Visually impaired plus dementia

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Hello I'm new. I am not a full time carer. My mum comes home to me twice a week. She lives in a home for the blind and is well cared for. She has vascular dementia and, after a bad fall in January, she has gone from living on her own to being totally dependant. She is 93. Sadly, her memory is severely impaired, both short and long term. It becomes very difficult to talk to mum because she gets so upset when she is unable to remember even what she ate for breakfast. I do talk about her past and, often, she enjoys that, but often she cries. I never know what to do for the best. She will be home with us for 3 days over Christmas - daytime only - but I am so worried as to how we keep her happy and entertained for the 3 days. I would appreciate advice please.
It isn't easy conversing with someone with dementia, that's for sure. Certainly not when one is trying to sustain a 'normal' kind of conversation.

I'm not sure if this is helpful for you at all, but when I take my 91 y/o MIL (now also like yours in a care home) with dementia, I keep to intensely trivial 'passing chit chat' about what is immediately happening.....or, like you, I 'chatter away' about the past. I don't think she remembers the past - I talk to her about her late son, my husband, and when her grandson was little, and what her surviving son in the USA is doing, and his family there, chatter chatter chatter, and I know she doesn't really remember anything about them, would be hard pushed, ir not impossible, to recognise them in photos even (she recognises me, ad her grandson, and did, rather touchingly, last year recognise with wonder and 'thrill' when her surviving son visited for her 90th!), but I just 'chatter away' to her, and don't expect much response at all. Whether she takes on board anything I don't really know.

But it is definitely 'laboured' if it has to go on too long.

I'm far more fortunate than you, in that my MIL has excellent vision still, and so mostly when I take her out I take her out for country drives, which passes the time and gives her something else to look at, plus it means I don't have to talk constantly. The care home manager always tells me that I should come and spend time with her at the home itself, but I dread that, simply because the 'conversation' is so hideously laboured! Five minutes seems like an hour - there is 'nothing to talk about' (she doesn't want to be in the home anyway, and just wants to come out with me!)

I'm afraid I don't really know what to suggest in your far more difficult situation, and hopefully others with more diverse experience of dementia and the emotional impact it has on the patient (my MIL never gets tearful, and I think I should be grateful for that - she just say 'oh, it was all so long ago' and leaves it at that), can be more useful with their suggestions.

Maybe, if she cries when you talk about the past, you can point out to her that she's had a long, long life, and done so much, and that all her children/grandchildren etc, are doing well (talk it up if necessary!!!), and try and give her a sense of 'job well done' for herself???

Dementia is, in the end, just desperately, desperately sad....

Wishing you as well as possible, Jenny
Hi Penny,

I have no personal experience of caring for someone with dementia. (My caree has autism.) However, I have taught pupils with severe visual impairment and some with no sight at all, they also all had communication difficulties due to learning difficulties. Music was one of their greatest forms of pleasure: so enjoy together listening to music, have a family singsong and when you have exhausted the conversation play music.

Involving her in the preparations will give her a feeling of belonging. Sitting in the kitchen with all the smells will evoke (hopefully) happy memories. Perhaps she could wash the veg, mix the stuffing etc and you can keep up a running commentary on proceedings...

I have S home for a fortnight over Christmas, the weather is usually grim, lots of places closed / too busy and friends all doing the family thing. It's a long, lonely and tiring fortnight. So I sympathise.

I was going to say the same as Melly - perhaps a cd of war songs or Vera Lynn, tunes from musicals. Singalongs also avoid having to make conversation!

Mum was blind in one eye, plus had dementia so I do understand the difficulties. She also enjoyed having her hands and arms massaged with smelly hand cream and, IF in the right mood, having her nails done or her feet soaking in hot water.

Does she like animals? Mum enjoyed stroking the neighbour's dog. Could you borrow one?? Also gives you a topic of conversation even if you have to make up stories about what the dog has done ...

Good luck! Anne
Oh, Melly, that is so sad! It's so sad that your time with your son is not enjoyable. I completely agree that Christmas is NOT the best time when you want to get out and about, with so much closed or busy/expensive etc, plus rubbish weather. To my mind, Christmas goes on far too long, with NY extending it far too much.

Wishing you all the best possible.

Penny, I agree that providing a 'running commentary' on what you're doing in the kitchen is a good idea - I used to do that when MIL came over and wandered in to the kitchen to find me (so I could entertain her, sigh, since she could no longer entertain herself.)

If you are having 'quite a few people' around over Christmas, something I found with MIL that when she was at the table, or in the sitting room, and there were several people there, it all seemed a lot easier. I don't know she followed much, but she felt 'part of it all' and less isolated and it was, of course, loads easier for me!
jenny lucas wrote:Oh, Melly, that is so sad! It's so sad that your time with your son is not enjoyable. I completely agree that Christmas is NOT the best time when you want to get out and about, with so much closed or busy/expensive etc, plus rubbish weather. To my mind, Christmas goes on far too long, with NY extending it far too much.

Wishing you all the best possible.
Thank you Jenny for your good wishes. It's not that I don't enjoy being with S, it's the caring from the moment he wakes til the moment he falls asleep without a break that I find so hard ...often an 18 hour shift, so no me time. It's rather like a test of endurance! The festive fortnight feels very long and I feel myself longing for conversation on my own level.

Hi Penny
One thing I do to entertain my 99 yr old Mum, who also cannot see very much is to read to her from a magazine.
I think it's called 'People's Friend'. I might be wrong. It's the one that has articles from Scotland. Anyway the stories in it are nice, romantic, usually happy tales with none of this 'my best friend's boyfriend raped me' type of ghastly reading you find in a lot of the mags these days. They are short enough to keep her attention, (although she can nod off mid story) and she enjoys listening. Your Mum might enjoy a CD with the old Christmas songs and carols on. Dean Martin, Bing Crosby and Perry Como type. I'm dreaming of a white Christmas etc. My local garden centre sells such. (???)
I'll be spending Christmas day looking after Mum as usual, who has already declared that she'd not bothering this year, it will just be an ordinary day. Ah well, that's my Christmas then.
Thank you all so much for all your kind words. My mum tells me she is not a person any more she just feels hollow. It is so very sad. She has always been such a kind lady, always looking after everyone else (including her own mum until she died at 95). It just makes me so mad! We do sing a lot - mum loves the old songs so we often play music and sing along to them. We will all do our best to see she has as good a time as possible. Sadly, she does not enjoy company, so we will have Christmas with just the four of us - mum, my husband, daughter and me. We will, no doubt, meet up with the rest of the family after New Year! My best wishes to all of you who will find Christmas difficult this year.