Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Fluffy Tree of an Afternoon

Oh, look! That red one . . . so gorgeous!" Mom's hands form the tree's shape, hands that once molded clay into pots and vases. "That yellow one," her arms widen to embrace the view from the car's front seat. We are taking our daily joyride around town. Maple, birch, sweet gum trees, oak are full of fall foliage and on these sunny October days, the view is stunning. "Oh, my goodness!" Mom exclaims, "It's so picturesque!!"

Our mother has had advanced vascular dementia for two years now. From what I see of the other elders at Southtowne, by now our mom should be walking with a fixed stare, robot like, or belted into a wheelchair with an alarm set on her so that when she stands up, a caregiver is alerted. These elders are called "Falling Stars" because they cannot stand and walk long without falling.

Why has my mother escaped that fate? I believe the answer is because Mom is completely off of pharmaceuticals prescribed her for symptoms of dementia. The particular med she was on to calm her fears and anxiety and self-endangering behavior caused her to grind her teeth, shattering them. The grinding distracted the caregivers. One admitted that her husband told her that in the middle of the night she would yell in her sleep, "Mary!! Stop grinding!" The social director who had treated mom as a favorite earlier began to walk by her without noticing her. Defintely mom's fun was being affected. The nurse practitioner who advised Southtowne agreed with us that the drug was not working. I felt I had a clear road now to seek other ways to help mom with the fear, confusion and anxiety that plagues people with dementia.

We had a sacro-cranial masseuse working with mom with some success in reducing her anxiety, and asked if he had any ideas. We talked to my naturopath. My naturopath had given mom a successful remedy to calm her sundown syndrome so her mind would slow from its anxious high speed at night and she could sleep. Homeopathic remedies do not have any side effects so we often turn to them for mom since our mother is already on eight prescription medications for her heart.

For example, this year mother had a bladder infection, which for elders is a very dangerous thing. The usual symptoms do not occur. She may or may not have a fever. I had asked for a urinalysis when I first noticed her confusion and tiredness. I had to keep asking about it and was finally told that the test result came back negative. Five weeks later, my mother stopped eating. The medical doctor said this is all part of the process in dementia but just in case they would give her a urinalysis; in some cases a bladder infection affects eating. Alarms went off in my head. When we returned to Southtowne, I confronted the med aide about the possible bladder infection and asked if the urinalysis was really done. I learned that the nurse had been let go when it was discovered that she had let many things go including my request for a urinalysis.

It is a very scary thing when a person stops eating. I plied Mom with food Japanese give to sick people, rice gruel. I chopped up fresh shiso leaves, chicken with garlic to sneak in protein and add flavor. Mom would eat a bit of it while dramatically suffering and whining. I gave her a protein drink which she drank with an anguished look on her face. "I caaaaaan't" she would wail! Her weight plummeted. Again, I went to the naturopath for advice and she suggested we try Chinese bitters. Administered 15 minutes before a meal helped the salivary glands to do its work and it can jumpstart appetite.

Now a month later of constantly checking and the help of Katrina, a very vigilant and diligent caretaker who took it on as her crusade to address this eating problem, and the caretakers who worked with her idea, mom eats 100 percent of all her meals. I name Katrina because she is remarkable. Another person might remember or might not remember about the tonic. Some excuse their inattention so easily. But Katrina stands out. I do credit Katrina and the Chinese bitters with giving mom her present peace of mind and happy days. Food and the enjoyment of eating are important to quality of life.

Returning to the story of our search for a non-pharmaceutical treatment for our mother's dementia, I turned to the sacro cranial doctor. Benjamin suggested alpha-stim treatments, a simple device being successfully used by many who have depression and now being used by some for Alzheimer’s and dementia. The electrical impulses stimulate the part of the brain, which controls anxiety, apparently. The medical doctors have used alpha-stim to help athletes with muscle problems. Locally, a psychologist dispenses the alpha stim, which anyone can learn more about by going to

Now, through the successful alpha stim treatments and my naturopath's correct analysis and prescription of a homeopathic remedy, my mother has reduced her grinding and has not only maintained her own personality but is calmer than she has ever been in her life. She goes with me on rides with the alpha stim ear clips on her ears looking like a youthful version of herself listening to tunes on an ipod. Her high water pants show off her flashy socks (which I choose so I can clearly see if her socks are being changed daily) and we have kept up her bright and flashy style revved up a bit more. That day she wore her black straw hat with the big bill which protected her eyes from the sun, sunglasses with leopard designed frames, a slick slim jacket bright reds and pinks with flashes of blue floral set off by glass rivets forming designs around the cuffs and collar. We were ready for our ride!

We round the corner onto campus. Lots of trees line the street. "Oh, marvelous! Did you set those up like that? It looks like those are the ones you did."

"No, our neighbors did that, mom,” I have given up with true answers like "those are trees." or "Creator did that." "They grow that way."

Mom nods, accepting my answer, "It does look like your style, though." I accept the compliment.

"grit grit grit grit"

"Mom, please stop biting," I remind her using the words the sacro cranial doctor suggested.

"I'm not biting. I'm crunching."

"Please stop crunching then, mom, it hurts your teeth." I work to keep my voice sing song as I grit my own teeth.

Mom always boasted that Grandpa used to call her "Mary, Mary, quite contrary" for a good reason. Now at this stage of her life, that contrariness definitely keeps her youthful.

She's always surprised when I drive up to Southtowne bringing her home again. Each time she exclaims over the tall shrubs, which are trimmed into a spiral design. "I've never seen anything like it! It's so artistic!" she says each time. As I push the open button for the gate, she wanders away, hands on her hips surveying all the trees lining the parking lot. Then her attention is drawn upwards. "Look at those!" She points at the blue sky with cumulous clouds building up. 'Those white ones! Those trees are so fluffy! I've never seen that before!"

What would you say? "Those are clouds, Mom" or allow yourself to step into her incredible fall afternoon? It's anyone's guess because any answer will do. In fact, the truth is I have answered in either way so many times, I can't remember which I used the afternoon of the fluffy trees. It seems an appropriate way to end this story, our family version of Alice in Wonderland as we tumble into the magical rabbit hole with Mom.

1 comment:

  1. thanks for sharing about the fluffy has come such a long way. i often think about her gnarly toenail, and how freeing it has been to be rid of the fear that seemed to feed it. i'm so thankful for the homeos, alpha stim, people willing to think outside the box, those caring enough to take the time. you've been mom's angel advocate...her newfound peace and pleasure for life is her way of saying "thanks" ~m


"from Outside the Belly" was also known as "TBAsian" from 2008-2010. Thank you for reading.

from Outside the Monster's Belly

from Outside the Monster's Belly
. . . following Earth instead (Rakaia River, site of Salmon Ceremony, photo credit Ruth Koenig)


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Eugene, Oregon
I am a citizen of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. I am a Nikkei descendant sansei (third generation);retired teacher, involved in the Winnemem tribal responsibility to Water, Salmon, and our belief that the Sacred is our Teacher. Working locally for human rights and supporting youth leadership.