I’ve often likened Mom to a shark.
Not in the toothed-and-terrifying-reason-why-I-don’t-go-into-the-ocean way. But in the fact that some sharks have to swim constantly to keep oxygen in the water passing over their gills. They keep swimming to stay alive.
That’s always been Mom. Always on the go. She can’t sit still to save her life (no pun intended.) Even now, in the midst of dementia, sitting idly, quietly, contemplatively is not for her. She’ll work a crossword puzzle, word search, or coloring book while watching TV.
It’s part and parcel to her extroverted nature. She derives energy from activity outside of herself. She and I are a great deal alike, except in this way. I’m an introvert. I can go days, weeks, without ever speaking to anyone other than the check-out clerk at the grocery store and be perfectly content. In my work, though, I had to learn how to be more extroverted. I can now happily drum up a conversation with the person next to me on a plane. I can chit chat (introverts are notoriously averse to small talk.) It was like having a muscle I never used, but once I started to flex it, it gained in strength. I’ll never stop being exhausted by too much human interaction every day, though.
It’s good that I learned how to be more extroverted because it helps me understand Mom’s need to keep busy. For many years, she was the chair of her condo association’s social committee—organizing elaborate parties with food, entertainment, so much fun. It took a great deal of her time. And she relished it, until her forgetfulness became so overwhelming that she couldn’t organize as she once had.
It’s sometimes a challenge now to keep Mom busy and engaged because she can’t really stay on task, due to her compromised short-term memory. And also because it’s not my own nature to need to be actively engaged in something external. But I’ve come up with some regular things that we do that work to energize her and keep her feeling relevant.
Pretty Flowers & Good Food
The best way that I keep Mom energized is with arranging flowers and cooking. The flowers are the best. We get beautiful, inexpensive flowers at Trader Joe’s, and she arranges them way better than I can. And it’s something she can do entirely on her own, without any supervision from me. Cooking is another thing.
Aside from all the obvious dangers that the stove poses, Mom can no longer follow a recipe, or cook from memory. So it’s a team effort that we both enjoy. I just have to pay attention to what she is doing. If I tell her to mince half an onion, there’s a good chance she’ll do the whole onion if I don’t stop her. Not a big deal, but it’s just how it is.
All the research I did when Mom was first diagnosed said that keeping someone with dementia active is key. I’ve found what works well with Mom, but everyone is different, and early stage dementia does not necessarily strip away a person’s innate personality. Understanding that about the person you may be taking care of will go a long way to giving them a full, happy life.