July 20, 2022

my folks: forgetfulness, doctors, and boxing out

Remember when I drove to Joe's funeral with my sisters? They were all a twitter about our mom's forgetfulness. I'd noticed it. They were borderline offended by it though, as if she was doing it intentionally to irritate them. I was like WELL, ONCE SHE CAN'T FIND HER WAY HOME FROM THE GROCERY STORE, THEN WE HAVE A PROBLEM. 

Well, she still seems to manage the grocery store route, but her forgetfulness is becoming increasingly obvious. She just turned 80 in March, and as of 8 months ago she was SO sharp. She's never had any health issues, but refuses to go to the doctor for checkups, or for ANYTHIHG. She probably hasn't been to a doctor for decades. Probably not since her knee replacements some twenty odd years ago. No joke. 

Shh! Don't tell Lad. The girls put one
of Curly's old bows in Finn's hair.
 He looks so pretty. In other words,
 I had no photos to go with this post.

One Christmas, pre-pandemic back when my folks always hosted, Mom had a horrible cough. Bronchitis or pneumonia? She still hosted and refused to go to the doctor. Aunt Leprechaun is a family practice doctor, and she can't convince Mom to get a checkup. 

As Coach says, "Your mom is the most stubborn person alive." He's not wrong. 

I find it odd that she still visits the dentist and takes care of her teeth, because what good are her teeth if her body is failing?

I'm not sure if she has dementia, but I do wonder if her memory issues stem from the time spent stuck in the house isolated during the pandemic. My dad has leukemia, so they really didn't go anywhere or see anyone for years in order to try to keep my compromised dad healthy. Back in the day, Mom attended morning mass daily and was out and about often. They are starting to venture out a bit now, but not much. 

In addition to her memory issues, she's lost weight. Like A LOT of weight. She wasn't overweight to begin with, but had just a little extra cushioning. If I had to guess, I think she's lost over 20 pounds. Her clothes hang on her frame. 

A few weeks ago, I went to a going away party for a woman. She's the oldest of 7 sisters who my sisters and I Irish danced with when we were growing up. These girls were pure fun and our families have always kept in touch, but we don't see them very often. 

Anyway,  I saw some of the sisters at the party. I learned that one sister, Fran, who is my age, suffered a few strokes in the last year. She's doing well now, under a doctor's care. Anyway, one morning when I was out for a run, I passed Mom on her walk. I slowed down (not by much, because remember what my kids say:  I run slower than I walk) and updated Mom on all the sisters. She was very upset and worried about Fran. 

You know what's nice?
Getting physical
 therapy on the floor of
 your very own
 family room. I didn't
 say it didn't hurt,
 but it is convenient.
 Coach working on
 my sore toe a few weeks
 ago. Lookie there,
 I did have a photo that
 could go with this post. 

Then we borrowed Dad's car and I had to drive him (in his car) to his physical therapy appointment at Coach's office. Overlap much? Anyway, I asked Dad if he'd heard about Fran's strokes? He hadn't. 

When I drove him home, I walked him inside and said hi to Mom. Before I left, he told Mom about Fran's strokes. "OH, NO! THAT'S AWFUL." Mom was upset all over again. 

I reminded her gently, "Remember Mom? We talked about this. Fran is doing well. They learned that cousins in Ireland around her age were struggling with similar issues and they believe it's hereditary. They've gotten it under control."

A day after we returned from Wisconsin, I called Mom and told her I was cancelling my flights to GA. Planning to drive. I explained that flights being cancelled was becoming common.


Me:  (I guessed each of Ann's children)



Mom:  YES. 

We'd just spent three days together and Marie never left Mom's side, but Mom couldn't remember her name. 


All of this to say, my heart is sad. I fear Mom is slipping away. There are things my parents have done and said that have hurt me over the years. I struggle with Mom's closeness with my two sisters. My sisters demand that closeness though, rely on it -  and I do believe I'm more independent, less needy, and ultimately stronger because of my original thinking, and clearer vision of reality. Still, knowing I'm left out of things hasn't been easy. 

I've decided that I can't afford to let anger and frustration interfere with my relationship with my folks. I'm choosing to move past it, fearing that when they are gone I'll regret allowing my frustrations to taint our interactions. My parents live closer to me than any of their offspring. I can walk there in under 10 minutes (running there in 12 min, I KID). 

I'm making more of an effort to stop by and see them, or to invite them over, which they won't always agree to. Because my sisters literally monopolize them, this is the only solution I can come up with - box my sisters out (this is a basketball defensive move where one blocks another with her body in order to get good positioning to rebound, lest you think I might be considering boxing with someone), so I can enjoy some time with my folks minus my hovering, controlling sisters. 

To be clear, I never stopped having a relationship with them or stopped talking to them. I'm just not great at planning out visits. Tis the nature of our busy life, while both my sisters are practically empty nesters. 

For example, on Mother's Day, I walked over to give Mom her card. No one was home. Coach and I finished our walk and I left the card on her porch. Later Mom called me, thanked me for the card. She told me that she saw me walk by with Coach from the window of the restaurant in their neighborhood where she and Dad were having lunch with Ann. It was Mother's Day, and Ann couldn't text me to say - HEY, COME INSIDE AND SAY HI. WE JUST SAW YOU WALK BY. 

Mom even pointed out that they saw me walk by at the start of my loop and AGAIN at the end of my loop. So, twice. Really? You couldn't walk to the door and say hi? Mom doesn't have a phone (remember? stubborn). 

Mom said she and Dad had gone over to Pat's house in the evening on Mother's Day to listen to an Irish band practice he was hosting. It was irritating to not get to see her on Mother's Day, but par for the course. 

I have a few funny stories of my recent encounters with my folks. You know what I've decided is the least elderly-friendly experience of all time? The DMV. One day soon, I'll explain. Dang, so much to talk about, and only two posts a week. 

Do your elderly relatives manage things like the internet, DMV, remote controls? Do your people visit the doctor? Do you know anyone who has gone down hill memory-wise since being confined by covid? 


Nance said...

My goodness, you and I have such similar circumstances. My parents' relationship with me was the same: they were always so busy with my sisters and brother and all of their lives, so my family and I were afterthoughts. Now, my mother (92) has Alzheimer's, and I am on-the-spot, duty-bound, one of her caregivers. My two sisters are MIA. The stubbornness has become a nightmare.

Please get your mom to a doctor for evaluation. It may not be COVID isolation, but the beginning of dementia/Alzheimer's. If you talk to your sisters, ask if they've noticed her repeating things, forgetting things during the same conversation, etc. It could be time to intervene.

Suzanne said...

Oh Ernie. Watching our parents for signs of decline is so scary and sad. I'm hoping that the memory loss is just "normal" rather than a sign of dementia. But geez, she needs to go see a doctor! (Yes, I am biased toward regular doctors' visits.) Makes sense that you are renewing your efforts at having a relationship with your parents. You are doing all you can. <3

Kari said...

It's difficult to watch our parents age. Unfortunately, life and its ever-changing cycle are inevitable. As you navigate this new chapter, I send you much love and hope for a better connection with them. Xoxo

Anonymous said...

Similar situation over here. A few years ago my mother decided she was entirely done with doctors. Granted, she had some experiences with doctors that were frustrating to say the least. Still, it is very difficult to listen to her various health complaints and fears and not want to scream "Go see a doctor already!" Virtual hug to you as you navigate this situation.

Kara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kara said...

I guess my parents are youngish. They're both turning 70 in the next couple of months, so we aren't quite at this point yet (and my grandparents have been deceased for over a decade, but I remember their declining years).

They deal with the internet and remote controls better than me! My Mom was a computer programmer from the beginning of computers basically. She's very techy. Except for making travel reservations- the woman has so many issues booking flights, it's ridiculous. My kids made her an Instagram account recently. I don't know about the DMV, but since my father worked in the state bureaucracy for 30 years, I'm sure they are aware of the ins and outs and the mazes, and go with the flow. There haven't been any incidents that make me think that they need their licenses revoked.

ccr in MA said...

Oh, it's so worrying, isn't it? When I moved in with my mother 4 years ago, she was pretty much fine, but her memory (never great) is just getting worse and worse. We're trying to set up reminder systems, but as even she says, the this-week calendar on the fridge doesn't help if you don't remember to look at it! I'm so glad I'm here to help her, especially given the pandemic, but oh, it's so hard to look at every little thing and wonder if it's normal or A Sign. I hope your family is able to get your mom the help she needs, if she'll take it.

mbmom11 said...

My dad did not do much technology, but he had my sister living with him so she took care of that side of things. He drove up until 90 - then he would drive only to familiar places or if my sister was with him, and then around 93? he turned in the keys himself. (I think he got lost once or twice, and maybe scraped the mailbox with the car and then didn't remember it?) Then next year, my sisters would drive him to church or store. He was very social, and though he got forgetful, he loved being around everyone. He was always 10 yrs younger than his age until he got sick at 92 with shingles, and then the declined started accelerating. He saw the doctor regularly and would do really well on the memory test things.
However, I went to help with him once and he spent one morning talking to me as if I was a complete stranger. (Where were you born? I was born in Town, dad, we lived there remember? You were born in Town? I lived there with my family years ago. Yes dad. Really? Do you have a family?...He later recognized me, but it was okay. he was forgetful but still really nice. Stubborn though - hard-headed Irishman!) My sisters and I think that we're glad he passed the fall before Covid hit - isolation from people would have been so hard for my outgoing, church-loving father.
Maybe one of your sisters could convince your mom to go to dr?

Busy Bee Suz said...

Your Mom's forgetfulness breaks my heart. Surely your Dad has witnessed this. Can you talk with him? If it's early onset dementia or Alzheimer's, I think there are protocols to diminish the speediness.

I didn't see my parent's age; Dad was 52, and Mom was 72. She still had all her faculties and sharp wit.
My Grandmother was 96 but still seemed on top of things. Of course, she repeated stories (I'm already doing that) but that's normal. Your Mom completely forgets things, and I can see why that would alarm you.

Please keep us updated. I think you are right to keep boxing out the sisters. The Mother's day story broke my heart for you. What the hell with them?

Ernie said...

Nance - We should go to lunch together and compare notes. ;) I know you're new here, but I'm the middle. My two older sisters and bossy as all get out. My parents have played favorites for years. My youngest brother and I tend to do our own things, be on the perimeter. He is in better standing typically than I am, because he is a male. What can I say? It seems to be an Irish thing to fawn over the sons. My sisters are a piece of work.

I already know that my sisters see it. My dad says he mentions the forgetfulness to mom and she doesn't like to hear about it. My youngest brother says she knows. There is no convincing her to go to a doctor, unfortunately. I was with them at the DMV today and Mom told me not to ask her to go to a doc again or she'd opt to stop talking to me. I do wonder if all of my siblings agreed to stop talking to her, if then she'd go. She will fight us every step of the way if we try to intervene.

Ernie said...

Suzanne - I do think she is struggling with dementia or Alzheimer's - the beginning stages. Whether or not the pandemic sped up or added to this process, I'm not sure - but it seems to have taken a toll. Coach is a medical professional and we are completely on board with doctor visits. It is really frustrating.

Ernie said...

Kari - It sure is hard to watch them get older and slower and less able or willing to do things. Thanks. I appreciate that.

Ernie said...

Annie - Thanks, I appreciate that. I brought it up today with my mom and she couldn't give me an answer as to why she won't go to the doc. She said she's just not a doctor visiting type. I told her she could continue to believe that and not go to the doctor constantly, but that she could just go have one physical. Nope. No chance.

Pat Birnie said...

Oh Ernie, this must be such a worry. I simply cannot fathom her refusal to see a doctor for so long. The scary part is that something may be going on that could perhaps be treated if found early (thinking about the weight loss here), never mind the memory issues. I'm happy that you have committed to a relationship with your parents - but what the heck with your sisters??? My dad died of lung disease at 78 so he was still pretty sharp. My mom was pretty good until she went suddenly at 89. I consider myself so lucky that we really didn't have to deal with parents' decline.

Ernie said...

Kara - I agree, it sounds like you aren't there yet. Your parents are so youthful. How great! Your mom on Instagram? She's very hip. And a computer programmer to boot? My mom has never touched a computer keyboard. Ha. I hope they continue to enjoy good health and mental sharpness. I'm astounded at how fast my mom is declining in the memory department.

Ernie said...

ccr - It is very concerning. I had to drive with her today to the DMV - story to follow. It was quite an adventure. I pointed out how great it was that we had our grandparents around for so long and I asked her why she bothers with dental appointments if she doesn't take care of her body? Before the DMV, I called my folks yesterday. My mom said my dad was busy, but she'd have him call me. She forgot to tell him.

How great that your mom has you there. It is so hard and I can only imagine how scary it is for them to start to realize that they are getting so forgetful.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if you can rally your siblings, particularly anyone with golden child status, but if you can:

Getting your mom evaluated by a doctor asap needs to be a priority. Perhaps even to the point of someone setting up the appointment on her behalf without telling her about it and then doing a "put your shoes on, I'm taking you to a doctor now." And when she sees the doctor, she needs a family member in the room with her and the doctor-- someone who can tell the doctor what the family has observed and also note any next steps, because you can't rely on her to remember. (Or, given her resistance to seeing a doctor at all, you can't necessarily rely on her to communicate the next thing.) Ideally, that person needs to be added to the doctor's ok-to-communicate documentation, so that HIPAA doesn't let your mom act as an informational bottleneck.

It may not be Alzheimer's, but something else that can be treated, and treated more effectively than Alzheimer's. I read of one family where the mom's sudden dementia-like symptoms turned out to be the result of drug interactions. Once they pruned her drug list, she was back to normal. There are other causes of dementia-like symptoms that are equally treatable.

And if it is Alzheimer's: there are drugs that treat it, but they mostly slow the decline or only give temporary improvement. If it's a matter of slowing decline, it's better to slow it sooner, because the lost ground can't be regained. Additionally, some are only for early disease, if I'm remembering correctly. If Alzheimer's is her diagnosis, the sooner she gets her condition labeled and gets treatment, the better.

Seriously, get that brother who can do no wrong involved. Or your sisters. Or anyone who can get you mom into a car.

Ernie said...

mbmom - Your dad sounds like he was a lot of fun to have around. How great that he was so sharp for so many years and that all of you were able to spend so much time with him. I can imagine the pandemic would have been hard for him. I know people whose parents got ill and then died alone because they weren't allowed to be with them. That is so upsetting.

We have that hard-headed Irish thing with my mom. My sister will be no more successful than I have been in convincing Mom to go to a doctor. It isn't like she will listen to one of us. She told me today that if she isn't feeling well, then she'll go - but she says she feels fine. My dad says he thinks she was trying to lose weight. It is a frustrating situation.

Ernie said...

Suz - My dad is well aware of Mom's slipping mind. He has asked her to see a doctor and she yells at him, loudly. She really won't be budged - not by any of us. Why so stubborn, indeed?

My dad's folks lived into their early and late 90s and were sharp as tacks until the very end. My mom's mom lived into her mid to late 80s and she was also sharp, just normal forgetfulness. Nothing like what we are seeing.

My sisters and their monopolizing of my folks on special occasions, like their birthdays and mother's day . . . well, it's gross and thoughtless. If I can manage it, (depending on Ed's graduation) I'm going to host my mom for mother's day next year and just invite all of them to come. The end. Why is this even complicated? My buddy, Becky, has told me that my sisters better watch out if she ever has a minute alone with them, after a few drinks. I'd pay good money to see her share her thoughts with them.

Ernie said...

Anonymous - I have thought all of this through. Believe me. If we walked into her house and told her to put her shoes on, she wouldn't do it. My brother who does no wrong is married to a family practice doctor. My mom, if dragged into a doctor's office, would still refuse to participate. The level of stubbornness is not easy to describe. I joked with my dad at the DMV today that we should kidnap her and take her to the doc and say this is the only way to renew your driver's license.

I appreciate your input. My mom doesn't take any medications. Zero. So it isn't a medication overlap, but I still agree that she needs to get checked out.

joymariecooks said...

I'm sorry Ernie. It's so tough!

Re you mentioning in a comment about joking that you'd have to tell her she can only renew her license if she goes to the doctor, you should actually check into that. In some states I believe family members and doctors can report an elderly person as being unfit to drive to the DMV and unless they get medical clearance back from a doctor the license is gone. My dad and his siblings had to look into that for my grandad at one point. Fortunately his car broke down and they just declined to help him get it fixed so they never had to intervene like that. I believe it's anonymous btw so the elderly individual doesn't know who turned them in.

Ernie said...

joymarie - It IS tough. Today was the day we went to the DMV - last week was when I set up the appointments, so much was involved in this process. Honestly, if we'd tried that my mom would've just said that she wouldn't drive anymore. I'm not even kidding. There is nothing that will convince her to go to the doctor. I thought about it at the end of today's adventure as my dad and I were waiting for her to finish her road test. During the struggle to get the appointments for today scheduled, she threw up her hands and said she just wouldn't drive anymore. It's gonna take more than us ganging up on her, unfortunately.

Nicole said...

Oh Ernie. This is heartbreaking. It is so hard to see our parents age, and the memory thing...I have been wondering the same thing about my MIL who has never been great with memory but lately it seems worse. She lives alone and is very nervous about Covid, so she has really restricted her activities.

I am so sorry about your mom, I would be worried sick as well. Sending lots of love and strength to you. xo

Ernie said...

Nicole - Thanks for the kind words. I am pretty sad about the situation. I spent hours with them yesterday and there is no question that she is losing ground. I broached the doctor subject and she absolutely refuses. I know what you mean, there is normal elderly forgetfulness and then there is an alarming kind of memory loss. I hope that your MIL is only experiencing expected forgetfulness.

Bibliomama said...

Oof, that is difficult and sad. My parents are pretty sharp still, but my dad who's always been the toughest S.O.B. around has back issues that have really affected his mobility and that's tough to see. That restaurant thing? That is pure bitchy meanness - I mean, who even does that? My parents do go to the doctor - I know this because I usually take them, which is far preferable to them just not going. My mom has definitely been affected by being stuck at home during Covid - it's nice that the kids are home for the summer and can go visit them too.

Ernie said...

Ali - Yes, it sure is tough and sad. My grandparents all experienced normal forgetfulness, but they were all pretty sharp up until the end. My mom's memory loss has taken me by surprise and it is really heart-breaking. I tried everything to convince her to get in and see a doctor. Maybe next time I will point out that she's getting forgetful and the docs can help slow that process. She got mad at me and threatened not to speak to me if I mentioned it again, but she won't remember that threat or that I've brought it up before given her current memory issues.

The restaurant thing was a blow. My sister is a beast, but holds herself up as the most caring and devoted daughter/sister. Not even close. It might have been my mom's last mother's day. I'm just making an effort to go see my folks more often so that I don't feel so out of the loop.

Charlie said...

Sorry to read this Ernie. Such a worry for you all. I definitely thing you’re taking the right approach by saying you just want to spend as much time as possible with them now. Having no regrets is such a comfort when something does happen. If she’s forgetting that you’re trying to get her to the Dr, I’d say keep going. Or maybe talk to her Dr (or yours) about the issues you’re facing and get their advice. We did that with my mum when she started to be stubborn about getting help and the Dr sent someone round to the house so it was a done deal. Admittedly she did need hospital treatment for pneumonia at that point!

Ernie said...

Charlie - Thanks, it is sad. I already feel a major shift - like she isn't my mom anymore. I brought them dinner last night and I mentioned she could heat something up in the microwave and she didn't know what a microwave was. Sigh.

I do intend to keep trying with the doctor. I saw my dad this morning at church and I told him that she said she'd go to the doc if she didn't feel well. She hasn't been feeling well, which I found out by accident (thus dinner delivery), so I told him to try again.

She's always been so sharp and her mother was sharp until her congestive heart failure got to be too much.

Thanks for the encouraging words. I will press on. I've actually thought about having my doc make a house call. She probably needs blood work and I'm assuming she would physically fight that.

How are you holding up?

Beth Cotell said...

I'm home from vacation and catching up on my blog reading. I'm sorry to hear about your mom's memory issues. My dad refused to go to the doctor and thus ended up literally dropping dead of a massive heart attack. He was over weight and but I'm certain his could have been easily handled with medication but he would not go. Also, like your mom, never missed a dental appointment. I've never thought about that but it is strange.

Ernie said...

Beth - Oh, I'm so sorry. Thanks for sharing. That is hard.

I do fear that we are headed in that same direction. Avoidable. It stands to reason, the woman who worked so hard to build a family that she is so proud of. She could have more time to enjoy watching everyone grow and do exciting things. We'd all love to have her here to celebrate all that life has to offer. It weighs on me and it is interfering with my sleep, but she refuses to consider that her refusal to go to the doctor is hurting more than just herself in the long run.