Tuesday, 26 August 2014

And so...5 years.

Beautiful late summer day.
Sunshine. High blue skies.
Same then. Same now.
When I got the phone call: your dad has been found dead at home, by the postman...with his dog by his side.

5 years ago. A lot of life - and another death since then. I always feel this late summer is the time when I lost family - my Dad in August, and one year later, in early September my step-mum.

Seems a long time 5 years - years of living with Okaasan and getting used to it. Work, Friends going and coming. Holidays in Australia, England and Brazil. Knee damage and treatment. A friend's baby boy in my life. A new car. A new hobby.

But sometimes not so long.

Japan has a whole season of remembering the dead, in mid-August people go back to hometowns and visit graves. Light lanterns and candles. Pray and remember.

In a way I think it is a good idea. Of course I remember, but it's just me. I sent my step-aunt a "thankyou for your help 5 years ago" e mail. And that is it. Maybe dad's friends/neighbors in the village remember? Or maybe not so much. They remember the person and his joy - in most Western cultures that is considered important. More than the date.
But I do still remember. That he was found on August 26 and had probably died on the 24th. Came back home from his daily visit to his wife in hospital. Drove the cleaning lady home. Came home to his house to cook sausages for dinner. Maybe he had the TV on. And then he fell on the living room carpet, hit his head and - hopefully - died.
He wasn't wearing the emergency call button. His dog stayed with him. People telephoned but no answer. The postman delivered onto the front door mat the next day. But on the 2nd day realized it had been untouched and pushed the door open a little more. And had a terrible shock.

I feel my England family life unraveled from that moment. My had mum died 15 years ago in hospital, as expected - from cancer.

Dad was a shock.
Sorry. Just sad. My blog. Somewhere to be sad.
Got lessons in 2 hours. Got to cook dinner before I go. Cats to feed. Life to live.

So. Just that.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Tooth fairy for seniors?

When kids lose their teeth the tooth fairy comes.
When an 84 year old cheerfully shows you a gap in their gums - what's the protocol as a carer?
Book them into the dentist and drag them off to make sure there isn't anything worse happening in their mouth :-)

This time ok.
DS took his mum along yesterday morning and luckily the dentist replaced the tooth in one visit. Okaasan had minimal stress.
Last summer she was going once or twice  week for dental work - and we were trying to get her to brush more often. Finally her mystery leg pains halted that, because we couldn't get her out of the house, let alone into the car and downtown for a dental appointment.
I kind of think the leg pains were a physical response to the stress of endless dental work. So we gave up.
This time all done in one visit.
Mind you, Okaasan didn't remember the visit herself a few hours later. Late afternoon she was checking her handbag and getting dressed. I advised her to stay home as the rain clouds were trundling in - "and you went out this morning downtown and walked, didn't you..."
"Did I? Today?" . No memory of that.
It still amazes me, this blank. She and her son rode the subway together, then walked to the dental office, she had the treatment, then walked alone downtown and maybe had some lunch in a coffee shop, came home and probably slept in front of the TV. 
At 5 pm - no memory of any of that.

Summer is ending here, back to work with a full schedule.
Apologies for not blogging much. We have a cat with a war wound, I am trying to diet, helping a friend with clinic visits etc etc
But here.

* Read a wonderful short story recently about dementia.
Canadian writer Alice Munro's book "Dear Life" contains a story called "In Sight of the Lake", which appears to be a tale of a woman going to a doctor's appointment in a strange town. But, by the ending we realize she is a resident of a care community in the town. An inside view. Read it if you can.
* Also trying to track a new documentary film called "Everyday is Alzheimer's" by the Japanese director Yuka Sekiguchi. A follow up to her film about life with her mum. I follow Sekiguchi-san of Facebook and now her latest film is out. Not yet in my area, but showing in mainland Japan. Catch it if you can!

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Mid-summer truckin' along.

Obon holiday here in Japan now - a kind of quiet week when work takes a back seat and people (both the living and the spirits) go back to hometowns and families.

The dead have easier journeys. They just up and leave the graveyards, find the lantern guiding them into the family home and chill out on the snacks left on the home altar for a few nights.

The living awake at dawn and cram into trains and highway queues to trek home. Then spend time with crowds of other people, waiting for theme park rides and restaurant tables, then chilling in front of TV programs while the family bicker gently around them.

Our family glides along ok.
Okaasan's family - alive and dead - are all in Saitama, near Tokyo. She is spending calm, routine days in Sapporo.

We had another - much smaller - BBQ. With the guests informed that the event would end by 5 pm. As soon as Okaasan heard there was going to be a BBQ she gobbled down her lunch and 20 mins later was out the door and gone. ;-(

But when she came back a few hours later she actually JOINED us, kind of in the garden and ate some corn and drank a little beer!
First time for that.
The seating arrangement wasn't great. All the guests were at a garden table in the center of the grass, and Okaasan plomped herself down in a chair a few meters away in the parking area....but near the BBQ set and the just cooked corn. She loves corn.
She sat there chomping on corn and sipping the small glass of beer. Didn't/couldn't join in the chat at the table. But at least she was there and showing some sociability. She stayed about 20 mins and then went inside to switch on the Tv.
The BBQ ended at 6 pm and we cleaned up and got her dinner on the table at 7 pm, in an almost cleaned kitchen. Her stress levels were lower.

Apart from that:

* she is wearing the pajamas :-)
* she came home one night and actually told us she didn't need dinner: "I just ate ramen!" Usually she eats something and doesn't say anything until we have cooked and she is at the table saying: "oh, not so hungry..."
* she snoozes by the TV all morning and after lunch, and heads out for walks late afternoon.
* I'm going in every morning now to change her TV channels...her control of the remote is getting worse and she can really sit for hours with TV shopping or circular weather reports.
* caught her watching a TV report about Alzheimer's.....what DOES she think when she watches that topic??? "Oh, poor people. I'm glad I am not like that?"

And so. Summer.
I have a half schedule.
Enjoying the garden, some kayaking, lunches and dinners with friends, a beer festival, movies, TV....sleeping.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Mine? All mine?

She loved them - the cotton, flowery-pattern pajamas.

We presented them after dinner last night.
It had been a mysteriously stressy, tiring evening. Okaasan had gone downtown by subway in the afternoon, but when we called her to remind her to come home for dinner - she didn't get ON the train to come. We kept calling, and checking on the GPS - and she remained somewhere in the subway station area - always there and talking about "getting on the train now"...but not actually doing it.
Finally at 7.45 pm she came home. DS went out to meet her in the local streets and bring her back - looking exhausted.

So, after a quiet dinner the Birthday Present II.
She opened the bags so carefully, looking at the wrapping paper and the bow, and the name. Finally opening the bag to take out the jim-jams.
Then stroking them, and unfolding them, and commenting on them,...and stroking them, and checking the labels many times.
"Flowers! Pink! It's cotton...it's a French name! It's stylish....an old lady like me having stylish clothes...oh...pink!...flowers...French".

Job well done.

But she didn't wear them. She slept in an old blouse and her trousers.
The new pajamas left on the sofa among other clothes.
Maybe I should scrunch them up a bit, so they look worn - I fear she may keep them "for a special time/never".

But it's good: she liked the present. She was happy.
An she knew what a present was. There are videos on the Internet of people with dementia receiving presents and not understanding what to do with them: so just sitting holding the parcel and things around them, having lost the concept of "present/open/happy".

Okaasan still knows a good present and (almost) what to do with it.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Happy ??? Birthday

What's a good birthday present for somebody with dementia?

It's a thought that has been rattling around my brain this week.

We took Okaasan to a Day Spa last weekend and she seemed to enjoy it ok...I guess. She enjoyed being with us and chatting, the car ride, the fruit farm...maybe she enjoyed the hotel and the spa and the lunch.
I'm not sure because I do think the new place - the hotel - and the new activity - going to a spa in this hotel, then buffet lunch in a new restaurant - all of that...I wonder if she really could enjoy it or not. A lot of it was confusing for her really. Was that a good birthday present?

On Monday a student whose mother is a bed-ridden invalid mentioned that it was her mum's birthday and we discussed what on earth would be a good present for someone who basically stays in bed and sleeps 90% of the time....

Made me think some more.

Yesterday I did some cleaning in Okaasan's room - actually WITH her, for a change.
I did it in stages, and stopped it when she started getting stressed.
First I asked her if she could help me by neatly tieing up the newspapers for recycling - a household job she is good at.
Then I introduced the vacumn cleaner and while I used it, asked her to pick up a few things....well "few" means "tonnes"...in front of the vacumn machine.
She gathered up stuff and dumped it in other places - the clothes, the bits of paper, random plates and cups.
I tried to help her sort some of the clothes: basically into winter-and-don't-need-now stuff....and dirty/clean.

It's hard this: to tackle the pile of clothes Okaasan keeps permanently around her on the carpet and sofa, on the table, under the table.

But I got an insight into her thinking about this jumble of clothes. She seems to think that all of it is out in sight at the moment for a reason:

- this needs mending
- this needs washing
- this needs to go to the dry cleaners
- this is old and I will show it to Dear Son who will buy me a new one
- this is clean and still drying

Of course, sadly, these plans hardly ever turn into action. Days and weeks go by and the clothes stay where she has dropped them.
She picks them up and examines them occasionally, then there is something on Tv that catches her focus and she puts it down to be forgotten again.
Okaasan doesn't go to the dry cleaning shop. She doesn't actually DO anything with the needles and threads in her sewing kit, she doesn't talk to Dear Son about needing new clothes.
It's all in her head. She is permanently in the middle of doing all this clothes sorting out, always in that loop of necessary activity - but never finishing it.

She and I sorted clothes a little, I managed to get out some beyond repair pajamas. Take out one sweater for dry cleaning. Change the blanket for a summer one. Put away a winter muffler out of sight.

Then I sensed she was getting a little loud-voiced and over excited about WHERE I would go for the dry cleaning. In her mind there is only one good dry cleaning shop in the whole city and it is right back across town, near the first apartment she lived in when she came to start her life with us. I don't go there now - it's too far - but I tell her I do...and cut off the shop tags when I return any dry cleaning to her.

So. A productive 30 mins cleaning with Okaasan.

And today?

After an internet search for ladies fashion brands I located a shop in a department store downtown. I went in today and bought two pink flowery, summer pajamas - exactly like the ones that Okaasan has had for years, which are now tattered and beyond repair.

Tonight I will give them to her: maybe they are a better birthday present. Something familiar and important to her, the clothes she lives in every day. The same brand of clothes. The same pattern.

I hope I am right :-)

But, before we all get warm and fuzzy here. Let me admit: it was far, FAR easier to go in and buy the pajamas myself, alone. If I'd taken Okaasan to the store and let her shop for them herself - although she would enjoy it....I know for sure I would hate it: the endless toing and froing, the decision making, the trying to buy other stuff, the wandering around looking at the same stuff repeatedly.
I couldn't do that. Just can't. Not patient enough.

So, I am a good daughter-in-law...up to a point.

Hope she is happy with the pajamas though.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

84 and going strong

Okaasan is 84 years old this week.
And going strong.

We did a Family Day Out yesterday to celebrate her birthday: booked into a smart hotel in Jozankei village, near Sapporo. Onsen and buffet lunch, harp concert in the hotel lobby. Lots of nice hotel staff bowing and smiling.
The Day Visitor plan was onsen OR lunch from 11.30 am or 1 pm. We chose onsen first, then relaxed lunch till 3 pm.
Gorgeous hotel!
Look at this place - all leaf motif and big windows. Green carpet area to kick off your shoes in the lobby.

And outside spa area with trees...and bugs...and calm.

We think Okaasan enjoyed it. Maybe.
She told us several times that her grand-mother had come to Jozankei many times and was very healthy...and lived to be 100 years old...or 93 years old (the age changed in different tellings).
"So I have long living genes, I will live to be 100!"

I was on full duty for the onsen - guiding Okaasan round the confusions of a new space, with lockers and keys, taps and towels, washing areas and choices of body/hair washing liquids. She could get into the baths ok, but once in there it seemed that the water/light was confusing and she couldn't tell what was a  rock and what was flat - she waved her legs around testing the surface several times. And couldn't get out and stand up - I brought a chair to the bath steps to give her extra support.
Maybe she enjoyed it? She sat in the water of the outside bath for a while. I sat with her a bit and then left her alone to enjoy the quiet time.
After that steered her thru the drying area, the hair dryers, the face cream, the drinking water etc etc

The strangest moment was just after she and I had walked into the women's changing rooms. It was all brown walls and carpeting, with wooden lockers and keys for personal effects and clothes. Usually onsen and public baths have baskets for clothing.
Another woman was standing, fully dressed near the lockers waiting for a family member who was in the toilet.
We sat down on a small sofa opposite the wooden lockers.

We put our towels in the lockers. I put my glasses and watch inside.

Okaasan looked around the room.

"Where is this? What do we do next?"

"????It's an onsen.We...err..we err...we are here to enjoy onsen!"

I couldn't momentarily think of the Japanese words for "changing room" or "take off clothes". 
So I did it. Hitched up my dress and took off my underwear.
Okaasaan pretty surprised! As you would be!

I guess she wasn't holding in her mind what this building was, and what we had come here to do. And the room looked like a living room. Not a tiled area entrance to a bathing place, no baskets for clothes and naked people.
It was the first time, I think, that I've glimpsed into Okaasan's confusion about place and why she is there.

After Onsen Duty I handed over responsibility to Dear Son to be on Hotel Buffet Duty for his mum.
She can't look at a buffet and remember what foods she has seen and choose them. It was best to walk round with her and put foods on the plate for her.
He did his best to find things she would like, jumping up and down constantly to find things.
We ate loads. Excellent buffet. I had three large portions of tiramisu pudding....

It was a lovely hotel. We enjoyed it. Maybe Okaasan enjoyed it.
Drove home thru a country road and stopped off to buy plums at a farm. Got home late afternoon.


3 hours later Okaasan was ready for more food for dinner! 
She eats loads. She probably will live to be 100...or 93....

Won't that be nice?