As my mother’s mental state continues to deteriorate, I try to hold on to my own sanity by making some sense of what’s happening to her. She is 81 years old, and after having tried to live on her own in southeastern Florida following the death of my father in July 2004, it became clear that she was not able to function well. Money kept disappearing and turning up in places like the hamper. She claimed there was no heat in her apartment when it got cold, but I suspect now that she simply didn’t know how to turn it on.
In February of 2010, I brought Mom north to try living in a senior apartment 20 minutes from our home in Ringwood, NJ. She hated it and thought it was too expensive. I took her to look at another place, and she then admitted that she would prefer to come live with my husband, Bob and me.
This had been the first option I had given her, and we had tried it in 2009 for 4 months as she recuperated from the removal of her gall bladder. She didn’t want to “intrude” on us, so once she felt well enough, she returned to Florida with the assistance of an aide four hours a day, five days a week. She tried to make a go of it, but the caregiver found a full-time job and Mom didn’t want to try another one. She tried to resume completely independent living, but it just wasn’t working.
As I had told her the first time around, of all the lousy options available, living with us was the option that sucked the least. In April of 2010, Mom moved into our guest bedroom, and we’ve been acclimating, making changes to the house, seeking legal estate advice, providing her with a space heater to keep her room a balmy 90 degrees and getting her medical needs met.
We still have to deal with her apartment. Fortunately, Dad left her in good shape financially and we aren’t pressured to sell her place immediately. It’s a co-op with a great view and fairly low maintenance costs. It is filled with artwork, brick-a-brack, clothes, and remnants of the once-happy consumer frenzy my parents enjoyed together. I’ve brought Mom down to deal with some of it. Sort, identify what might have value up north, throw out what’s expired, useless or shot, give away what might have value for others, and leave what makes the apartment functional for us when we need it.
My folks bought this two bedroom, two bath split on the 14th floor overlooking the Intracoastal and Atlantic Ocean beyond it in 1987 for $85K. At the height of the market ten years ago, similar apartments sold for $350K. Then the crash of 2008 sent the values into the toilet. Comparable apartments now go for about $150K. I think we’ll sit for a while, but we still have to start dealing with all this STUFF.
Mom did give away most of Dad’s clothes and personal effects within the first year after his passing. But there is still so much accumulated crap in the walk-in closets, it’s a little overwhelming. And Mom needs to go through her clothes. She needs warmer items to wear up north as winter approaches. She’s lost considerable weight in the last year or so – the gall bladder surgery forced her to curtail the amount of food she ate, and later, she experienced toxicity from all her medications. I got her medications titrated and she’s on less than half the pills she was before. Losing weight addressed many of the conditions from which she had been suffering, so she needs a lot less. But we need to figure what fits her and what doesn’t.
The big problem she’s having is that she constantly misplaces things. I have managed to identify why this happens: 1) her eyesight is getting worse, 2) she spaces out and compulsively puts things together that don’t really belong together, 3) she doesn’t like to throw things away, 4) she has WAY too much STUFF. Having dealt with my father’s dementia seven years ago, I’ve educated myself about the various forms, and I’m confident Mom doesn’t have Alzheimer’s. Day to day, she knows what’s going on and remembers important events. She forgets names. And she misplaces important items and gets agitated when she can’t find things. She’s easily distracted. However, she’s not paranoid; she knows it’s her and she does trust me. So it could be worse.
Meanwhile, I’m trying to keep her on track, focused on the tasks at hand, allowing me to toss the truly useless crap and avoiding my suggestion that she try on clothes so we can figure out what items should go north and what should get donated or chucked. It ain’t easy, but as my dear father once opined, no one said it was going to be.