Carol's Corner: Starting as a Caregiver
Updated: Mar 6
My mother was beautiful, graceful, humble, and 100% focused on her family. My parents were older when they adopted me. She had been a registered dietician but
was happy to retire and stay home with her “gifts from God, ” as she called us. She will say that her love of baking is tied to her Norwegian heritage, as is her sweet tooth. This meant that there was always a delightful homemade treat waiting for me when I got off the school bus, and we ate every night as a family at 5:30. She wanted to grow old in this home, where she raised her family in Minnesota.
In the 1990s my father had some health setbacks related to his diabetes, and my mother became his primary caregiver. When he passed away in 2009, she lost her purpose in life and the habit of eating on a regular schedule. It was roughly 5 months after my dad’s passing that I noticed my mother repeating stories when I would call her every other day from my home in California. She would reply that she thought she had told one of my siblings, not me. At first, I brushed it off, but after about two months, I realized that there was a memory issue. My siblings had not noticed, and my mother was adamant that there was no issue and would not see a neurologist. Since I did not feel that I could troubleshoot long-distance, I decided to move back to Minnesota in 2010.
During the next several years, my mother’s memory loss became more apparent. She would lock herself out of the house, and this was winter in Minnesota. She was able to get into her car which was parked in the garage. Thank goodness that neither the garage door nor
her car was locked. After this, we moved a phone o
ut to the garage, as she still knew phone numbers by heart. We also put wool blankets in storage bins in the garage.
When I asked her what she had for a meal, she realized that she couldn’t remember and began taking notes for herself. The notes went on for a couple of years, and then she just forgot to write notes. She was also misplacing items on a regular basis - whether it be a phone, purse, or glasses. Sometimes I was shocked at the location in which the item was found, and at the time did not realize that this is a sign of dementia.
I was also being contacted by loved ones in my mother’s life (sisters, neighbors, and church friends), who were noticing a loss in memory and were concerned. A neighbor of 45 years started picking up her mail and hanging it in a bag on her door handle, and my mother would put an empty plastic bag there for the next day’s mail. When he was concerned, he would ring the doorbell and chat with her. He started noticing that she was often forgetting to put out a bag or retrieve the mail.
Finally, in 2014, my mother agreed to see a neurologist. During the first visit, the doctor asked my mother to perform various tasks such as remembering words and drawing a clock as part of her mental status assessment. She was diagnosed with early-onset dementia. Her risk may have been increased due to the thyroid problems she had for decades, although no one else in her family with the same health condition had shown memory loss. The doctor considered it safe for my mother to live at home, and we t
alked through some options to slow the progression, recognizing that her dementia would continue to progress.
Finally, in 2014, my mother agreed to see a neurologist. During the first visit, the doctor asked my mother to perform various tasks such as remembering words and drawing a clock as part of her mental status assessment. She was diagnosed with early-onset dementia. Her risk may have been increased due to the thyroid problems she had for decades, although no one else in her family with the same health condition had shown memory loss. The doctor considered it safe for my mother to live at home, and we talked through some options to slow the progression, recognizing that her dementia would continue to progress.
The neurologist encouraged my mother to stimulate her mind by reading, doing word searches and jigsaw puzzles, coloring, walking, and doing exercises prescribed by a physical therapist. My mom threw herself into the puzzles and coloring, which she did beautifully. Although she loved to read, she found it frustrating that she could not remember what she had just read and so she stopped. We went back to the neurologist every 6 months and unfortunately at every visit, we would see a slight decline in my moth
In 2016, my mother made the decision to get rid of her vehicle and license - she hadn’t driven for months, and in the fall of 2017, I made the decision to sell my condominium and move in with my mother so she could stay at home. It was time for mom not to live by herself.
Continue reading to learn the steps Carol took to help keep her mother safe at home.