I’ve heard it said that we become more like babies the older we get. I definitely think that in some ways it’s true! We become less and less mobile, our senses start failing us and we sleep most of the time. It’s like watching the growth and progress of a baby, only in reverse.
One of the interesting things about living with Grandma is observing how her body and mind are slowly starting to shut down. There are the physical limitations that one would expect: Her hearing is shot (though she still somehow hears me if I whisper “do you want dessert?” from across the room), her eyesight is failing and her joints are increasingly stiff and sore. Hell, even at 44, I’m experiencing some of those symptoms, so it is easy to relate!
Then there are the things that make sense now, but that I had never given much thought to before. When she first moved in with me, Grandma would spend hours reading, looking at magazines, watching TV and yes, snooping. In between, whenever she was idle for very long, her eyes would shut and she’d doze off for a few minutes at a time. I actually think that one of the reasons the elderly have such a problem with short term memory is that when you sleep 20 or more times a day it’s easy to lose track of what day and time it is.
A few months ago Grandma went from dozing multiple times a day to going into a deep sleep multiple times a day. As you might be able to guess, this has done nothing to help with her short-term memory or general confusion. Sometimes I’ll come home at the end of my workday and she’ll be in bed with her clothes on. I’ll make dinner and go in to wake her up so she can eat and she’ll say “morning already?”.
It really makes sense when I think about it. The structures that define our days; getting up in the morning for work, having lunch around noon, dinner in the evening; lose their meaning when you spend 20 or more hours asleep every day. We’ve spent our whole lives structuring “morning” as the time we wake up, so it’s only natural that every time we awake it’s a new day.
Recently, Grandma’s started a new behavior. She sleeps most of the day out on the couch, occasionally rising to watch TV and snack on donut holes or chocolate that I keep within reach. Around 4pm she heads to the restroom and, probably because it’s closer, she goes into her room and lies down. I wake her up for dinner and she’ll stay awake for a couple of hours while we talk and watch TV together. Then she goes to bed for the night.
About an hour later she gets up to use the bathroom. Then, almost hourly, she’ll get up and go into the bathroom again. It’s almost like since she’s sleeping all day she’s restless at night…and somehow she thinks she needs to use the toilet every time. The trouble is, her room and the bathroom are right next to my room, so every time she gets up, the sound of her shuffling and feeling her way through the doorways with her walker wakes me up.
I have gotten up the past couple of nights (last night after the third visit to the restroom in under 2 hours) and asked her what’s going on. She gets frustrated with me and tells me she’s fine, she just needs to go, in her words ” to use the little room”. I ask her how she’s feeling and she says “I’m fine, it’s perfectly normal to have to use the toilet, isn’t it?”
I’m hyper aware of changes in her behavior, and I know that one of the symptoms of a urinary tract infection is frequent need to use the restroom. But, if she truly had a UTI, there would be urgency and some pain associated with it. Also, she’d have the trouble all day, and this only seems to happen at night, after she’s gone to bed. So…this is yet another subtle change in her aging process.
When she first got here, much like a new parent, I would call her doctor’s office with every little thing. Now I’m more likely to wait and observe. One of the nurses I spoke to on the phone early on gave me some great advice. She said that at Grandma’s age, there are going to be fewer steps forward than steps backward. She urged me to be vigilant about changes in her mood and overall health, but that decline is normal and natural, and to do my best not to worry about it, as worry isn’t going to help. Easier said than done, but it helps hearing it from a healthcare professional.
In my social circle I currently have several friends who have newborns. I’ve been amused watching the similarities of all of their sleep-deprived and sometimes overwhelmed posts on Facebook. I’ve felt a bit of a kinship with them as I deal with Grandma’s recent nocturnal wanderings. They have a screaming baby and I have a shuffling Grandma who occasionally says “I want to go hooooome”.
But at least I don’t have to change diapers.