Ok, here’s a fun fact about middle stages of Alzheimer’s that nobody tells you about…loss of bladder control. Up until a couple of years ago I could count on one hand the number of times I’d seen my mom pee her pants. Exactly three.
Two times were accordion related. As a kid my mom had taken accordion lessons. (Once I asked her why she took accordion lessons. She told me it was because they were too poor for a piano.) My mom’s accordion lived in the furnace room of our basement. Twice I’d seen my mom so drunk that we convinced her to get out the accordion and play one of two songs she claimed to still remember how to play…”Ode to Joy.” Both times she got about half way through and we would all be on the floor laughing so hard, and she’d be laughing while she tried to play and sing, and peeing in her pants.
The third time was when we buried our cat Sniffles. He had died after getting in an attack with another cat. The neighbors who had found him put him in a cardboard box and brought him to our house to bury. My mom was with me while I dug a hole in the side yard. Sniffles had been a cat we shared with the next door neighbors so mom decided he should be buried in the side yard between the two houses.
It was cold and drizzling and there was the start of thunder and lightening. We looked like grave robbers in a horror movie. When the hole was dug, I opened the box and attempted to pour Sniffles in. But the blood had caused him to stick to the side of the box and he swung out and dangled frozen and lifeless from the box. My mom and I both let out huge terror-ridden screams, then completely cracked up about how scared we were. We laughed so hard she peed her pants, and left me to finish the job.
Those were little accidents. Now my mom rarely makes it to the bathroom ahead of going in her pants. She wears a diaper full time now. And I have to say that I hate changing her diaper. I hate it. There is a lot of this illness that you learn to embrace. Nobody wants to embrace a dirty diaper.
And just like anything with this disease, there are degrees. Things that start strange and shocking become routine and normal. This came on slowly. It started as accidents that happened when we stayed out too long between bathroom stops. Or as accidents that happened when she got stressed or anxious. I will never forget a trip to see a psychiatrist for the first time. Mom was anxious and really didn’t want to go. I got lost and as we walked up and down the block trying to find the office, I got more and more agitated. When I finally found the office door, I turned around and there was mom, standing on the sidewalk peeing in her pants. We had to cancel the appointment and go back the following month when they could fit us in again.
There are strategies in place now to try to make this manageable and as close to normal as possible. Mom always wears a diaper. There is a pee pad on her bed. Joey and I both have pee pads for our cars. We go to places that have private restrooms so we can go in with mom and help her out. And our day bags when we go out shopping or driving always include an extra diaper and change of clothes.
We make the best of it. But it never becomes something fun.
And sometimes when I get to feeling sorry for myself…how awful is it that I have to change this diaper… I remind myself that it isn’t a picnic for my mom either. This is not the way she would choose to have things if she had any control over the situation. And I’m sure changing my diaper wasn’t her favorite part of my being a baby. I’m sure it was the funny sounds and the smiles and the cute things I did that were the fun times. But, still, the diapers were always there, and they went hand in hand with having a baby. They still are. And we deal with it, and we get through it, so we can get back to the fun stuff.