It occurred to me as I sat at breakfast with my mother in law, Martha, who suffers with Alzheimer’s disease that she didn’t seem quite herself today. That may sound strange to some of you but even as an individual is progressing through the dementia stages they do retain certain parts of their personality. Now, sometimes the subtle changes can occur before an illness such as a urinary tract infection or even dehydration. So I started this morning with running through the gamut of potential problems. Beginning with the small things such as the lighting being adequate, is she warm enough, does she have her hearing aids in place and are they turned up so she can hear me. I then moved on to what I call the intermediate of potential issues, such as did she take her medications last night and today, did she seem stuffy or congested this morning, had she had a bowel movement yesterday, or did her unusually quiet behavior reflect something else. She seemed tired and when she asked what time it was, it hit me; last night was the shift to Daylight Savings Time.
Now you would not expect this to create any problems for someone who is not cognitively aware of the time of day any longer; but just like a baby or child, the individual with Alzheimer’s has a sense something is different. We did not necessarily get her up an hour earlier or make any changes to her routine but she sensed a change. She asked repeatedly during the day what time it was and finally said she felt tired today. There are times when she is such a “hoot”! Her surprised reaction when we told her the time was, “Oh my, how could I have slept so long.” And when we all laugh, she laughs and enjoys herself right along with the rest of us, it is wonderful. I love to see her have those happy moments.
Meals were the epicenter of her confusion with Day Light Savings time; she just couldn’t believe it was time to eat again. This made us all laugh again since Martha is a very tiny woman who weighs about 98 pounds but eats constantly. Around our house we have candy dishes filled with her favorite “Hershey Kisses” along with bowls of unsalted pecans, almonds and fruit. Needless to say, she does not go hungry. However, today her eating pattern has shifted and instead of eating all of those treats between meals, she is eating them about an hour later. Our grandchildren came over and she helped fix tacos, salad and brownies for dinner and guess who ate her weight in brownies? It is wonderful to watch how animated she becomes when around children. You can see she is back to raising her daughter and five boys; her old behaviors to keep them busy kick in.
Once dinner was over and as the sun went down she began to become restless and uncomfortable; not unusual for most people with dementia. Martha rubs her hands together when she is unsettled which helps by giving us an indicator to her state of mind. Her bright blue eyes begin to fade. She asks my husband to take her home which we finally figured out to mean Tennessee, where she grew up with “Momma and Daddy”. Then she wants to know if the lady of the house cares if she goes to bed. She and I walk together upstairs to begin her bedtime routine and she says to me that she is so tired and the day has gone by so fast. I agree and to some degree am always surprised at how much she continues to teach me every day about those living with dementia.