Should we go to the Neighborhood Brunch or shouldn’t we?  It took at least three days to get the decision made.  The way I finally figured out whether Mary Ann wanted to go or at least was willing to go, was by jumping up to help her when she got up from her chair and headed out to the kitchen.  She was looking for the recipe for the Blueberry French Toast that has always been a hit at the Brunch and wherever else we have taken it.  She finally signaled her wishes by her actions.  it was 5pm in the afternoon of the day before the Brunch.  We had only a few of the necessary ingredients in the house.

Getting decisions made is an unbelievably difficult challenge in our household.  We have regularly played the “What do you want to do?” game.  We almost always played that game when it was time to go out to eat. It is a miracle that we ever actually got to a restaurant and ate.  The process of deciding where to eat always went the same way unless some external circumstances led both of us to the same idea immediately.  If it was time to eat and we happened to be near Bobo’s Diner, the decision was easy – still is.  The vast majority of times it went this way, I began listing every restaurant that I could think of until I named one that brought to Mary Ann’s mind a particular menu item for which she was in the mood. Sometimes that went on so long I started heading home out of frustration.

Some things have changed as the disease process has taken its toll on Mary Ann.  The Parkinson’s has softened her voice and slowed the mental process, making it difficult to respond to questions.  The Parkinson’s Disease Dementia (a Dementia with Lewy Bodies) has stolen even more decision-making ability.  Sometimes it is almost impossible for Mary Ann to get hold of what she is thinking.

Imagine trying to play the “What do you want to do?” game when the person being asked that question has absolutely no answer, no idea how to answer.  Please understand, that does not mean there has been any change in the wanting of certain things.   It is just next to impossible for them to locate that want, name it, and get the words out of their mouth.

As with most of us who are doing full time caregiving, much of the time I can read Mary Ann like a book.  I may very well have enabled her lack of responsiveness by figuring out what she wants without her having to say anything out loud.  We have been at this relationship for well over four decades.  I can usually figure out what she wants by analyzing the circumstances at a given moment and remembering what she has wanted a thousand other times in those circumstances.

Making a decision on anything other than routine matters where circumstances can easily be read is often a protracted and painful process.  I asked about the Neighborhood Brunch occasionally for a couple of weeks.  There was no reply, nor were there any non-verbals that gave a clue as to her wishes.

I suppose the question could be asked of me, why bother to include Mary Ann in the choosing.  Why not just make the decision and go with it.  For one thing, that is not how I function. Ask those poor folks who worked with me in a Team Ministry.  Being inclusive of everyone in the process of making a decision at work often makes for a better decsion and more likelihood that all the participants will be on board when it comes time to act on the decision.  On the other side of it, I know there were times when we processed things too long and everyone wished as the Senior Pastor, I would just make the decision so that everyone could get on with doing what we were talking about.  As I often admitted, I just wanted to work it out so that I wouldn’t get the blame if the decision turned out to be flawed.

Why include Mary Ann in the decision-making?  She deserves to have something to say about her own life.  Because of the Parkinson’s and the cluster of additional health issues, she has had stolen from her any shred of control of her own life.  She has always been strong-willed, so running roughshod over her wishes would not work.  She would figure out a way to stand up for herself, even if she might take a passive-aggressive approach.

I work very hard at trying to give her the chance to decide what we will do.  I usually try to guess what she wants and then frame the question about what to do by saying “would you like to [insert what I have guessed she wants to do].”  I often have to follow it with “just say yes or no?”

As the Satuday of the Brunch got closer, I became more specific about the options.  If we went to the Brunch it would mean having the hassle of making the Blueberry French Toast, but then we would have the valuable social interaction.  I probably said it in a way that would have revealed to the attentive that I was not much interested in the task of making the BFT.  For the last two days before, I tried the “do you want to go, yes or no?” approach a number of times.  There was no response, nor where there any non-verbals I could read.

By Friday afternoon, I was specific that if we were going to go, we would need to go to the store soon.  The recipe demands that the BFT sit overnight before baking.  Still there was no response.  I don’t remember how long after that attempt at getting a response she got up with that restlessness that indicates there is something she intends to do other than the usual.  It only took me seconds to put two and two together.  She was looking for the recipe.  We were going.

I have to admit that there is a part of me that resents that she had not given any indication sooner and that her decision meant I would need to get us to the store, come home, make the Blueberry French Toast while trying to include Mary Ann in the process of making it (harder than doing it myself).  I dreaded the fact that I would need to get up at least two hours earlier than usual to get myself cleaned up, get the dish out of the fridge to stand for thirty minutes, cook it covered for thirty minutes, uncovered for another thirty minutes, make the blueberry sauce that needed to be cooked just the right length so that it could be poured over the casserole just before serving it.  During that same time Mary Ann needed to be aroused, dressed and fed so that we could make it to the Brunch on time.

When all was said and done, the Brunch went well, the Blueberry French Toast was a hit (the huge pan came home completely empty) and we enjoyed the morning.

Making decisions is terribly difficult to do, but Mary Ann deserves to be a part of them.  As frustrating as the process can be, it is important that Caregivers and Care-receivers make decisions together.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

Added bonus:

12 slices white bread
2 8oz. cream cheese
l c blueberries / 12 eggs /2 c. milk
1/3 c. maple syrup

Sauce: l c. sugar l c. water
2 T cornstarch l c. blueberries
l T butter

Cut bread into l inch pieces. PLACE 1/2 in buttered 13 x 9 baking dish. Cut cream cheese into l inch cubes. Place over bread. Top with berries and rest of bread. Beat eggs. Add milk and syrup. Pour over bread mixture and chill overnight. Remove from fridge 30 minutes before baking. Cover and bake at 350 for 30 minutes.. UNCOVER and
bake for 30 minutes or until set.
SAUCE: in a saucepan combine sugar, butter, and cornstarch add water. BOIL for 3 minutes over med. heat stirring constantly. STIR IN BERRIES and reduce heat. Simmer for 8-10 minutes. Pour over French toast before serving

Mary Ann Tremain
Faith Lutheran Cookbook 6/25/02

A few days ago there was a thread of discussion on an online group I am in for Caregivers of spouses with Lewy Body Dementia.   There were all sorts of issues that surfaced as people talked about stepchildren who seemed unwilling to show real concern for their parent who has dementia and his/her caregiving spouse.   In some of the cases there was very active interest by those same stepchildren in the disposition of the estate when that time would come. 

That conversation brought up lots of legal issues that need to be dealt with whether or not there are any problems in the family.  This is one of the times I am especially grateful that we have a healthy family with a deep and genuine love combined with intellegence and common sense.  It is hard to hear about some of the ugliness that can emerge when money issues trigger a mindless greed in people. 

One of the dynamics of dealing with dementia is that, since the executive function of the brain ceases to work properly, the ability to make well thought out decisions ceases.  Gathering and processing information as is necessary for making good health decisions or financial decisions, is no longer possible, at least consistently. 

With dementia of any sort, the progression of the disease makes it important to act sooner rather than later in planning for future contingencies.  With the Lewy Body dementias, the roller coaster pattern of times of great lucidity mixed with times of the inability to track thoughts, makes it especially important to make long term decisions and set in motion processes that will insure that legal matters will be in order no matter what comes.  The goal is first of all to keep all the family resources available for whatever care is needed for the one who cannot care for him/herself.  Secondly, it is to provide the usual care in estate planning so that the wishes the deceased are reflected in the disposition of their possessions.

While many of the legal issues are related to the time of death, some are matters of concern for the living.  All of us, no matter our age, need a Living Will.  We need people designated to make decisions when we are not able to do so for whatever reasons.  For a Caregiver spouse, the question is, who shall that be.  If legal documents designate a spouse who has dementia as the one who has Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions, that spouse will be put in the position of carrying a decision-making weight beyond their ability.   If that spouse is appointed attorney-in-fact for all the rest of the decisions that need to be made through a Durable Power of Attorney, the same will be so.  There will be a vulnerability to manipulation by others who may not be a trusted part of the immediate family when major decisions need to be made.  All someone would need to do is obtain a signature in front of witnesses, and the wishes of the Caregiver and spouse could be frustrated.

The way to proceed in the area of all these legal matters is to locate a reputable Attorney who specializes in Elder Law, preferably a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorney’s, Inc.  (NAELA).  Powers of Attorney should name someone completely trustworthy who is committed to the wishes and the well-being of the Caregiver.  The transition from spouse to Son or Daughter or other trusted family member can be difficult for the one suffering from dementia.  It is essential to make any needed changes with the full knowledge and participation of all those impacted by those changes.  If no one in the family can be found to serve as the agent for the Powers of Attorney, a Guardian may be chosen.  Often the court has a list of people who can serve in that role. 

Then there is the issue of how a Will should be structured when there is a spouse with a form of dementia.  The challenge comes if the Caregiver dies before the spouse with dementia.  If the all the assets transfer to the spouse with dementia, as was so with the Powers of Attorney, that spouse will have decisions to make that he/she is no longer able to make, and he/she will have a vulnerability to manipulation.  If all the assets are in the name of the spouse with dementia, they are all subject to being drawn down if nursing home care is needed. 

There are a number of options that the Elder Law Attorney can lay out for the Caregiver and Spouse.  If there are trusted children, it is a fairly simple matter to assure that all the resources will be used for the spouse with dementia should the Caregiving spouse die first.  All the assets are put in the name of the Caregiver with the children as beneficiaries of the estate.  Again, an Elder Law Attorney needs to be consulted rather than taking advice written in a blog. 

Since beneficiary designations on insurance policies, IRA’s, pension plans (and any other instrument with a beneficiary designation) go directly to the beneficiaries listed and take precedence over anything written into a will, all beneficiary designations need to reflect the current wishes of the Caregiver and spouse. 

When there is a spouse with dementia the legal issues  are complex, but ignoring them could result in some very unpleasant consequences, especially if the Caregiving spouse predeceases the spouse with dementia.  The sooner decisions are made, the better.  

Again, the key to making good decisions and formulating plans that are legal, clear, and reflect the wishes of the Caregiver and spouse, is to find a reputable Attorney versed in Elder Law in your state. 

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.