A Diary of Alzheimer’s Memories: Helping Mom with My Alzheimer’s Suffering Stepdad

Being retired means redirecting one’s life. Mine has become one of care giver.

With children and grandchildren most of my redirecting has focused on them. Now with aging parents, redirecting means helping them as much as I can, while I can. I want to enjoy my mom as much as I can while she is in good health and help her health remain strong while she is the primary care-taker for my stepdad whose has Alzheimers that is worsening significantly now. About visiting our family in Huntsville over Christmas, Pawpaw’s comment was “this has been a really nice visit. These people, I don’t even know, have been so nice to me!”

I met up with mom & Pawpaw in Huntsville AL where we joined my sister and brother for our holiday gathering. From there, we began Day 1 of our Florida trip headed South through Marianna, and then Tallahassee Florida for the first night. The pit stops along the way were much easier on mom with me able to be with Pawpaw, direct him to and from the restroom while she gassed up the truck, paid and took care of herself. We stopped in Marianna FL at a Ruby Tuesday and had a nice dinner. I drove us onto the Candlewood Suites Tallahassee. It took the 3rd motel stop to find a non-smoking ground level room. Pawpaw, had a stroke 23 years ago and has trouble climbing stairs. Pawpaw was good during the trip today. He seemed to know we are headed to their winter home in Florida.

In conversation Pawpaw got confused when mom said we were going to Sebring. Of course he never had been there nor heard the name of our 2011 snowbird town. With the severity of his Alzheimers he might not ever remember. We were headed to Buttonwood Bay, Sebring, Florida.

On the second day, we slept late until about 9:30, ate breakfast at Cracker Barrel, got gas and then hit I-10 south to Fort Myers / Naples where the RV had been in storage all year. Just as we arrived in our Fort Myers motel room for the night Terri (Pawpaw’s eldest daughter) called! Perfect timing offered lasagna for supper! We had a great visit with them at their new condo at Coconut Pointe. Visiting with Terri, Jeff and Kelsey was a lucky surprise visit! Pawpaw said, “hi little sister” to Terri. He thought his eldest daughter was his sister Janet. Later that evening, when we went back to the hotel to get some sleep, he told mom about me, “that woman with us thinks she’s my mother.” He really was already confused about all of the people in his life. As I write these memories, none of his understanding of us, his care givers, has gotten any better. The regression worsens as does his understanding of who the people in his life really are.

On Day 3, Monday morning we had to be up early at 7am, to get mom / Tom showered, eat our continental breakfast, and to arrive at the RV / camper by 8:15. Getting into the truck Pawpaw was worried about leaving his other companions behind. Pawpaw had already been seeing people in his mind who were never really there. That continues and becomes more common with each passing day. To try to clarify his thoughts and lessen his worry, we explained about our Christmas gathering and all of departures. Our attempted explanations did no good at all to lessen his worry. He stopped worrying only when he forgot about the people in his mind’s eye. Meanwhile, we found the RV in good order, removed the humidity bags and moth balls, and were happy to find no leaked water inside. We waited a short time for the RV man, he connected, and pulled the RV 90 miles down the road to Sebring with the Florida temperature being a comfortable 66 degrees. We were so happy to have a beautifully clear day with no rain after we had driven in two days of downpouring rain storms. I was so proud to be there, able to help mom and Pawpaw, and to enjoy the wonderful winter Florida weather. That perk proved to be a significant one because the rest of the country had a really hard winter in 2011.

Driving inland Pawpaw talked to both of us about his other wife Wilma. Just in the last few months, my mom, Pawpaw’s wife of 27 years, Wilma, has stopped coloring her hair and allowing her now natural grey to show through. I suggested that the new grey look might confuse him and mom thought was probably true. Mom and I suspected that Pawpaw remembered her with dark hair.  It seemed that Pawpaw is confused by this grey Wilma and his dark-headed Wilma. How else could he think he had two wives named Wilma? Of course, I was there, and I looked like the younger version of mom, especially since my hair is still somewhat dark. So there we were, mother and daughter, looking as much alike as ever and now being wife number 1 and wife Wilma number 2, causing Pawpaw’s Alzheimer’s ridden brain major confusion. We decide that if his confusion in this regard continues, we should color mom’s hair back to its darker version.

Later on day 3 we reached our final destination Buttonwood Bay having had no issues along the way. The RV man set everything up, leveled and connected all of the hook-ups for us! Pawpaw and I stayed in the truck out of everyone’s way. Staying in the truck was hard on Pawpaw, a former Marine and a southern gentleman who always wants to take care of others. In his mind he is young, strong and capable of doing anything. In reality his stroke of 1987 has his body and motions unstable at best. He did stay put in the truck better than usual because I was there waiting with him. Mom was happy with this new arrangement, me keeping Pawpaw and her easily able to move around doing her stuff. All was well in our world, as well as it could possibly be. The weather was sunny and with bright blue skies and nice temperatures in the 70s.

In the evening of our third day, we went to the grocery store and then we all went to bed at 8pm! We were all exhausted but I actually took a sleep aid since I had been awake both nights on the road worrying about and helping Pawpaw to and from the bathroom during the nights. Mom liked driving, did all of the driving each day so she slept well each travel night and I kept an eye on Pawpaw who did not sleep well at all in the motels. I could tell he was uneasy, did not know where he was and just did not rest at all really. All three of us slept well our first night in our winter snowbird home.

On Day 4 of our trip, Mom and I took our first walk and we walked one whole hour! There is a nature trail but it is not a circle so we sort of saw more and walked more than we had planned! We planned our walks thereafter. After our return, Mom groaned a bit but surprisingly I felt fine that first day and expected my soreness to come later. Day one was mostly spent in our familiar yet unfamiliar winter home-away-from-home. To me and mom, the camper was familiar, but the camper was not familiar to Pawpaw. Mom explained their last several winters of traveling to Florida to him but those attempts soon grew old and we realized that he just did not and would not remember. We hoped in a few days he would settle in and feel at home. Reality was that on some days he seemed to be settled and on other days he seemed lost. 

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