209: Mirror Image (Dementia in Abuelita Ava)

by | Sep 9, 2021 | Mama Thursday

Welcome, Mamma Crew, to another chaotic, exciting, but always beautiful day of an older mom like you!

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So, just recently, I got what I consider to be pretty devastating news. I found out that my Abuelita Ava, my grandmother Ava, developed dementia. I didn’t know this. I had no idea because even when she passed away, I went to see her in the hospital two days before she passed, and she recognized me. She was struggling in the hospital, and she was struggling with a feeding tube. She was her fuzzy self, despite the fact she had just had a major stroke. I had every hope that she would recover. I had no idea she had been struggling with dementia at all. 

My cousin told me that my grandmother decided to go to my cousin’s house about a year before her stroke—it was her oldest daughter’s house. But on the way there, she got lost! I remember looking at my cousin with this dumbfounded expression on my face, “What are you talking about? My grandmother has never been lost in her life! My grandmother traveled all over Mexico on the bus, train, and she did this without anyone’s aid!”

But then, even as I said those words, I remember that on her very last trip to Mexico, my uncle actually took her, and that’s when she had her first stroke, I believe. I was speechless. I was completely speechless as my cousin continued her story.  She told me that my grandmother couldn’t find her way to my aunt’s home or cousin’s home.  My grandmother was able to find her way to my cousin’s middle school. And that frightened my grandmother even more because it didn’t make any sense. How could she find her way to a place she had rarely been but couldn’t find her way to my aunt’s house, where she went all of the time? So, my cousin got called to the front office, and my grandmother was hysterical. She had not been able to find her way to my aunt’s house. My cousin was let out of school early to take our grandmother to her house. As my cousin told me of my grandmother’s fear and the devastation, let me tell you, I felt it too. I felt devastated for the strong, crazy, independent woman who knew her days of independence were over. At the same time, I was devastated for myself because I am my grandmother’s genetic mirror image. Every physical challenge that she faced, I have faced.

So, here I am, having read many times that dementia runs in families and knowing that I will have to face it more than likely in my future. Right now, I’m in middle adulthood. Late adulthood begins at age 64, and I’m not overly concerned. But at the same time, I’m a prepper! I like to prepare. One of the things that I want to prepare the most for is the eventuality that I will not be able to make my own decisions in the long run.

Enjoying Life! I Love Golfing!

First, that means learning more about dementia. So, what is dementia? Dementia is not a specific disease but a general term used for the impaired ability to remember things or make decisions that interfere with our daily activities. Alzheimer’s disease is the most commonly known type of dementia. We always hear about it. This month, we’re going to be doing an Alzheimer’s Day on this podcast!

Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells. Now, I don’t know yet what causes this damage. I’m early in my research. I’m the active mom of teen twins, who are fourteen, my other fourteen-year-old daughter, and my six-year-old son. I have two podcasts. I take care of my family and kids, and I tried to do some self-care. In addition to that, I suffer from massive anxiety, and sometimes I just have a day off. So, it’s a lot to process. 

As I was saying, I have gone as far as finding out that dementia is caused by damage to brain cells.  This impairs the brain cells’ ability to communicate with one another. When the brain cells cannot communicate, we lose our ability to communicate and think.  Our behavior and feelings are affected or impacted by these damages to our brain cells.

So, I have begun to do research, in part because I recently found out that there’s some treatment for dementia that is new and radical and has shown tremendous improvement. It’s also supposed to be incredibly expensive. And there’s some debate going on about that, so I need to research that further. More importantly, this is a treatment that you can only get very early on to have the appropriate impact. So, that means that you almost have to start getting treated for it before the signs of dementia show. I’m not exactly sure how they select who can be treated for dementia if the signs of dementia are not showing yet. I have a lot of research to do, and I will definitely keep you posted. 

Now, believe it or not, finding out that my grandmother had dementia immediately impacted my life. I’m an older mom, and I live with that knowledge every day. I know that it is very likely that I’m not going to meet all of my grandchildren. I’m just hoping to meet at least a couple, and now there’s this monkey wrench! You know, my Abuelita, as I said, I’m her mirror image, so now I’m looking at a very strong possibility I will be facing dementia in late adulthood. Given what happened to my grandmother, we start to see it in our family in the early to mid-70s. Because now I have an aunt showing some signs of it, and she’s in that age.

I have some mixed feelings here. Part of me is grieving for the devastation that my grandmother must have felt when she realized that she could no longer be her crazy independent self. Part of me is grieving that it’s very likely that I will be facing her challenges in the future. 

The other thing that’s happened is all of a sudden; there are some things I had left off for retirement, for later in life that I’ve decided I’m going to do now. Some of them are big things like, I started writing a novel when I was in my 20s. In fact, I had a couple of offers to have it published, and I never followed through with it because I didn’t have the time to dedicate to my writing. I have to find some way to steal some time out of my day to get it done because that’s on my bucket list. I want to finish that whether it gets published or not. I want to finish it. 

There are also some little things like I always wanted to take my kids on this type of boat ride in Florida. I think it was called an airboat through the swamps in Florida. And I hadn’t gotten around to it because there are so many things to do! But I scheduled that for the 4th of September—the day before my birthday. 

I love golfing, but I haven’t been golfing in seven years, because well, the kids keep me busy, and I always make them a priority. But yesterday, I decided to make something that I enjoyed a priority. Honestly, I always thought that once at least the girls are off to college, I’ll be able to spend a lot more time with my husband. Now, I realized I don’t know how much time my husband and I will have together. So, somehow in that crazy schedule, I have to give him more attention, and I did yesterday. He was happy! 

So, one of the things that happened due to finding out about my grandmother is that I started thinking about successful aging. Yes! I know I keep saying I need to lose weight, but I love ice cream. Ice cream is so yummy, and it’s so comforting when I’m stressing out! Instead of stressing out with ice cream, I bought this new gadget that’s supposed to help with anxiety. I’m walking the dogs every day, and I’m cutting back on everything yummy. 

Recently, I saw a little documentary that said that either in Sweden or in Norway they only eat sweets on Saturdays. So, no sweets during the week. I will eat them on Saturdays. So, that’s what I’m telling myself, “Saturday! Saturday’s! I had to look forward to Saturday!”

I am limiting the size of my portions. Now I’m golfing, and I’m walking the dogs. Maybe next episode, I’ll introduce you to my crazy Yorkie who definitely needs to walk more. That little dog is just so crazy! 

Part of successful aging is taking better care of myself and doing some of the things that I enjoy and doing things with people that I enjoy—creating memories, good memories with my family and my friends. I also had to think of, “Okay. So, I have to focus more on creating a good life or good memories with my family. But what about that point where my ability to do that diminishes?” 

I began a conversation with my husband about long-term care insurance, especially knowing that we could potentially face this challenge. I say “potentially” because I have access to medical care that my grandmother didn’t have access to. I’m aware of the situation which my grandmother was not aware of. And in addition to that, that awareness creates the possibility that I could change my habits and the outcome. Correct? So, possibility, not a certainty. Just because we’re predisposed to something doesn’t mean that we’re going to get it. But just, in that case, we are starting our talk about long-term care insurance, and at some point, we will actually get it. I told my husband that at the point where he has to be concerned that I might leave the house and might not be able to find my way back, it’s time to put me in a full-time care facility for people with dementia. My husband was really disturbed, and he said, “I make no promises on that. As long as we can take care of you at home. We will take care of you at home.”

I find that a common thread among many of my peers, but I don’t feel that way. I really don’t. I don’t know why but I’m not scared. I’m not concerned about being put in a long-term care facility. I want that. I don’t want my family to deal with having to take care of me to that degree. I don’t want them to change my diapers. I don’t want them to have to bathe me. I don’t want them to be concerned that I went to walk the dogs and couldn’t find my way home, or I don’t want them to deal with the fact that I couldn’t remember who they are. I think a long-term care facility is better suited to take care of me under those circumstances. 

I want my family to be able to enjoy their lives. I don’t want my children to feel part of the sandwich generation taking care of young children and elderly parents. I don’t want that. I want them to focus on their children, on their life, because I’ve lived a great life! Yes, it had a rough start. Yes, I’ve had many challenges, but it’s a life well-lived. And now that I know that my grandmother had dementia and I might develop it, I plan on living it even better. You only live once! No regrets! 

I want my children and my husband to put me in a healthcare facility at the point where I become a burden. And my definition of a burden, not their definition of a burden, because I know they say things like, “but we love you.” I know they love me, and I hope they will respect my wishes. Just because I would be at that long-term facility, I know that you’re not going to stop loving me. They’re not going to stop loving me when I pass away. That’s something we carry in our hearts, and we carry it forever. 

Yay! Finally, Took the Kids on the Airboat Ride! We Love It!

I also started thinking of my eventual death. What to do with my remains? And I found a company that can make diamonds out of a body, and I’m wondering if that’s a good idea. I mean, wouldn’t it be nice to carry a piece of your loved one with you? I was thinking about that. I would love to have a diamond that was made from my mother’s ashes. But then, after I started thinking about it, I thought it would drive me crazy if I lost it! Not that I’ve lost much jewelry in my lifetime, not even my cheap jewelry, I don’t lose anything. But what if I lost it? It would drive me crazy, and I would be totally devastated! So, after thinking about that and discussing it right now, I don’t think I want to do that. Nope! I think I’m done with that idea.

Then I started thinking of these natural burial places where instead of putting you in a coffin, they put you like in this pod. You basically get buried in this field, and they plant a tree, and as you decompose, you feed the tree. So, you’re giving back to nature, back to life. I thought of that. It sounds very beautiful. But in the end, I decided I wanted to be cremated.

My friend, an anthropologist, says she wants to be buried because she hopes somebody will unbury her body one day and find out about our society. Not me! Now, believe it or not, even though I have a podcast, I’m a relatively private person. I choose what I want to discuss with the world or close friends, and it’s not everything. I don’t like the idea of somebody digging up my bones and finding out about my life. Sorry! I just don’t. 

I want to be cremated, and I want my ashes thrown at Torrey Pines Reserve in San Diego. I love San Diego! I grew up in San Diego. San Diego is part of my heart and my soul. And some of the best memories I have of being in my 20s are at Torrey Pines Reserve—being on the beach, digging up clams, accidentally trying to rescue a seal. I saw this blackhead in the water just rolling around, and I thought somebody had gotten hurt. So, I ran to pick up this person by the shoulders, and instead, I almost grabbed a seal. I honestly don’t know who was more frightened, the seal or myself! But we both were scared half out of our minds! My seal rescue or non-rescue was one of my fondest memories. My boyfriend surfing, my family at the beach, hiking with my mother and my sister at Torrey Pines Beach. One of my sisters stepped on a bee. I still remember that! Just that wonderful family feeling, that feeling of vitality. That’s where I want to be. In part because of the beautiful memories and in part because I hope that my children will go to Torrey Pines Reserve too and share in my experience, through the beauty of the reserve, through the excitement of the Atlantic Ocean.

So, that’s where my head is at right now. We’ll see where things go. For now, I have more research to do, more things to learn. And I’ve always said that if I lived to be in my 80s, I would be very happy and grateful! So, now my goal is not just to live through to my 80s to meet some of my grandchildren but to take care of myself well enough so that I can remember their names when I see them. Right? So, here I am, working on those goals! And if that does not happen and I’m not able to remember their names, I hope that at least I am remembered enough of myself so that they have the memory of me loving them. Because that’s what I want to do to my grandchildren, I want to love them and spoil them! Spoil them some more, and love them some more! 

In fact, I talk so much about wanting to over-love and spoil them that one of my children keeps threatening never to let me be around my grandchildren.  She’s afraid I will turn them into bad kids. As if that’s possible. I think I’m doing a great job as a mom! Right? So, how bad can I be as a Meemaw?

Anyhow, I recently started a podcast on homeschooling. If you homeschool or you’re interested in homeschooling, please check it out at Homeschooling with Dr. B.com. 

For links and resources, please visit our website. If you share an imperfect journey to motherhood, welcome to our crew! Till next time! Embrace the joys of imperfection! So, until next time! Toodles!


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Dr B.

I began my journey into motherhood at the age of 40 when I became a mother of twins! Today I am a mother of 4! Being an older mom might be a growing trend, but we are still a minority with our own unique blessings and challenges. Join me in this journey! To contact me directly, email me at oldermoms@entrepreneurialdreamers.com