Tale Tues: Dementia at 3 AM

My mother is up at 3 am trying to decide what to wear. She is going out.

Or so she thinks. Or thought. Which now she doesn’t remember.

“It’s 3 am, Mrs. Tyler,” her aide informed her – gently, I hope and assume. I was not there, but I cannot imagine this aide in pajamas, only in her aqua uniform, standing at the door to my mother’s walk-in closet as my mother rummaged through her racks for just the right ensemble of perhaps a scarf, sweater vest, pants, and handbag.

So what if it’s 3 am. I can still go out!”

This was my mother’s screamed response according to her aide who related to me this story the next day, as we sat on my mother’s cream cat-scratched couch, in cahoots somehow, which I didn’t like, but neither would I want my mother to hear us talking about her – which she probably couldn’t have, anyway, as she is going quite deaf and was nodding off in her bedroom.

This pricey-but-finally-extremely-patient-if-tired agency aide was looking quite put-together in her bright aqua uniform, but her large owl-shaped glasses could not hide the shadows under her eyes; she has been up every night with my mother since she arrived a week ago, sometimes until 3 am. Sometimes until 7 am. And does not drink coffee or tea. Nothing caffeinated. Silk Almond milk. Grape juice. I would need toothpicks to keep my eyes propped open.

“She kept taking things out, trying to decide what to wear,” she said, and I could see it: my mother laying out different amalgams of the black-fringed shawl and embroidered vest scarves I remember from growing up, and far newer additions, a hand-painted silk scarf and batik jacket she hasn’t worn in at least a year, as she hardly ever goes out at all now except to the doctor’s.

What I remember about my father’s own dementia, was he too would wake up and not understand why he couldn’t get dressed at 3 am, to walk up to the post office for the mail. How that possibly could be an unreasonable resolve, unless you work some office cleaning shift or bake donuts.

Before my mother’s concussion from falling and gashing her head on the corner of an open bureau drawer, she showed only signs of short-term memory loss. Not complete disorientation. But I could envision the scene, one I remember well under more normal lucid circumstances, before my mother was rendered so dependent: When I was still single and would visit weekends from the city, we would go out to dinner and to art openings, and she could empty her closet of vests, scarves, pants and sweaters to lay out on her bed, unable to decide what to wear.

“I couldn’t understand why it was dark out,” my mother told me that day following her 3 am escapade, as I sat on her bed.

She was slumped back against her pillows, unable to figure out why she was so tired, and I had reminded her that she’d was up most of the night. I don’t know why, but I’d felt she needed to know the facts. Including the fact that she had yelled at the aide when she brought her a chicken dinner, demanding, “What kind of breakfast is this?”

She didn’t remember rooting through her closet,  but she did remember “not feeling right.” These “stories,” as if about someone else, actually can make us both laugh. Maybe that was why I needed to tell them, to prove that my mother can still be oriented in the moment. That the disorientation might just be that, something in passing. A result of the concussion as her own doctors suggested, after she’d first manifested confusion in the hospital.

Maybe so. Or maybe not.

In the nights following her closet-rooting, she continued to be up and wondering why it was so dark out. I called her doctor, at first requesting some kind of sleeping pill, as she hadn’t slept now in almost 72 hours. Her doctor cooly informed me that any additional medication in a 95-year-old might only worsen her disorientation. She might even still be experiencing the effects of even just the morphine dispensed only once and initially, in the emergency room.

Or perhaps she had a urinary tract infection.


Why hadn’t I thought of that? Why hadn’t her doctors thought of that when she’d first shown signs of confusion in the hospital, talking gibberish about filling socks with sticks?

Because my mother is 95, and well, to the general public, including all doctors and nurses and aides, it’s all to be expected. Confusion, forgetfulness.

It’s not to be expected. Not by me, her daughter. During all those years of my father’s own mental deterioration, my mother and I worked as a team; on the night he died in a nursing home, we both woke up at the same time. Neither of us could sleep. It was 3 am. The exact time when my father died. We received the official call a half hour or so later, but the official time of death was 3 am. Clearly a witching hour.

And through the years since his death, I would visit weekends at my mother’s house where she still welcomes the deer who devour her bushes, while her neighbors fence in their perfectly orchestrated gardens.

And we would go out to dinner as girlfriends; I would babble on about my writing while I was earning my MFA, then about my students while teaching, and she would ask me into her studio for my opinion on her latest works – vibrant abstract landscapes, emotionally charged responses to the ocean in all its changing moods. Of the beach she no longer has the stamina to walk down to.

I am the one who truly knows my mother better than anyone.

And I knew she had a UTI.

So the next day, I did a quick turn-around trip to pick up specimen jar from her doctor’s office; stopped at her house for specimen; returned specimen to find out, yes indeed, it was positive for a UTI; got antibiotic prescription filled before heading back the hour-and -half drive to pick up kids from school.

A mission well-worth accomplishing, as my mother finally has had her first night’s sleep since being discharged. One she might not remember, but good enough for her to be awake and alert enough to complain about how tired she was of eating chicken.


About Sandra

Author;editor of The Woven Tale Press at thewoventalepress.net; mother; weaver
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16 Responses to Tale Tues: Dementia at 3 AM

  1. pam says:

    My mother’s 87 year old sister does this. It was a terrible job to take her driver’s licence away and she still hates us all for it. When she had her licence, she drove to her 9 a.m. church service at 3 a.m., became confused as to why no-one was there, forgot her way home and stopped on the beachfront to ask some ‘nice young men lounging around on their cars if they could direct her home.’
    She rings my mother at 5 a.m. everyday “After all” she says indignantly “I’ve been up and waiting to ring for hours already!”
    She knows about her licence, and that her car was sold a long time ago, and although in assisted accommodation, she talks about buying different houses that are for sale in her area, “because that house has a nice garage and I need to garage my car when I get my licence back”.
    You’re so right about the UTI’s – they can send the thinking and behaviour of the elderly, already challenged, off in all sorts of directions.

    • Sandra says:

      Oh Pam. What a horrific tale. At the same time what great story material. that’s the fiction writer in me. I mean, if this stuff wasn’t happening in real life it would all be uproariously funny.

  2. Hilary says:

    Hi Sandra .. so very interesting to read. Equally I’m glad all is resolved and your mother, even at 95, is ‘back to normal’ … that must be a relief. UTIs are dreadful little infections …

    A really good dementia tale – or not as it happened to be … with thoughts – Hilary

    • Sandra says:

      lol thanks Hilary. I’m starting to feel a little demented myself. My mother called me at midnight last night to yell at me for taking away her pills.

  3. Amy Morgan says:

    These are difficult days Sandra. Hopefully sharing it through your writing is a source of relief as well as comfort for you. Peace to you my friend.

  4. Debbie says:

    HI Sandra; That must have been such a difficult time for you and your Mom! I found out the hard way too, that UTIs can cause dementia in old people. My 89 year old mother suffered a bout of extreme paranoia when she had one and used to call me several times a day, saying people were plotting against her and wanting to cart her off to a mental hospital! When the infection cleared up, she reverted back to her normal self. At least now we know what to look for if it happens again!

  5. I recently read “I Will Never Forget,” which is about a daughter dealing with her mom’s dementia (a powerful memoir), and so the title of this post caught my eye. (I follow your blog via Networked Blogs.)

    I cannot fathom having not one but two parents who had/have this disease. I am so grateful my own parents are still lucid and live at home. My heart truly goes out to you, and to all those affected by dementia.

    • Sandra says:

      thanks Lorraine. And glad to know someone’s actually following me:) my father had alzeimers for years. I don’t think my mother has that. But she is 95 and she just can’t remember from one minute to the next. The hardest part is her refusing to acknowledge it, which makes the pill-taking an issue.

  6. I’m so glad she can be tired of eating chicken for DINNER now, instead of wondering why she’s having it served for a very ill-timed breakfast.

  7. kgwaite says:

    Even in the midst of everything that’s going on in your life, you manage to write such a beautiful, loving piece. I enjoyed reading this one, Sandra.

  8. What a charming story of your mother. You are so fortunate to have such a loving relationship. Glad to hear she should be feeling better soon.

    • Sandra says:

      Thank you cynthia. love to hear from you as I admire your writing; I left you a comment on your blog. Can you get back to me at that email I left?

  9. Kathy says:

    Sounds as if she can be a bit exasperating but it also sounds as if she will soon be on the mend which is good news. ♥

  10. I enjoy your writing style so much.
    What a frustrating time it can be dealing with the medical community when it involves our elderly loved ones.
    I work part-time as a caregiver for the elderly. Something I started doing after my MIL passed away. I cared for her for, in our home for two-years while writing my first book.
    Good for you knowing about those pesky uti’s. I hope your Mother continues to sleep well.

    • Sandra says:

      Thanks, Doreen. Interesting that you work as a caregiver. I don’t know how you can stand it to be honest. The elderly are not always such easy patients.

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