Alzheimer’s changes almost everything.
Caregivers can see the biggest changes easily. It’s impossible to miss the decline of abilities like making conversation, performing productive work, buttoning a shirt.
Other changes can sneak up on us. And, though they may appear small, they may eventually cause serious problems.
That simple knowledge can help us anticipate obstacles, give us more time to prepare for them, and thereby keep our loved ones safer.
For Mom, it was her hair.
She likes it short. For over 25 years, she’s gone to the same little shop to see the same friendly hairdresser for the same simple cut and style. When Mom stopped driving a couple of years ago, Dad began taking her. He’d drop her off, go home, wait for her to call, and pick her up.
A few weeks ago, Dad waited an unusually long time for Mom’s call. She was outside the shop when he arrived. As the car door slammed shut, she began shouting. “I will never come back here. Ima Jean said I didn’t even have an appointment. She made me wait until she finished three other women before she even started my hair!”
Dad’s question as to whether Mom had actually made an appointment only made her angrier, he told me later. Tiny alarms went off in my head. Should I have made the appointments? Should I have gone with her? Next time, I told myself. Next time I’ll go.
Next time didn’t come. Though Mom forgot many things in the next few weeks, she didn’t forget her promise. When I suggested we call to schedule a haircut, she glared at me. “I will never,” she repeated, “go back to Ima Jean.”
Neither would she agree to go to any other hairdresser. Persuasion didn’t work. My invitation to take her to lunch after a quick trip to my hairdresser didn’t work. Neither Mom nor Dad would agree to have someone come to the house to do Mom’s hair.
While I tried to come up with other ideas, Mom’s hair kept growing. I was lucky if she allowed me to wash it. When it brushed the back of her neck, Mom complained. When it touched the top of her collar, she raged, long, loud, and often. But just as long and loud and often, she refused to let anyone cut it.
The problem was on my mind again this morning. The answer came as I drove into my parents’ driveway: I can cut Mom’s hair. I’m no stylist, but surely anything will be better than the shaggy locks that so infuriate Mom. Why didn’t it occur to me before today? No matter. I walked into Dad’s cluttered kitchen certain I had come up with the perfect solution, for now and for the future.
Mom was dressed and drinking tea with Dad at the table, which would have been a happy sight except for the floppy brown hat sitting on Mom’s head. Mom never wears hats.
I fixed my own tea, making small talk, asking questions Mom didn’t answer. Usually that means she’s angry, but today she didn’t seem so. She just sat with a smile that struck me as – what? Sad?
“How do you like your mother’s hat?” Dad asked. The light words he spoke didn’t match the heavy look in his eyes. His question filled every corner of the room with tension.
“Well, yes!” I grinned, hoping bright teeth would cover dark foreboding. “That was a surprise this morning!”
Now Mom’s face brightened a bit. “Daddy got this for me,” she said, reaching up to touch the brim of the hat. She shifted in her chair, almost stood, then sat again.
Even now, in the quiet of my bedroom, I have trouble believing what I heard and saw in the next minutes. Two things, however, have fixed themselves—immediate, solid, permanent—in my mind.
One burns: I must watch Mom closer, even in the “little things.” I must weigh her needs by her standards, not mine.
The other soothes: I am not the only one looking out for Mom. The Lord is watching. Always. Protecting. Always.
Lord, help me fight the guilt that’s smothering me now. But more, immeasurably more, thank You for Your care for Mom. And please show me how to learn more about her needs and about keeping her safe.
“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken…” says the Lord, who has compassion on you. (Isaiah 54:10 NIV)