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I’m not the neatest person in the world. I once was, however, in the running for the title. My clothes were organized by color in my closet. Everything in its place and a place for everything. I didn’t cook back then, so my kitchen was never a mess. No knick-knacks or bric-a-brac because they just collect dust. I hate to dust. No animals. No roommates. Just me, and a rather small clutter/dirt/mess footprint.
Things Change—People Change
On top of a mother suffering from dementia—who’s a stacker, see my blog Lost But Not Completely Forgotten—I now have three cats and a dog. Only the Jetson’s Rosie could keep up with the fur, but I wouldn’t give the beasties up for anything. And Mom wouldn’t stand for it even if I tried. They bring both of us great joy.
While I was once a minimalist, I have accumulated and clutter is a way of life. Now that I cook, I don’t have near enough kitchen storage for all my pots, pans, gadgets, and appliances. My desk is usually heaped with paper until my cat decides to nest and knock it all to the floor. His subtle way of telling me to clean my desk.
Fundamental Personality Shifts
Dementia changes a person fundamentally, and in ways I never expected but have started to understand. Mom is a neat freak. Always has been. Until now, that is. It’s a new and developing chapter in the inner workings of her brain.
I had noticed even before she moved in with me that her counters always seemed to be packed with food that belonged in a cupboard. Chips. Crackers. Bread. Candy. Stuff she would likely use every day. And this wasn’t like her. I didn’t really think much of it until she moved in with me, though.
My one lingering pet peeve of neatness has been that she still doesn’t put foodstuffs back into the cupboard. I’ve come to realize, though, that the only way she can find things is if they are in plain sight. If it doesn’t pass neutrally before her field of vision, it doesn’t exist. A closed cupboard door might as well be an impenetrable brick wall. And on some level I think she knows this unconsciously. So food never goes back into the cupboard.
Up until about a month ago, it had expanded to her daily ablutions. She’d been “losing” her make-up, and it had made her visibly, physically upset. She would call for me to help, but since I hadn’t made it a habit to look over her shoulder in the bathroom every day, I had no idea what she’d done with her blush, foundation and eyebrow pencil.
It’s not that I had to stop whatever I was doing to embark on a scavenger hunt that troubled me. It was how upset she would get. And it was the slightly veiled accusation that I had somehow “done” something with her stuff. That if she’d never left her condo, everything would be at her fingertips whenever she wanted it.
I don’t take her thinking I have “done” something with her stuff personally. You just can’t. It’s the disease, not anything to do with how she feels about me. But you do have to figure out ways to solve the problem.
I struggled for a while to figure out a solution for the daily make-up caper. Short of a nanny cam or just making sure that I placed all her make-up out on the sink every day, I was at a loss. Then I realized I had an old sewing table I had harvested from my neighbor’s curb that I could upcycle into a make-up vanity. All her make-up, in one location, out in the open. It worked like a charm. Since I set it up, I’ve not had to search for one eyebrow pencil. And she doesn’t get rattled every morning trying to “fix her face.”
“Feng Shui” of Dementia
While I wish I could be one step ahead of her changing needs—all the time—that is just not feasible. One thing I did learn before I moved her in, when I was researching memory care facilities and learning about being her caregiver, is that environment is very important when you are dealing with someone with dementia. While it’s not exactly feng shui, there are ways to make a home more dementia-friendly. Getting over having food that belongs in the cupboard is one step for me. It’s just a new normal.
Another is that I don’t have kitchen cupboard doors. In all honesty, I took them off when I moved into the house with every intention of painting and reinstalling them. But it’s much easier for Mom to find a water glass when it’s staring right at her, and not hiding behind a door.
Why is it different for the dry goods? Because my kitchen is small and I only have one cupboard devoted to food, so it’s pretty packed in there. Even I have trouble finding stuff, sometimes. In a perfect world, I’d design a kitchen for Mom with clear-glass fronted cupboards and enough space so that nothing had to hide behind anything else.
Clearing out her clothes closet was another good thing. Too many choices for someone with dementia are just unhealthy and downright cruel.
I’m sure as we continue down this path together, something else will come up that will require me to make the house more comfortable, and less stressful, for her. Till then, I’m just glad she always knows where her lipstick is.