Doll therapy in Alzheimer’s – a solution to needing to feel needed. My Alzheimama zeroes in on Shelby and pours love all over her.
Tag Archives: Alzheimer’s
Ever since we brought her home, Shelby has been the focus of my mom’s attention. Ma talks and sings little songs of love to the baby, telling her over and over how beautiful she is. Shelby smiles joyfully back the whole time.
“You’re so sweet and pretty and clean. I love to kiss you. I love you. La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la.” Kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss.
One by one, our cats have had to give way to this blue-eyed, brown-haired smiling baby girl and they’re not happy about it. “Gramma’s lap is supposed to be our territory! Who does this interloper think she is, anyway?” Archie the elder isn’t quite as concerned as the younger kitties. A lap is a lap is a lap. He just climbs up and settles down for a long afternoon nap. The others watch from across the room, murmuring amongst themselves. Ma pays no attention to their grumblings. Her focus is completely on baby Shelby.
“You’re such a pretty girl. So sweet. La, la, la, la, la, la, la. My dolly is such a little dolly. You look a little scared. Don’t be scared. Gramma is not gonna let anything happen to you. I wanna give you kissies on your cheeks. You’re my dolly. My sweet little girl. I’ve got a little girl. She is mine, all the time,” whispers my mom in her sing-song voice.
When Shelby first arrived, I was a little surprised at how quickly and how deeply my mom became attached to her. She fell in love with her at first sight and has only grown more in love each day. I wasn’t sure how she’d feel about a baby, but I was willing to take a chance. I desperately needed an answer to Ma’s perpetual question, “Where’s the baby?” Now I simply fetch Shelby from whatever place she reposes and present her to my mom, saying, “Here. Here’s the baby.” Now we’re both happy.
Shelby is a true blessing. My mom needed someone of her own to hug and hold and love, and I needed some practical help with my mom. Shelby meets our needs. You see, it’s all a matter of perspective.
My mom has Alzheimer’s Disease. She is generally confused, disoriented, and unable to process more than the simplest information. Her attention span is very short. Yet she needs someone to love just as you and I do. The difference is that she is no longer able to maintain responsibility for those she loves.
This is where Shelby comes in. Shelby is a doll. We brought her home from the online Alzheimer’s Store (www.alzstore.com) in time for Christmas. My mom knows that Shelby is a doll. She is not crazy. But she loves her as though she is real. Doll therapy provides comfort, focus, and a great deal of simple pleasure for my mom. Every time my mom looks into Shelby’s lifelike eyes, she sees love reflected there. That’s the gift of God. That’s the blessing. And that’s real. It’s just a matter of perspective.
Sometimes I think I hear God calling me to a future ministry on the move.
Traveling to distant places; suitcase, camera, and laptop in hand.
Utter reliance on God for everything right down to a place to lay my head.
Speaking. Teaching. Training. Photographing. Journaling. Telling Stories. Giving shots.
Whatever. I dunno.
I’ve been picturing a wild, beautiful adventure in Christ as I go where He sends me.
It’s begun already, even now as I sit in the warm and secure place I call home, caring for my Alzheimama, our kitties, and the birds of our back yard.
Where life is slow, but steady.
It is present now as I worship God and lay down what I want for what He wills.
Perfection for compassion.
Independence for freedom.
Entertainment for contentment.
It is in full swing, even now as I put on my adventure wear (Ephesians 6:10-18) and gather my adventure gear (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Stepping out in faith. Just as I am. In Christ.
Even in my recliner, I’m already on the move.
Ever wonder why our daily lives seem so, well, daily? Same stuff, different day. Same old tired argument, same old bickering, same old knee-jerk reaction. You look ahead to the years before you and wonder if things will ever change, if you’ll ever change. And a change of heart comes so ssssssssssssslowly.
Sometimes I feel trapped by circumstances. I think I know where I want to go, but it’s taking forever to get there.
I have this great vision of how my life should be. I should be an in-demand Christian women’s speaker and teacher, traveling to and fro, bringing the light of the Word to a motivated and hungry world. Wherever I go, ministry happens. Women are comforted, encouraged, and grow strong in the Lord. People everywhere turn to Christ. I should have a book or two tucked under my belt and a lively, well-trodden blog through which I interact with scads of other Jesus freaks and true seekers. I should have my perfect, pretty little house to come home to and wonderful clothes to wear on my slim, trim, healthy, & strong body. I’d be properly plugged into my local church serving alongside women who love Christ and one of them would be my best friend. I’d have plenty of time and energy for hiking and reading and just messing around. All my bills would be paid on time and in-full, especially my credit card. There would always be more than enough money to go around and I could give furiously and extravagantly. My family and friends and, well, just everyone, would love me. My whole being would honor and glorify God all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen.
My real life is nothing like that. My real life is so daily: making uncomplicated meals for my mom who has Alzheimer’s, helping her dress appropriately at least a few times a day, and generally keeping her entertained so she doesn’t start in with “Where’s the baby?”, “I have to go to work,”or her latest, “It’s time to go home” scenario. And all the while trying to time everything so she’ll go to bed without a fight that evening. Arguing with my mom is fruitless. I’m getting better and better at taming my tongue, but there’s still a lot of habit to break in that domain. Taking care of my mom is mentally exhausting. Sometimes I want to tune her out. I spend a lot of time confessing, but only some of the time actually repenting. Most of the time, I just want to sit in my recliner all day lazily sipping coffee, reading, writing, and playing on the computer. There doesn’t seem to be much energy leftover for exercise, get-togethers, and the like. Of course, this is actually the easy part of caring for my mom. Things will only get worse as time goes by. She’ll progressively require greater physical care as more and more of her brain’s ability is usurped by Alzheimer’s.
That’s when I wonder if this is what my life is all about. Am I going to spend these years caring for Ma and then just collapse and die afterward never having done the things I want to do? Is this all the daily bread there is for me?
I cannot know the future, but this I know. God has called me to this season for purposes of His own. I have a pretty good idea that these years are essential to the work He is completing in me. It’s my job to take my eyes off the circumstance and stop asking, “What’s in it for me?”
And that, my friends, is what this season is all about. It’s an opportunity to obey His call to live for the sake of another. It’s about humility, considering my mom better than myself. Not for a crown or reward, but for love of Christ.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!” -Philippians 2:3-8
These are not wasted days. This is prime time. My dream is a nice one, albeit a bit magnified. But given the choice – and we are, my friends, we are – I choose God’s plan, His dream for me. What about you? God’s plan is always so much bigger and better than our limited imagination. And better yet, it’s a sure thing.
Somebody asked me that very question the other day. “You don’t work [outside the home]. It’s just you and your mom, yet you’re always so tired. What do you do all day?”
Okay, what else do I do all day?
Picture this: It’s 8:00 am on a Tuesday and I’m snoring away in the snuggly comfort of my bed while my kitties snooze peacefully beside me. Downstairs, my mom has already risen and is spreading jelly onto a couple of pieces of bread for herself. The sun is shining, nary a cloud in the sky; it’s a beautiful day.
Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?
By the time I snort and snark myself awake, Ma has managed to spread jelly not only on the slices of bread, but all over the bread-bag, table, counter, and herself. She no longer remembers to use a plate nor can she precisely control her hands like she used to. Fortunately for me, since I am the clean-up crew, she has long since forgotten coffee. Six months or so ago, she made it every morning – with way too much coffee and no filter, if you get my drift.
My mom has Alzheimer’s Disease, a disease characterized by memory loss. Her short-term memory is shot. On a good day, she can recall simple events or conversations no longer than a minute or two afterward; on a bad day, it is a matter of seconds at best. She forgets what she’s saying even as she speaks and has difficulty finding the right words. Fortunately, I know my mother well enough that I can usually fill in the blanks. Nowadays, however, her conversation is rather limited since she’s unable to fully formulate a cohesive thought AND express it before her brain short-circuits and shuts down.
Her long-term memory is breaking down as well. She remembers some things from her childhood, however faulty, but nothing from my childhood. It’s like she sort of passed us by. Most of the time she thinks I’m her sister; occasionally she calls me Mom.
Beyond memories, though, Alzheimer’s continues on its destructive path. One does not just forget events and words and people and memories, but the brain slowly loses the capacity to process information; to think and act accordingly. My mom can no longer dress herself appropriately. She puts on two or three shirts over her nightgown, steps into her shoes, and thinks she’s ready for church. I have to dress and undress her. She has difficulty even remembering how to take off or put on her clothes. Too many steps or choices are overwhelming.
Right now my mom is able feed herself although manners are a thing of the past. She uses a fork and spoon, but isn’t safe with a knife. Sometimes she eats with her fingers. She talks with her mouth full, which is kind of gross (wanna see a train wreck?). I serve her soft foods only, with everything cut up ahead of time. I tell her to drink her milk, take her pills, brush her teeth. Making jelly bread and pouring herself a glass of water are the only nutritional acts she remembers. Anything else is too confusing. She can’t even make a bologna sandwich anymore. If I did not prepare her meals, she would never eat anything except jelly bread.
Eventually, my mom will no longer be able to walk, talk, feed, bathe, or toilet herself. Those things will become my job. She will lose all recognition of me, my sisters and brothers, and eventually even herself. Unless God takes her home sooner rather than later, she will become a kind of human vegetable.
It is my desire to care for my mom at home until the end. I hope to never need to place her in a nursing home. Be assured, however, that I am not looking forward to cleaning up poop and pee, vomit and drool on a daily basis.
In fact, I’m pretty well aghast at the idea of bed baths, bed messes, bed changes, or anything else associated with the nasty secretions of a crumbling human body. Yuck! But I do want my mom to spend her final days and weeks and years in the comfort of our home, safe and sound, with me to watch over her. I can do this, but only by the power of the Holy Spirit through God’s radical and free-flowing grace toward me. God always provides what is needed to carry out His will.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
Let the reader understand: there is no way on God’s green earth that I ever would have chosen to do what I am doing. I am no self-sacrificing, gentle, kind, loving thing. That is only Christ in me. Let there be no comments like, “What a good daughter you are!” I am not a good daughter – not on my own, not by myself. God put this in my heart. I came kicking and screaming to obedience and it certainly has not been smooth sailing ever since. But God’s mercies are new every morning.
So this brief telling explains a little of what I do all day.
It’s been a long, strange trip solely fueled by a daily dying to self through the power of the gospel. The credit, the glory, belongs to Christ in me. Amen! So be it.
And now I ask: What do you do all day?