Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Blog 13: Behind the Wheel With Alzheimer's

The money continued to be a source of concern for Mom and for her five daughters.  We wanted our mom to have her money, we just wanted to make sure it was safe and secure.  I knew how much that money meant to Mom.  We all did.  She was saving it for years. I think she felt like she was losing control of her life and having this money at her fingertips made her feel like she was in control of something.  
Other than me staying with Mom, Annie helped out a lot.  When I wasn’t there, Annie was there more than any of my other sisters. They had a very close bond.  Annie relied on Mom for comfort and solitude and an escape from her home environment.  She enjoyed being with Mom and Mom loved having her there.  The only problem was that Annie didn’t know how to divert Mom’s attention, or help her understand, when she started complaining about her money, or taking her pills on her own, or driving her car.  She would say things like...THEY won’t let you keep your own money, they want it all for themselves.  And...THEY won’t let you drive your car, and she would let her get a new set of keys made, and THEY won’t let you keep your medicine in your drawer so you can take it when you want.  She even told Mom to hide her purse.  I know this was her way of keeping peace in the house when she was with Mom, but it caused Mom to turn on the rest of us. I don’t blame Annie for doing what she felt she needed to do because she really didn’t know a better way to handle Mom’s incessant rants about those three main issues.  
Mom was also obsessed with taking Benefiber, and she was constantly thinking she had bowel problems.  It got to the point where she would be taking overdoses of that stuff.  She insisted she needed it and that I didn’t understand that she can’t go to the bathroom.  I knew she was going, she just didn’t remember she did.  She was always in the bathroom.  I think she had stomach issues from taking so much of the Benefiber.  I had to keep it away from her and then try to change the subject when she kept bringing it up.  I also had to keep her pain medicine in a place where she couldn’t get to it because she would sneak and take it, and I just couldn’t let her overdose on that either.  Mom would call Annie and tell her to come over to look for the Benefiber.  Then they’d go to the store and buy some more and Mom would go to her room and stick it in the drawer.  She wasn’t very secretive about it, and I would find it.  Mom and I went round and round about that.  But Annie would let her have it when she was with her, so I was the bad guy.
Our mom had a Honda civic that she just loved.  She was always wanting to drive.  When I first started living with her some of my sisters were thinking Mom could drive if someone was in the car with her.  I said it’s not a good idea.  The last time she drove she got lost, she would drive over the center line and she would turn in wide angles, stop and go at the wrong times at intersections, and do other things like that.  She was in no condition to drive.  
Well, one day I decided once and for all to put her to the test.  We were going to the grocery store and Mom insisted on driving her car.  I figured it was only a 1/2 mile away and I will grab the wheel if I have to.  She had driven there all her adult life.  She drove all over the road and then she needed me to guide her in the parking spot and tell her to brake.  When we left the store she would not let me drive.  I tried everything I could but she wouldn’t budge.  So, she backed the car out of the parking space, with my help, and proceeded to pull out on a busy street, in front of oncoming traffic.  Her reactions were very slow.  I wondered if she took a couple of pain pills she probably had hidden somewhere.  I said, “Stop!”  She stopped and then started to move out again.  She was creeping out into the street with cars coming from both directions.  I was clinching the seat as I said, “Stop Mom, there’s cars coming!”, over and over.  I got her to put the car in reverse and back up, where she nearly hit the car behind us.  Mom would not let me drive and it would have resulted in a bad scene if I would have even tried to make her move over to the passenger seat so I could drive.  I had to just let her drive, and pray we would not get into an accident.  After about 8 attempts, and my heart beating so fast, she pulled out into the street when I told her to.  When we got home I told all of my sisters what happened and that Mom can never, ever drive again!  Had I not been with her, she would have surely died, and she almost killed us both.
I hid her car keys again, but Mom did everything she could to get another set.  She would constantly look for the keys and ask for them. She had Annie take her to the car dealership where they made her another key.  I bet she had keys made at least twice.  I finally called the dealership and told them the situation and told them to not ever make her a car key again. 
One day Mom slipped out of the house.  After a couple of minutes I went looking for her and saw the garage door open and her backing out of the garage.  I ran outside and asked her where she was going.  She said she was leaving.  I opened the car door as the car was moving and before she could lock it, and put the car in park and reached for the keys in the ignition.  Her hand grabbed mine as we struggled with the keys. She was  hitting me and cursing at me.  I got the keys, but she grabbed them back and we were shouting at each other.  I got the keys out of her hands again and she clawed me with those long thick nails of hers.  I said, “Ouch, you’re hurting me!”  To which she squeezed harder.  Her grip was way stronger than I ever thought she was.  Mom gave up after a struggle and went into the house.  She was breathing hard and clearly upset.  We were both very worked up.  I didn't like doing that to her, but she could have killed herself or someone else if I would have let her go.  t put the car back in the garage and went to the house, checking out the scratches and gouges in my arm and hand.  Thankfully Mom didn’t think to lock the door on me, and I stepped into the house.  

I put up with a lot of abuse.  But I knew this wasn't my mom, my real mom.  Her brain was taken over by an ugly, evil disease and it wasn't her fault.  I knew Mom was in there because she showed me from time to time.  She wasn't always obstinate.  I had to be strong and do everything I could for her because she was always there for me my whole life.  
The next thing was getting her car out of the garage because that was just a tease for her.  The only thing is, we didn’t know what to do.  If we removed the car from the garage, when she loved that car, I would not be able to live peacefully with her.  Annie’s husband pulled some wires from the car engine so she couldn’t start it up.  And what does Mom do?  She had a neighbor come over and connect the cables and Mom snuck off with it.  I don’t remember what sister was with her, but it wasn’t me.  I told the neighbor not to do that anymore.  Mom was sly.  She tried everything in the book. The car keys were hidden and until we came up with a masterful plan, that’s the way it stayed, for awhile anyway. 
I felt so bad for Mom.  I know she loved her Honda and she loved to have the freedom to  come and go like she used to.  This was so hard, keeping her from those things.  She would often say she was going to buy a new Honda because hers wasn’t working anymore.  She would go to the garage and try to start her prized car, as I looked from the kitchen window with tears in my eyes.  Then one day she called another garage and had a tow truck come get the car.  I found out about it and tried to stop them but they were already loading it.  They understood what was going on after I spoke with their manager.  They were nice enough to keep the car at their garage for a couple of days until we found a place to store it.  
My sister Lynda was supposed to take the car out of the garage and store it at her house but she never got around to doing it.   She was stalling because she was too scared to cross Mom.  Then Mom called Annie and asked her husband to come see if he could fix it.  He was the one who disabled the car, so he just avoided it.  Mom would call Annie daily, to try and get her husband to come fix her car.  
Everyone was too scared to do the right thing, whatever that was.  All of us girls were not on the same page.  Mom was calling the shots, and each one of us did what we thought was best, without knowing if it was right or wrong...things were spiraling out of control.  We desperately needed help.


  1. Each person with Alzheimer's is affected so differently. I'm so sorry for all you're going through in dealing with your mom and your sisters. So stressful!!

    I've been very lucky, David was just the opposite in dealing with his diagnosis. He handed over the car keys to me and never ask to drive again. He almost acted like he was relieved to know what was wrong with him, and accepted his diagnosis.

    Keeping you in my prayers...

  2. Thank you for reading, Delores. I'm glad you didn't have the difficulties we had because it makes it so much easier when the person who is ill understands the nature of their disease. Mom has always refused to believe it. It was a tough go, but she is different these days. Getting my story out three years later means I have catching up to do. I'm moving along and will soon get caught up to the present time. There's just so much that is important for me to share about the start of our journey. Thank you for your continued prayers, and I am also praying for you. ~ Lizzie

  3. That is so sad reading about how she loved her car, but couldn't drive it anymore. My heart was beating so fast while reading about your trip to the grocery store. Scary.