Tag Archives: dementia

Change Your Perspective, Change Your Experience

Mom and me on Valentine's Day

Mom and me on Valentine’s Day

As I was thinking about plans I’d made for a day trip with Mom last weekend, I noticed that I was in a very different place mentally and emotionally with regards to my mother than I was a year ago. Mom has Alzheimer’s, a tragic, progressive form of dementia that eventually leaves people unable to care for themselves.

A year ago I had just moved Mom into assisted living. At that time she was unhappy and unsettled about the change. It took everything in my patience arsenal to get through every interaction with her. Consequently, I felt burdened by the responsibility I had, resentful that Mom had Alzheimer’s, mad that everything seemed so hard. I was focused on the difficulty and struggle. I had a “I’m worn out, scared, resentful” perspective of my reality. If I’d been planning a day with Mom last year that perspective would have made me dread taking the day trip.

What I noticed this time is that I was looking forward to having an adventure with Mom, to having the chance to bring her some pleasure by having lunch with an old friend, to having a great trip through the country listening to music we both love. My perspective had shifted. The current perspective is, “This is an opportunity to connect with Mom where she is, to enjoy special moments in her company, to make a new memory for me.”

How did that perspective shift? I wasn’t aware that I was trying to operate with a very limiting, negative perspective last year. I was just doing the best I could. Part of what happened with is that enough time has gone by and Mom has adjusted to her new home and is less scared, threatened and oppositional about her living situation. She has adjusted to her new home and has forgotten much of her previous life. Ironically, that’s one of the gifts of dementia.

I’ve also had a lot more experience dealing with Mom in her impaired state. I have figured out what works with her and what doesn’t. At some point I began making a conscious effort to go with the dementia rather than resent and fight it. Since I couldn’t change what’s happening to my beloved mother, I chose to observe it with curiosity. I watch the changes and make adjustments to my behavior in order to accept what is and make the most of a very sad time.

Instead of focusing on my sadness, I spend more time looking for ways to give her pleasure, even as this terrible disease is robbing her of so much that is precious to her — her ability to take care of herself, her ability to anchor memories, her ability to read, her ability to understand language and communicate with people who matter to her. By going with the flow of the disease process and looking for opportunities to demonstrate the love I feel for her, I’ve landed in a much more accepting and positive place myself.

If you have a difficult situation in your life, check out your perspective about that challenge. What are you thinking? Are you holding a positive, helpful perspective or clinging to a limiting perspective that keeps you feeling like a victim of circumstances beyond your control? Choosing a new way of thinking about your situation can change your experience from negative and burdensome to positive and life-affirming. My mother’s disease has taught me so many important lessons. The lesson I’m sharing with you now is that changing the way I view things can change my experience of them. I’ve learned to look for and spend time with what I can control, my thoughts and my perspective.

4 Guidelines for Helping Aging Parents and Clutter Clearing

You may have noticed that I’ve been missing from action the past few weeks. I have been caught up in the challenging and complicated process of helping my mother transition from independent living to assisted living. I’m back now, and want to share some of what I’ve learned from that process.

This past month was a very difficult time because of a decline in my mother’s cognitive and physical functioning. It became clear to me that Mom was no longer safe living alone. It was time to help Mom transition to assisted living. I knew this time would come, but I dreaded it because I knew my mother would resist that option with all her might. To make things really challenging, Mom has dementia that made it difficult for her to be aware of the full extent of her decline and unable to remember the various incidences, like falls and running into her garage door with her car, that indicate that she needed more help.

Last week Mom moved to an assisted living facility for a 30 day trial that I hope will extend to the rest of her life. Getting to this point in a loving way has been as complicated a challenge as anything I have ever done. But, the difficult times always provide numerous opportunities for learning, healing and growth. Here are some of the things I’ve learned. I share these with you in hopes that they will be of benefit to you if you need them at some point on your journey, or that you will pass them on to others who might benefit from them.

Focus on the benefits of the change instead of the reasons why the change must happen.

Because of dementia and pride in her independence, Mom was unable to self-assess and reach a conclusion that she needed more help. Pointing out aspects of her decline only made her more defensive and determined to convince me she was still in good shape. When I shifted to telling her what she could enjoy in the new setting, like having much more time with me, being able to try many different restaurants, having adventures like going to the Pet Expo, and visiting with old friends, her defensiveness dropped and she began to imagine the possibility of a new life that might have more access to people and activities that matter to her.

Focus on what you love about the person and keeping her safe instead of on changing the behaviors that scare you, bother you, or want to make you run away.

Mom repeated how much she loved where she lived and that she didn’t want to leave. She stubbornly resisted using a cane. She kept forgetting why she could no longer drive a car. She put plastic dishes in the oven even after being told it isn’t safe. Initially I felt annoyed and scared by those behaviors, but fussing at her only put me at odds with her and didn’t change her behavior. So, I reminded myself that the behaviors were happening because of the effects of the dementia and her fear of change. Each time I responded to her I reminded myself to come from a loving place and remember that I cannot change her behavior. I then looked for what I could do that would be helpful in the moment. When Mom said she didn’t want to leave her home, I agreed that leaving her beautiful home with it’s privacy and beautiful water view would be difficult, that change is hard, but that change can bring other new, wonderful opportunities into her life. When she forgot why she couldn’t drive, I described the five incidents that led to her decision to give her keys to me. When it was clear that she couldn’t remember how to use the microwave and couldn’t remember not to use the oven for plastic dishes, against her objections I arranged for a Visiting Angel to come in the evening to heat up her dinner.

Focus on the facts, not the feelings.

I felt scared that Mom could fall, break a hip, and end up in a nursing home–her worst nightmare. I felt angry that she stubbornly asserted that she was OK when clearly she was not. I felt sad that I was losing her to dementia, and mad that I was having to deal with such a sad, difficult situation with someone I love so much. But, I quickly learned that when I communicated with Mom from the vulnerable place of my feelings, out of fear or anger, I was met with debate, resistance, and her feelings of outrage and anger. When I began calmly stating facts about her car accidents, about the changes in her mobility like balance problems and difficulty getting in and out of her car, facts that could not be disputed, not only was I able to better manage my myriad of feelings, but Mom had nothing to push back against. Feelings can be questioned, blown off, and misinterpreted. Facts are facts.

Keep moving forward even if you don’t know where you’ll end up or how you’ll get there.

I knew Mom would find assisted living facilities unappealing, but I took her to see two of them. During the visits she kept asserting that she was going to continue to live in her home. But in the process I learned that she did like one of the people who gave us a tour. That was a positive anchor in this difficult situation. In further communication with him I learned that there was an apartment located on the ground floor near the dining room and mailboxes, a location that would make it easy for Mom to find her way to those important places. It seemed like the perfect place for Mom who can become very disoriented when in unfamiliar environments.

I also spoke to my dad, my mother’s ex-husband of over 30 years, and shared my concerns and ideas about how to help Mom. He offered to speak with her if I thought it would help. Since they have stayed friendly over the years, and he’s a doctor whose opinion she might respect more than mine, I took him up on his offer. At age 84 he drove eleven hours to meet with Mom. During his visit with Mom he came up with the idea of doing a one month trial in an assisted living facility to see if it’s something she might enjoy. He also suggested leaving her home as is in case she decides that she doesn’t like the change. His option of a trial stay instead of a permanent move was what it took to shift Mom from refusing ti move into an assisted living facility to being willing to give it a try. When I asked for Dad’s help, I had no idea that he would come up with the idea that would break through Mom’s wall of resistance.

I gave up thinking I had to know and see the whole path to Mom’s journey to a safer place, and instead read the signals each step of the way, making the best decisions I could from a loving place. Movement in a positive direction begat more movement.

You may be thinking, “What does this have to do with clutter clearing?”

  • If you focus on the benefits of clutter clearing instead of the enormity of the project or how ashamed you are that things have gotten so out of control, you’ll find you are motivated to tackle your clutter challenge instead of feeling overwhelmed by the challenge.
  • If you focus on your strengths and what you love about your gifts and abilities, you’ll boost your confidence and seek solutions instead of focusing on aspects of the project that seem impossible to address.
  • If you focus on facts like, “Is this in good condition?” or “Do I love this or use this?” instead of feelings of annoyance because your family has contributed to your clutter problems, or sadness, embarrassment and shame about once again finding yourself having to dig out from under your clutter, you’ll be able to keep moving instead of shutting down.
  • If you make yourself keep moving when you run into an emotional or decision-making roadblock by shifting focus to an easier task or asking for help, you’ll get the clutter clearing done.

Helping aging parents transition to a safer way of living and clutter clearing are both processes. Each has its challenges and opportunities. I hope you’ll find the principles I’ve shared to be helpful guidelines on your journey.

Clutter Clearing: Purging and Reorganizing Books to Improve Spirits

Yesterday I reorganized my bookshelves. It was a Saturday morning following two days spent with my mom who has dementia. So what does reorganizing books have to do with dementia? Mom’s condition and needing to make arrangements for assisted living for her despite objections from her and another family member had left me feeling powerless, exhausted, frustrated, angry and sad. Long ago I learned that when I am stressed by uncomfortable feelings, I can calm myself by organizing my space and purging unwanted and unnecessary items.

My husband had gifted me a Kindle for Christmas–which means I don’t have to have so many books in physical form. And, I had been staring at a congested bookshelf from my TV watching chair in the family room. Add in the angst of family struggles, and I was all fired up to clear out books I’d had on those shelves forever without cracking them open. I couldn’t control how other family members think and act, but I could make decisions about those books and create a new order.

I first got real about the novels I intend to read. When I read for pleasure I want to read stories set in places I love. I also prefer to read stories about the personal relationships, not death, war, murder or intrigue. So, I let go all books whose stories were set in parts of the world that don’t interest me, and tossed books that had violent story lines.

Next I set aside books for my husband to check out. He has had a Kindle for over a year and rarely reads a paperback or hardback book. Removing all those books made room for me to be able to rearrange the remaining books.

I ended up with a small collection of novels I feel sure I’ll read. And, there was a small shelf of spiritual/inspirational books that still speak to me. I also kept all the books I know that matter to Bob; professional books, books from childhood, reference books on home repair, and a few odd books on various topics. What gave me great pleasure was to be able to group all my gardening books front and center. When I was done there was a pile of books for Bob to review, two bags of books by the door to go to Goodwill, and a few books to go back to my office.

When I took the books back to my office I found I was motivated to go through all the books in that room as well. Only weeks before I had lamented that I had no room for more books there because I couldn’t bear to part with any of the books on the shelves. But, newly motivated by my success in the family room, I reviewed all the books collected there. To my surprise I found that there were books that could be purged. Others could be moved to the family room shelves. Again I was left with space. And, I was motivated to reorganize the books according to my current priorities.

My bookshelf clearing adventure reminded me once again that all it takes to get me psyched about completing a clutter clearing job is to move the first few items. I immediately felt pleasure once books started moving off the shelves. When they were just sitting there collecting dust, they seemed like an immovable wall. Very quickly I was able to see space and get clarity by clumping books of like type–novels, spiritual books, books on feng shui, etc. And, when I was done clearing and reorganizing the bookshelves in both rooms I felt so much calmer and grounded.

When Bob later went through his books a few were kept and three more bags of books were taken to the front door and then out to my car for donation. I felt so much lighter, and somehow richer. The books that remained on the shelves felt like gold to me, the best of the best. Now when I need a book I’ll be able to go right to it. And, the view from my TV watching chair is really nice!

P.S. It was so much easier to tackle the job of writing several difficult emails regarding my mom and her care once the bookshelves were clear and reorganized!

Clear Clutter to Ground Yourself for The Best Year of Your Life

Clear clutter now so you can soar in 2013!

I had the best of intentions to do a lot of writing in the week between Christmas and New Years. But, I just couldn’t do it. I’ve been dealing with some difficult challenges this past month with my mother who has dementia. It’s amazing how much emotional energy it takes to figure out what to do to keep her safe and at the same time allow her privacy and quality of life. And, I suspect that I’ve been grieving the loss of the competent mom that she always was. It’s hard to watch a parent decline.

Since I was shut down and couldn’t write, I decided to honor the state I was in, instead of trying to push past the exhaustion or beating myself up for not being more productive. I read a novel, watched some mindless TV, ran errands that had been on hold because of holiday travels and family obligations, and I cleared and organized my desktop. I got the new printer I needed and set it up. I hung my new calendars and entered addresses and phone numbers in my computer address book. I took a look at my finances and paid my mother’s bills. I did all that little stuff that is so easily put off. Why? Because it grounds me. Because I knew that by doing those tasks I was setting the stage to hit the new year with order in my office and my life, a great foundation for a great year ahead.

Yes, there will be more challenges with Mom’s health and her resistance to help. But, if I’m grounded and my own house is in order, I can handle whatever comes at me. And, if my office is clutter-free and organized, I will be able to write again when this grief patch subsides.

Start your new year on a positive note by creating order in the places you use the most. It’s the best investment of time and energy you could make right now. You will be signaling the Universe that you’re ready for the best year of your life!

© 2012 Clearing Clutter for Good Online Program | Debbie Bowie

“Author, Organizing Expert and Feng Shui Practitioner, Debbie Bowie, is a leading authority on clutter clearing to attract more of what you want in life. If you’re ready to clear clutter and move your life forward, get your FREE TIP SHEET, “Feng Shui Tips for Instant Success” at www.letcluttergo.com.

Paper Scatter, A Sign of Dementia

I got my organizing gene from my mom. She was highly organized and ran a tight ship when I was growing up. Not only was I blessed with her organizing gene, but I also had a skilled model for getting and staying organized. She was always restoring order in our home where I lived with my parents and two brothers.

So, when I started noticing miscellaneous papers floating over the tops of three counters in her kitchen as well as her desk, I was at first curious, then alarmed. Something had changed. And, it wasn’t the quantity or type of paper that flowed into Mom’s house. When my step-father’s health declined and he eventually died, I finally felt I had permission to closely examine all those papers. Mom needed my help to manage her finances because her focus was on her husband and, I later discovered, because she really was not cognitively capable of doing so herself.

I had noticed my mother’s significant short term memory problems for some time, but I tried to explain it away as normal aging. My step-father’s health crisis made it very clear that Mom has dementia. During that difficult time she exhibited significant confusion, and it was obvious that she was unable to make decisions, cope in new environments and learn new things. The sea of papers was the most visible symptom of her cognitive decline in her home. Changes in her brain made it more and more difficult for her to make decisions about what to do with incoming mail and my step-father’s medical papers. Her way of not handling her papers was to drop them on an empty counter. Then she would look at them over and over again.

Mom’s sea of papers reminded me of what I so often find in the homes of clients who hire me to help them make peace with their papers, particularly those with ADHD. It is well known that those who have ADHD often have frontal lobe deficits. The frontal lobe is the area of the brain responsible for executive functions like short-term memory, decision-making and prioritization. I am guessing that Mom’s dementia has been affecting her frontal lobe for some time.

If you have always had difficulty managing paper, don’t leap to the conclusion that you have dementia. I share this information with you because you may know someone like my Mom who once was very competent at managing papers but who with age has become less capable of paper management. It could be an early sign of dementia. It’s easier to be helpful and loving with a person who is having difficulty with the details of life if you have some idea of a possible cause of the decline. Changes from previous levels of functioning are information you can use to determine the best way to be helpful to a beloved family member.

Staying Organized: A Mother’s Legacy

It has been a quiet week here in Kilmarnock, Virginia, in the aftermath of my step-father’s death. I’ve been here to make funeral arrangements and support my mother as she comes to grips with the biggest loss of her life.

As is my habit, I’ve watched my mother move through her days both with curiosity and concern. Mom is not only grieving the loss of the love of her life, she is showing signs of dementia. The most obvious sign is poor short-term memory. I’ve been preparing myself for further decline by reading The 36 Hour Day by Nancy L. Mace and Peter V. Rabins, a book about dealing with dementia. I know it’s possible that over time she will eventually forget how to do even the simplest of tasks. I dread that time.

My mom has always been very organized. At the moment, for the most part, she still is. It has been comforting to watch her move through her days maintaining order in her lovely home. When she opens mail, she routinely throws away the opened envelopes and junk mail. As she moves from the den to the kitchen, she picks up used glasses and plates to put in the dishwasher. She regularly clears cluttered surfaces, stating that she just doesn’t like to have too much stuff around. Maintaining order is a way of life for her. I am so grateful to have learned the lessons of how to get and stay organized from her. I feel sad when I think about the possibility of her losing that ability to the ravages of dementia.

For now, I take comfort in Mom’s commitment to maintaining order and her ability to tend to her space. What a blessing it is to be her daughter!

Feng Shui Organizer Missing In Action

You may have noticed that I’ve been absent for the past four or five weeks from my weekly blog, newsletter and emails.  During the holiday season, it is common for most of us to become blitzed with too many obligations, with too much to do.  I suppose I’m no different; however I have been unable to keep up my usual posts and communications, not because of the holiday, but for what I believe to be a normal stage of life.  Normal, but utterly lonely and overwhelming.

My priorities shifted abruptly at the beginning of December and much of my normal life is on hold. On the 4th of December my step-father’s mental status took a turn for the worse, landing him first in the ER, then the hospital, then a rehabilitation and nursing facility, then the healthcare unit of a continuing care facility and finally home.

During that journey I learned that not only my step-father, but also my mother have dementia. Since Mom and John live 90 minutes away, my step-sister and I had to determine the best way to provide them both the care and safety they now need. My step-father’s dementia keeps him primarily unaware of the changes in his life. My mother’s cognitive impairment, however, is more challenging. Because she is more aware of what is going on, she has felt threatened at every turn by the our attempts to make sure she’s safe and has what she needs to stay happy and healthy. Dealing with dementia has been an education in patience, creativity and asking for help.

After spending time in almost all levels of care available to senior citizens, we discovered that a company called Visiting Angels could provide 24-hour in-home care for Mom and John. And, we have enlisted the services of Hospice of Virginia to help John make a peaceful transition from this life to the next. Mom and John are now able to be together in their peaceful home by the water with their cat, Harley.

I have had to do things I had hoped I’d never have to do, like take my mother’s car keys, request her doctor to officially determine that she is not competent to manage her affairs, drive and live independently. My life has felt like a tragic game of chess. Every time I think I’ve made the best plans and life will fall back in order, I’m led down a new path with a new problem to solve.

When exhaustion has threatened to take me under, I have somehow found the strength, guidance and assistance to keep going, guided by love and a commitment to do the right thing for Mom and John, whether they like it or not. There have been many lessons and many blessings.

I’ve learned that what I thought was best for my mother wasn’t. I’ve been blessed with a positive connection with a step-sister I hardly knew. She came to my rescue a number of times when I needed a kick-butt approach to make something happen. We’ve been blessed with help from Mom and John’s neighbors and friends, and the home care of the Visiting Angels and Hospice personnel has been outstanding. So many of my friends have taken time from their busy lives to let me know they miss me and send their supportive prayers. And, I’ve been blessed with an outpouring of love from Bob, my husband of 21 years. His appreciation of what I’ve been going through and how I’ve handled this trip through aging parent hell and his willingness to walk beside me through the difficult parts of this journey have kept me afloat numerous times when my little boat was at risk of going down from the weight of responsibility and turbulent emotions.

This is a journey I would never have willingly chosen. It has derailed me from my life and my business. I had the worst Christmas of my life. My feelings have ricocheted between profound sadness, fear, impotence, frustration, rage and numbness. I’m weary not only from the intensity of feelings I’ve been flying through and the physical demands of many trips back and forth to Kilmarnock, Virginia, but also from having to be the healthy, functioning “good brain” for Mom and John through this difficult transition.

This is my life right now.  I recall meaningful sayings from important places, such as, “One Day at a Time,” “This, Too Shall Pass,” and “Let Go, and Let God.”  I remember these sayings as I’m taking over management of Mom’s life and while I’m coordinating with my step-sister to arrange and maintain the best care for Mom and John.  We’re working hard to help them live with as much serenity and dignity as possible.

All this is to say that, for me, family is first.  I will not be able to be consistent with my online communications for some time.  But I will return when I can.  I long to return now.