As my Mother's intellect unwinds, as she slowly comes undone, she becomes more and more like a child.
A friend was talking about getting her grandson a walking push toy, something to help him steady himself as he learns to walk, it brought to mind all Mom's neighbors with their walkers.
My Mother's taste in food has changed, she desires more sweets and treats. She makes gagging noises and motions and says things like "I'm not going to eat this garbage" loudly in the cafe. She screams in the grocery store "No, no, no asparagus! Never liked it, never will." Many adults go from eating solids, to tiny pieces of food, to eating only finger foods, to puree food, to liquids - just like a child - only in reverse.
Like a child her words are blurted out thoughtlessly. She has to be reminded to be more compassionate in her thoughts and words. "She can't be my visiting nurse. She's too fat to be a visiting nurse." Mom, you were once 75 lb larger than you are now, not everyone is tiny. "That man, he talks funny." Mom, he had a stroke, he has to learn to talk again, Dad had a stroke and he had a hard time talking.
Like a child, she needs my help to put on gloves and tie her boots. We argue that she needs to wear gloves and a jacket because it's 5' outside, but she don't understand what a temperature of 5' means. She screams "I don't have to do what you say, I can do whatever I want."
Like a child, she sometimes can't buckle her own seat-belt. When she can find it, Mom brings the strap over to me, and then raises her hands up out of the way. Arms up in the air, just like my little boys did when they got buckled into their car-seats.
Like a child she wants me to do things NOW. Right now! Do it right now - give me it now - I want it now - now. Even if we just did it today, yesterday, or this past month, we have to do it NOW.
Just like a child, I worry that Mom might become lost, thankfully she doesn't have a strong desire to wander. Mom wears an emergency button, do you think she would know to press it if she needed to? Mom's new address and phone number are on cards in her jacket, purse, and wallet. Would she recognize this as her true address? Or would she tell someone "24 Maple Street" where she lived 60 years ago?
My friend lost her Mother in the grocery store. She turned around and her Mother had vanished. Fortunately this store had a process in place for lost children and adults, they took my friend's concern seriously. Workers watched the exits and methodically combed the aisles. Like a child, she did not think she was lost, she had just gone to find ... something.
Like a child, Mom acts like a ten year old, who goes into the tub, turns on the shower, stands there and then gets the towel wet. "I took a shower" she says. I know she didn't wash, when I can see that her feet are still dirty. I don't know why she is reluctant to bathe, I don't know why she can't do a thorough cleaning, I don't know why she fibs about taking a shower. Does she get in the shower and then think "I'm done" and then get out?
As I look through the adult care catalogs, I see so many "child-like" items: bibs and diapers, stuffed animals and baby dolls, texture toys to keep idle fingers busy, picture books with large words.
We can't treat our elders with dementia like children, because they are not. They are adults that deserve respect and dignity. However they have to be kept from the dangers of their own child-like behavior, they have to be saved from those that prey on the elderly, and intimately cared for when they can no longer do it themselves.
There is a caretaker I know, who talks about protecting her parent, from the stares and nasty comments of other people. She is embarrassed for her parent, because of her parent's child-like behavior. An 18 month old doesn't feel ashamed or embarrassed about removing all their clothes and running around naked, they are not being naughty. But it is hard to deal with the "real" world that won't accept this behavior from an 80 year old, an 80 year old who had the emotional age of a little child.
And like a child, I know my Mother sometimes only can understand things she can see. If it is "out of sight" it is "out of mind." She can't remember people who are not in her photos. She can not find her clothes unless they are piled up on her dresser and chair. She can not find her books or dvds unless they are laying around. Her shoes have to be beside her chair. Her drawers and cupboards are empty. Her purse is slowly becoming a blackhole. She puts lots of stuff in, she carries it about, because she knows it's important, but doesn't look inside to find things. "Why would I do that? It's not going to be in there!"
Just like babies who love to play peek-a-boo; they don't understand that you are still there when you hide behind your hands.