Not quite the plan

on finding my groove as a 30 something single girl and caregiver for mom with dementia

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Hungry but holding back.

Sis gave Mom an early salad dinner tonight so when I sat down to eat a few hours later, Mom joined me at the table.   When asked if she was hungry,  she pronounced herself starving.

I poured her some orange juice and grabbed a handful of nuts.  Mom has put on a lot of weight recently so we are trying to be thoughtful about healthier choices.  Mom finished everything and I asked whether she wanted more.

Her response, “No, I am healthy.”  Which in Mom talk means that she is trying to be careful of how much she eats. 

In spite of increasingly advanced dementia, Mom still shows awareness that she should be careful of what she eats and weighs.  Given how many issues no longer concern her, the occasional attention to her weight stands out.  It turns out to be one of those deeper lifetime habits. 

It is not quite enough to stop the ice cream snacks but in her seventies with dementia Mom still thinks she should be trying to stay slim. 


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No green beans for Mom.

One of our household staples has become mac n cheese which we pretend is a healthy enough dinner choice by adding mixed frozen vegetables.  Not the classiest dinner, but sometimes dinner in five minutes is what you need!

Last night, after the mac and cheese was ready, Mom informed me that she did not need any dinner.  She often believes this up until the moment that she realizes that she sure could do with an entire pint of ice cream.  I told her I understood and then served her a plate five minutes later, taking happy advantage of the short term memory loss.

Then, I watched Mom sit with her mac and cheese, carefully sorting it on her plate.  The green beans had to go, obviously!  They were immediately moved to the side of the plate.  Several — though not all — of the carrots quickly followed.   Mom’s list of acceptable and unacceptable vegetables is a serious list.  Green beans seem to have recently moved from acceptable to unacceptable– though broccoli and brussel sprouts are still solid choices.

I watched Mom pick through her food and decided that she was providing me with solid practice for raising a child one day.  I wonder if they will pick the peas and corn out of their mac and cheese as well.


Fresh bread.

What makes us happy?  For Mom, one of the basic items that consistently leads to happiness is freshly baked bread.  At some point she started requesting the good bakery loaves every time we went to the grocery store, and talking regularly about the bread that her mother used to bake.  Her mother, my grandmother, baked fresh bread daily and memories of that are a fond part of Mom’s childhood.  though my grandmother died when I was quite young, bread making is so linked to Grandma that the smell of yeast brings up a powerful memory of her even for me.

So after a month or two of buying lots of fresh bakery bread, and hunting in vain for a really great bakery, I logged on to Amazon one day and ordered us a bread maker.  I was so excited, which entertained Mom.

Well, she was entertained right up to the point where I started pulling out steaming, fresh bread and then she just was happy.  Eating my bread, which she uses my name to describe, is a daily highlight for her.  It’s satisfying for me to have found such a simple way to tap into good feelings for her of being nurtured and cared for.  We eat a lot of bread and butter together these days, just like she did as a child.  And even for me who is being influenced as so many of us are by the notion that cutting down on gluten might be a good choice, I have to admit that fresh bread is rather amazingly delicious.  Especially when eaten late at night with a happy Mom.

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A sweet benefit.

As I have mentioned, Mom loves the ice cream.  Last night at dinner, she ate half a carton of ice cream and then we headed out to do some errands.

In the car she mentioned that when we arrived home she planned to have some ice cream.  Enter daughter diet enforcer.  I told her she was not having ice cream for the second time in one day.  She asked, “when did I have ice cream?”  to which I explained that she had eaten it after dinner.  Without hesitation she responded, “I don’t remember.”

It was dark in the car, but it looked like Mom was laughing over there.  Most of the time Mom truly does not remember, but in that moment I was certain that she did or at least that she had happily decided to take full advantage of her memory gap.  Mom was enjoying this moment, I could tell.   She was happy to pretend that she did not remember and eat the ice cream a second time.

For a moment at least Mom was finding some pleasure in the lack of memory.


Ice cream and cookies.

Once upon a time my mother was someone who ate very healthy food.  My father was a health nut and my mother tended to follow suit.  Most of her life while I have known her, she ate a lot of salad and vegetables, lean meats, healthful cereal.  

Then, she got dementia and things changed.  

The other day I came home late and asked what I should make for dinner.  (I do all the cooking for her now.)  Mom told me she had already eaten dinner and I asked what she had.  “Ice cream.”  Apparently, the ice cream had filled her up and she was not interested in regular food.  

Sometime this past year, ice cream has become Mom’s staple food of choice.  If she goes to the grocery store alone, she will come home with at least two cartons of ice cream and usually a lot of fruit.  When I worry aloud to her about her food choices, she tells me that ice cream is good for her, usually while laughing and smiling.  I know it makes her happy which is of course a good thing.  But it also worries me that daily consumption of a carton of ice cream is certainly not ideal for someone whose brain has been impacted by cholesterol.  And with the short term memory problems, sometimes I realize that she has eaten ice cream multiple times per day.  I learned rather quickly NOT to buy ice cream at Costco.  The huge boxes would disappear in a few days!    

My newest effort to cut down on the ice cream is with cookies.  I am baking them myself and bringing them to her hot out of the oven.  Cookies seem to be about as satisfying as the ice cream but it’s easier to keep the portion size in check by baking just a few at a time.  But it does seem that in her ideal world, we would eat both on a regular basis.  

For now, we seem to have reached a happy medium of some ice cream, some cookies, some worrying daughter and a lot of chocolate induced smiles from Mom.