like this, so you can see them easily etc etc.
HOPING she will keep them like this. At least for a while.
She seemed appreciative. Maybe just being polite at the outlandish suggestion that she should keep socks in this style. We haven't had much luck with other "helpful" clothes/room setting ideas. We tried to label the chest drawers, so she could find clothes among 10 drawers. She left the labels for 10 hours -and then peeled them off and stuck them inside the drawers.

What IS it with clothes scattered all over the place? Why does she do this? Wanting to see everything? Always thinking "I'm in the middle of laundry day"?
I'm sure that she never used to keep clothes like this, all over the floor and the furniture. All thrown together, creased and mixed.

And in other news: the house painting finished! We have a wonderful, cream colored house now. Looks great. But sadly, there are flecks of old paint all over the garden too - the cats are rolling and walking in them, and the flowers and vegetables will grow this year thru the carcinogenous stuff.

And: Okaasan is interested in joining another dance class.
She's taken out her hula dance skirts. And she has a flyer for a Folk Dance class at the culture school she went to before.
She thinks June 22 is a class visit date. She thinks the people in the photo look friendly - and not like the "bullies" in the two hula dance classes she has already quit.
It would be GREAT if she joined another class. Get her out and active physically and socially. Yujiro never took her along to the Tuesday hula class at the culture school where I am working, but Okaasan has found a class she likes herself.
Yes! Yes! Yes!

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Lilac ladies

Lilac time in Sapporo.
Spring is like this in Hokkaido - it all arrives at once, the skunk cabbages, the cherry, the plum, the forsythia, the daffs, the tulips...and now the lilac.

Odori Park in the center of the city has a Lilac Festival. Most years, the bushes don't flower in time for their own festival and I think city office staff are sent out with hairdryers, under cover of darkness, to fan the buds with hot air so at least one or two bushes near the festival site are in blossom.
But this year it's glorious. All lilac scent and blue sky, and the inevitable eating frenzy at the food stall areas which are a necessity at ANY Japanese festival.

We took Okaasan yesterday. Pretty sure she doesn't take herself to walk in the park and look flowers. She walks round the underground shopping streets and department stores. So we took her down to the city center for lunch and a look in Odori Park.

I've said before: it's hard for Okaasan to choose things. Because she can't remember what she saw first. We walked and looked at the different stalls: kebab, paella, fried noodles, chicken, curry, barbecue lamb, oysters etc....and then finally we sort of suggested paella to Okaasan.
We sat her on a bench while we got the food, and then managed to snag a table so the three of us could finally sit and eat. Okaasan likes festivals and festival food - in her childhood this WAS the entertainment, way before TVs and computer games.
But it was cold - the brisk wind became a freezing gale. Finally we looked at some lilac flowers, used the toilets in a big hotel and took a taxi to a nearby subway station, and went home.

Okaasan had a good time though. Little family day out. Animated and chatty, she enjoys looking at flowers, kids, cute dogs etc. Out in the windy cold it was a bit tiring though.
I notice that when she gets tired, she says random, crazy stuff.

Yesterday, after lunch she pointed to the next block of the park (it's 1 km long and various roads cross the park in the city center) - anyway, she pointed to the next block and said: "is that Nakajima Park?"
That's a park in the south of the city, near where we lived when she first came to Sapporo....the whole Lilac Festival, lunch and day out was all in the city center park Odori. :-(

And then later in the taxi, I pointed out a city center flower bed with a lilac tree in it, and she said again: "that's Nakajima Park, isn't it" - which it patently wasn't. It was a 2 meter by 1 meter flower bed...

I think when Okaasan is tired she says these random things, which are vaguely connected to what's happening now - but really more a phrase or question that her brain is supplying for the moment.

* But in positive news: The other day Okaasan did good House Wifeing by doling out drinks to the painters at home. In fact she went out for a walk EARLY in the afternoon and came home before 3 pm, just so she could dole out the drinks. Amazing that. She usually sits vacant in front of the Tv and only stirs when we come home and the noise in the kitchen stirs her to go out.

The painters are almost done, and the final job will be cleaning out the house heating oil tank and pipes. A workman will have to come in and check the pipes in Okaasan's room and the bathroom. I hope I'm home when they come - I think Okaasan will go into a panic of room cleaning if a strange man is going to come into her room.

Thursday, 24 May 2012


Well -the cats are having a GREAT time, once the painters have left!

Um. Okaasan didn't do her Lady of the House chance. Not sure why. 
We left her a whiteboard sign on the kitchen table, next to her lunch, telling her to dole out the cold teas bottles in the fridge at 3 pm.
But she didn't. In the evening she said the painters had GONE by 3 pm....which doesn't sound likely. Maybe she looked out at about 3 pm, and they were already on their break round the corner at the drinks vending machine buying their own stuff - so she just went back to sleep.
Don't know. 
At dinner Yujiro did a long, long lecture-like talk all about workmen-in-Japan-don't-really-expect-drinks-from-homeowners-anymore-but-if-you-can-you-should-give-them-the-tea....on and on....I am pretty sure the details of his lecture didn't settle anywhere near Okaasan's memory. He hasn't learned the Simplify Instructions concept of dementia care :-(

Meanwhile I scared myself looking at dementia care forums on the Net where many carers/families said their loved one's condition had plunged when there were house repairs and major changes in the usually stable home environment.
I can understand it: 2 hours in the monring before work with taped up windows and scraping/banging sounds all around is making MY condition worse...and Okaasan is here all day. Wish we could get her to go OUT earlier and escape it.

But. The cats are happy with their new jungle gym after 5 pm.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Lady (s) of the house.

So the painting work has started - and the cats spent the day in the bedroom closet, emerging after all the noise had stopped at 5 pm to gingerly sniff around the scaffolding and paint scrapings.

And Okaasan?

In her element as: Lady of the House.

We told her NOT to dole out cups of tea etc to the painters, because we planned to buy drinks etc for them and don't want her stressing about it all.
That advice never lodged in her memory.

I came home at 3 pm with a bag of cold drinks for the painters and found them standing around drinking - WTF??? sake???? in little blue cups????

No. I soon realized it was the little blue tea cups from the kitchen and a bowl paste filled bread rolls!!!
Okaasan had come out and fed the workers, as a good Lady of the House should do.
In fact she'd gone OUT and bought a large bag of bread rolls, about 15 of them...
"I didn't know they were coming today! Did you know? I didn't know. I had nothing to give them!"

I think we'd told her, or discussed it when she was there...I can't remember actually...because we don't really include Okaasan in things about house management. She is just here amidst it all, like a child who doesn't know anything about gas deliveries, insurance or resident association fees.

But Okaasan saw all the coming and going of the painters outside the plastic-sealed up windows and decided she should take charge.

It all doesn't matter.
They are with us for 10 days, so the water I bought, and the tea Yujiro bought will all get used another day.

Okaasan was a bit over-excited by it all when I got home, and looked tired. I sent her out for a nice calm walk in the sunshine.

But it was sweet really: she leapt into Lady of the House role. A good housewife should dole out tea to the workers. She does so little in the house I hope this gives her something to do...some role to play.
Really this is our home: his and mine. We share the house/daily life management and always get foxed by the Head of Household question on Japanese government survey forms, because neither of us thinks of ourselves as "Head" or not.
But from our point of view Okaasan is living in our home and life. We decide and do 95% of life's thing for her...inevitably.
But this is her time to become Lady of the House :-)

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

There are LOTS of strange men!!!!

Let the chaos begin!

Our home is about to disappear under scaffolding and stuff for TEN???? days of outside house painting.
All thankfully paid for by the building owner, so we will be happy to get an old house looking like new.

But. In the meantime...the cats are spinning into stressy orbit in a house with all the curtains closed and strange crashes, shouts, scrapings outside....we decided to try and keep them in daytime and only let them out after 5 pm when the workmen have gone.

Oh, and my dear garden....all the spring flowers just emerging as big boots tramp around...

And Okaasan? What will all of this do to her peace of mind?
She's all very excited about it right now, the greetings with the work foreman at the door etc, the comings and goings....but...but...we will see what 10 days of strangers being constantly around will do.

Guess she won't be hanging pink underpants outside for a while.:=)

Friday, 18 May 2012

What am I doing?

We've all had those moments: What am I doing?

In the supermarket, in the upstairs bedroom/store room, in the garage...that blank moment when you think: now, why did I come here? What am I doing?

I saw Okaasan having a chain of blanks the other day as the summer routine of Hanging Out Laundry foxed her.

The weather has been shite until now. There were even tulips in snow in east Hokkaido last week, so hanging laundry outside in Sapporo hasn't been possible for almost 6 months.
I've done most of the laundry for us and Okaasan, hanging it upstairs and giving Okaasan back piles of dried clothes.

But Okaasan loves hanging out laundry. It is one of the few domestic activities she actually seems to enjoy and do with care. 
Outside her living room, big sliding doors is a large cement step leading down to the garden, and the laundry stand is set up there, kind of in full view of everyone who walks by in the street, but it is the sunniest place.
In summer Okaasan slides open the window/door on the left and puts on outside slippers, steps out and hangs laundry with precision. Her laundry. My laundry. The neighbors' laundry, if she had the chance.
Nobody hangs laundry like Okaasan. There is a system for it all.

But 6 months have passed.
The other day I gave her a bowl of clean and damp panties and one of those circular peg frame-things, so she could welcome spring by pegging out her own laundry for the first time this year.
She pegged them in the room. On the indoor clothes stand.
Then stood. And stood some more, looking at them. Looking at the half-closed curtains. Standing some more.
From afar in the kitchen I realized: no outdoor slippers! 
I rushed to get them from the house entrance cupboard.
Burst into Okaasan's room and gave them to her. Showed her how to open the window, showed her the slippers and the laundry stand outside.
She looked as though it was all first time.
Those slippers? Using that door? That laundry stand? 
Can I go outside wearing my nightdress like this?
Yes, yes! You can, you do, the neighbors don't mind! You did this last year every day didn't you? 

But of course she didn't remember.
A blank about how to go about the hanging stuff outside routine.

Finally she got the ..hang... of it and stepped outside to set about lining up corners and hanging it all just-so, eyeing my badly hung laundry nearby as usual and waiting till I'd disappeared upstairs to rearrange things.
Back on track for a summer of laundry hanging.

But strange and sad: a small, pleasurable routine which seemed to be a blank till she was reminded how to put the essential elements together.
I've read about this, how dementia sufferers lose the ability to do familiar routines...bit by that in the end teeth brushing or putting on clothes is a mystery.
Okaasan is far from that, I think, but it was definitely a blank moment.
I have this laundry on these pegs...there is something about outside and sunshine...and the window...and outside...and this laundry.

Sunday, 13 May 2012


THIS glorious, gorgeous place is just a 10 minute drive from home. I have lived in this area for years and never been to this park. Today I finally went with my friend and her baby boy.
Just breathtakingly beautiful.


And.....Okaasan went downtown this afternoon in her new shoes and with her new bag, all very successful. Happiness reigns at Casa Oyomesan.

Shop 'til you droooooooooop.

Happy Mother's Day - in Japan.
We went.....SHOPPPPPING.

And how.
Shoes, a bag, trousers and yet another pink scarf.
And sushi dinner.

Quite a day out. Okaasan loved it. She adores department stores, she comes alive with all that musac, and displays and people and light.
Yujiro and I? Fishes out of water. Neither of us ever go near a department store.

We hit the store late afternoon to give Okaasan a Mother's Day outing.
Two hours of solid shopping, actually easier than we'd feared because she wanted new versions of what she already had: same black, laces shoes; same little, black nylon shoulder bag, same black trousers...and another pink scarf.
So, once we'd realized she wanted "the same" it made it (slightly) easier for us and the sales assistants to hunt it down and show Okaasan her options. She was actually pretty definite about what she wanted and liked.

My idea of hell: a department store packed with shoppers...


We had to keep Okaasan on the right path: dementia in a shopping experience makes you do strange things, I bet many, many shoplifters are actually dementia sufferers.

She held onto something, or wore something and wander off and focused on something else...while sales assistants got stressy ;she picked up and looked at the same thing, with the same comments all over again; she forgot that the sales woman had gone off to get a different size/color and started to to choose other things or leave that section of the shop; and she didn't  know which displays we'd already looked at or not....

And of course: at 82 - shopping is exhausting. By the time we got to the black trousers and the changing room without a chair poor Okaasan was exhausted.
The final sales assistant and I actually put the trousers selection on AND off Okaasan slipping it under her skirt as she was standing out in the shop, because I don't think she could have managed alone in a changing room.

But she loved it all. That was the most important thing. She was mainly animated and laughing and happy.
And she got new clothes to replace the slightly tatty stuff she has, the shoes with holes in them, the scuffed old bag, the shiny nylon trousers.

I wonder if she will use the new things? Or keep them for "a special occasion"? I think the trousers are too tight in fact, because she is a bit fat now with all our cooking , her constant snacking and less exercise.,

We rounded it all off at a popular revolving sushi place in the station complex, where Okaasan sat next to Yujiro and did her usual complaining about "XXX hasn't come yet, has it?", minutes after eating XXXX. It's a giggle...she really doesn't remember that she just ate XXXX. Does it every time.

And we came home to collapse. 

All shopped out. One happy Okaasan. Yes, she IS in this picture!!!!
Prizes of aloe yogurts and Taiwan bananas to the first people to spot her.

My next duty: to get the Daimaru bags and boxes, and the old shoes/bag/pants OUT of there.

Saturday, 12 May 2012


Went to a movie last night.
Well - a "film", cos after all - I AM British!

Such a small thing. But felt so good.
He was off at a ski teachers' end-of-another-season drinking party and I really couldn't face another dinner with Okaasan. Not on a Friday evening.

Our local park gets into spring.

Brrrrrrrr!!!! at 8 am.

My favorite tree .

Thursday was slightly better, because his customer cancelled and he came home early enough for family dinner - I got home at 7.30pm and we could sit there across the table from Okaasan doing the double act of chat for her to participate in when she wanted to.
But last night was MY time.

Okaasan saw enough of us during the day I think: in the morning in the kitchen as we were getting ready for work, and I prepped her lunch and left the flasks on the table; and then again late afternoon I came home to...wash up her lunch things.... feed cats... and prep more food for Okaasan - this time I left flat fish already cooked, and soup part-heated, and rice and Japanese spring veggies on the table.

She went out walking at 6 pm - for 2 weeks now she has been completely fixed in the local Seiyu and Macdonalds walk. I don't think she's been downtown by subway at all - every single day she has walked to the Seiyu shopping center 15 mins from home - and this week has managed to come home again without getting lost - does she remember my instructions: "Turn left at the traffic signals, NOT the park entrance" ?
We've talked - well mainly of course I have talked - endlessly about cherry blossoms in the city parks...but Okaasan hasn't gone to see any of them. Every day she just walked down to the shopping center and back again. The absolute routine.

Anyway, the movie and a quick dinner out was good - I feel my mood lift as soon as I get to the subway station and get on the train. I saw The Artist, the black and white, silent film about old Hollywood stars of the silent era - the real star of the film is the Jack Russell dog actor - who reminded me of Dad and Jane's dogs.

I got home about 9.45 pm. Okaasan was still awake and we just did basic chat in the kitchen, she didn't ask where I'd been, but the fish was mostly eaten and the rest too. So all ok. I am glad that we can still leave her like this with food prepped, that she can just about heat it and serve it and eat it herself.

And this weekend? Oh joy! It is Mother's Day tomorrow and we are planning a Family Trip out to a department store to help Okaasan buy summer clothes and shoes.
Dementia robs you of the ability to look and decide, and look again and shopping is a looooong process.
I will report from the front line soon. :-)

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Conversation blackhole.

Strrrrrretching my skills as a language teacher this week - I've had 3 dinners in a row alone with Okaasan cos Yujiro was working till late with a regular taxi customer.
Making conversation with Okaasan.
First two nights were okay I guess: we got on to some topic that brought back lots of memories for her and off she chatted, while I eyed how slowly she was eating and moved stuff round my plate endlessly to make the time go quicker.
I think we had drinking-milk-as-a-child memories - and that was okay round and round for all of dinner.

But last night - oh it was grim.
Nothing I said seemed to get her chatting. I tried cherry blossoms, spring, fish, asparagus, flowers, Boys' Day Festivals, went on and on...just felt that every topic was falling into a black hole.
She wasn't unfriendly - far from it - but she never picked up the topic and returned it. Just smiled at me and glanced around the kitchen.
Like one-sided tennis.
She of course never introduces a topic, never tells us something from her day or it has to come from us. And sometimes she doesn't even do anything with what we say.
I wonder how much is to do with me struggling along in my second language Japanese? But last night she didn't seem to pick up on any of the possible conversation balls I was serving and start talking herself. All black hole.

It was exhausting. Finally I started washing up my plates and made excuses about checking the cats and prepping classes - and left her still eating at the table.
Tonight - oh joy!! I have an evening class and can escape. Leave dinner for her on the table and eat out alone - or bring something home later.

If this gets much worse, and I expect it will, I shall start PAYING my students to have conversations with me....

Monday, 7 May 2012

End of the holidays...:-(

Golden Week is finished - this glorious time when various public holidays jostle together in the calender and it all gets merged into a rare time when everyone in Japan thinks: "ahh, bugger it...I'll take a day or two off work (really or in their mind)" and the whole country is uncharacteristically relaaaxed.

Apart from two days with one class each in my close-to-home classroom, I had NINE whole days of holiday. 
My GW "To Do" list got lots crossed off it: important things like "Make Terrace", and minor things like "Nearly Stack the Towels on the Shelf", along with essentials like "Clean Okaasan's Kotatsu Blanket/Room" and "Brush Winter Hair Off Cats".
Along the way I enjoyed cherry blossoms and a film, ate sushi, read newspapers, booked hotels in London for the summer and...and...and...

Okaasan was all ok - I was home most days, so I did the lunch and dinner. Got the laundry out of her room (including lots of soiled pants hidden/forgotten in supermarket bags in her room).
She went out walking, sometimes late. Got lost at the usual place near the park 100m from home - I went out by bike and guided her home ok. Another day she said "Hello" I'm back" to me twice in the space of 5 minutes in the kitchen, and sat pretty passively while Yujiro and I talked at dinner. Conversation ability is patchy.

Dementia Life ongoing, but not dramatic. Thankfully.

Little things I sometimes think "ahh, that's changed from a year ago" - like the passivity in conversations. More now than before. Sometimes.
Yesterday "Korean food is the best in the world" came up as a topic, but the "I went to New York and the JTB tour guide told me it was the best in the world" part of the story didn't emerge.

Stacking towels on the shelf in the bathroom I remembered that I used to hide Okaasan's cleaned pants up on the top shelf, waiting for a time when she was out so I could easily grab the cleaned laundry and scatter them in her room secretly.
That time has gone. Now I go in when she is out and take the dirty laundry, wash and dry it and openly hand it back to her cheerfully. She takes it with polite thanks. 
Really now her laundry washing activity has declined, a few pants or pajamas a week. Not enough to keep up with the amount she generates - I am doing 80% of the laundry now. And she seems to accept that.

I heard a dementia horror story from a student today - her friend has BOTH parents with dementia. The mother tries to get out of the house at dawn and go walking alone, has major toilet control problems and accuses everyone of stealing money...and doesn't recognise her own husband....
I hear these stories of other families and I mull over the details: ahh too...oh, not day one day....

Friday, 4 May 2012

Things that the night.

This is our dinner-with-sushi-view last night at our nearest, dearest revolving sushi place...

Had to put our names down 90 minutes before we got to eat and had to sit in the car in the restaurant car park watching the rain fall for 30 mins until the order pager rang - but hell - it's a crazy public holiday in Japan and that's what people do!
And the sushi is VERY good.

It was our family trip out to spend time with Okaasan and let her enjoy the public holiday atmosphere. We sat at the counter and scoffed ourselves.

I was a bit worried that Okaasan had had a toilet accident in the car, while we were waiting - because the smell in the car was awful and I opened the windows and waffled on about the windows steaming up. We kept offering her chances to go to the toilet, but she declined.

Anyway, we got her home and the car seat seemed I thought maybe it was just a giant fart filling the car.


Later on we went to bed. Yujiro as usual, was dead to the world in seconds.
I lay awake, listening to the rain and worrying about my terrace. I heard Okaasan slip-slapping in her slippers to the toilet. 
And there she stayed. The minutes went on...and I realised I hadn't heard her going back to her room. And then the toilet flushed. And again, and again, and again.
She stayed there 15 minutes...or more, flushed the toilet many times.
It could mean only one thing. I got up and went to the top of the stairs. A wall of foul smell hit me from the toilet door below.
Should I go down and check she was ok? Would that be even more stressful for her?
I hovered.
And went back to bed. All too stressful for her and I was ready to end my day and get back into oblivion.

This morning damp patches on the toilet room carpet tiles, stains on the toilet mat....yuk, yuk.
No half-washed pajamas or pants in the bathroom - which means they are lurking in a plastic bag or wrapped in newspaper in her room.
I changed the carpet tiles. Washed the mat.

Okaasan only had soup for lunch, complained that her stomach was "a bit upset".
So she remembers something about it. But we can't go into her room and get the soiled clothes - she'll either deny having any or say she'll do the washing herself. But she hasn't.
Today the rain continued, so she won't go out.
Somewhere in there the clothes will fester.

And of course the toilet pads are there unused in the corner of her room.
Don't need those.....

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Golden Week Oyomesanning.

First....Ladies and Gentlemen!
The evidence!!!! 

Yup. Okaasan ate the Taiwan bananas!!!! She ate 3 of them over the past 3 days, each time telling me how totally different they taste from other bananas and how she first ate them pre-war when her father brought some home (when Taiwan was part of Japan "all the same red on the map") and then later IN Taiwan she ate them freshly fallen from the tree.
Of course these bananas were just okay - not great - particularly because they had some black marks on the skin etc - NOT the same at all. But she ate them with a vague show of gratitude and I felt pleased enough that I'd given her a good experience in connection with me - trying to build lots of "positives" in my direction.

Meanwhile: I have been busy in my Golden Week....Making a TERRACE!

From this:


I am a DIY genius. Maybe. If it rains today and the whole thing washes away...then I am not.
An ex-colleague in the UK, whose Dad had told her how to make a terrace 8 years ago, was advising me via Facebook. And I found lots of great How To videos on YouTube, with a guy called Mr Kraft of some American DIY center reassuring me about each stage, and finally my team was completed by the staff of the local DIY center who saw me several times a day buying MORE foundation stones! More sandy stuff! Oh and what about renting that shuddering plate machine thingy for 24 hours...oh yes....

It's really been my entire last 3 days. Making this terrace.
In between I had to go teach two classes ;-( and I fed Okaasan and cleaned up enough at the end of the day to cook family dinner.

Last night Yujiro and I went out to see Titanic - the remix version in 3D. The movie started at 5 pm, so after finishing the terrace I scrubbed my hands clean enough, showered, changed and started prepping Okaasan's dinner.
She started to get ready for going out...yes, yes, I'm making your dinner because sorry tonight we are out at a movie, no, no! it isn't any trouble at all, what? your front door key? you can't find it.......can't find it....oh...ahh.....10 minutes of hunting...hunting in every part of her handbag and shopping bag....aghhhh!!!..Oh, why not take mine? Luckily I have a spare car key. Huge rush to get to the movie theater...

Such is our life.
Epilogue: when I asked my keys back this morning that entailed ANOTHER 15 mins of panic hunting for the keys - first finding Okaasan's keys several times...and finally...finally finding my keychain with the house, classroom and car keys on the same holder.