Caregiving Vignettes: “Helping Himself”
In his dementia progression, he went from being able to help his clients as an attorney out of all kinds of life messes, and he went from being able to do household projects like build a window seat in our kitchen with hinges that open for storage, he went from being able to plan a road trip better than anyone, creating, no less, a binder of sites to see along the way and information about the area. If I were the one driving, he’d read it out loud to me as we drove along. He went from being able to care for me and the family. He would take my car to get gas for me. He’d always get up before anyone and put on the coffee. He’d cook steaks on the grill for the family. He’d do all the snow removal (we lived in a very snowy state at that time) while we all were inside in the warm house.
With dementia comes a progression of the inability to care for others, then the inability to care for oneself.
Now, he not only cannot do any of those things but but cannot even find the coffee creamer. It’s the little details that have to be adjusted, and adjusted for the need of the moment.
A pretty nice solution, I think: I wrote in nice black permanent marker on the top of the lid “Coffee Creamer”. (If the surface is sweaty after you pull it out of the nice cold fridge then make sure to wipe it dry first or the permanent marker will not adhere.)
I learned early on for my husband that labels attached to things helped him… and me. It saves us both frustration and time. I keep the coffee creamer in the refrigerator door and before I thought to label it, he would pull out the ketchup, the butter, the mayo, and call out each one. And, I would say, (while trying to get in my newspaper reading for the morning), it’s the one with the red lid… the one all the way to the right on the top shelf… but he’d be pulling out the things you don’t want to put in your coffee. Now, the angel on my shoulder had the idea of labeling it. The other shoulder had other ideas… like “let him try the Dijon mustard in his coffee… that might be interesting”. Good thing for him the good guys are winning.
I was so excited to see this morning how when I could see him pulling out the wrong thing I said, “The creamer is the one labeled on top…” and he grabbed it right away and said, “Oh, Coffee Mate.”
Other things I have labeled: The bathroom door. (At least once or twice a day he can’t find it). Previously in his decline I labeled other things but unless I am right there to help him sort it out it, this doesn’t work any longer. Now, the label on the coffee creamer and the label on the bathroom door help me… help him.
It keeps us all happy and I can read my morning paper.