VIOLA - The best memory I have of visiting my sister at her memory care home is from over three months ago. She was playing bingo when I arrived.
I pulled a chair over near Jill, plopped down, and said, “Hello, Sister!” Her face lit up like a candle.
Grinning broadly, she kept asking, “How did you do that? How did you get here?” while I held her hand and G-63 was called.
Looking over Jill’s bingo card, I pointed to G-63. Jill put her finger on the card, though not on G-63, and pressed. An aide came up behind us, grabbed a colored marker, and set it on G-63. Jill started a running stream of jumbled words about her pants falling down.
Jill is homeless now. She’s temporarily residing in the Burlington Hospital after suffering a urinary tract infection (UTI) that wasn’t diagnosed until after her behavior became aggressive. The memory care home said she couldn’t come back.
This is legal. It’s a private home and they feel they don’t have the qualified staff Jill will need going forward.
My heart breaks for my sister. And the fact that this could happen to anyone unfortunate enough to become ill with Alzheimer's, including us and our loved ones, should make it a national concern. But it isn’t. Because only when something touches our own life up close and personal do we seem to pay attention.
Fact: UTIs can cause behavioral changes such as confusion, withdrawal, or aggression in older adults and in people with dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
Now Jill lies in the hospital, while the social worker and my niece make calls, trying to find a place for her to relocate to. But they keep hearing rejections. Places are either full (and that says a lot) or not equipped with enough staff—or the rightstaff—for a person with behavior problems, who also has Alzheimer's disease.
Most UTIs will clear up with a few days of antibiotic treatment, but not always. In severe cases or when the UTI hasn’t been diagnosed immediately, the bacteria can spread.
Jill isn’t responding to antibiotics. Meanwhile, searching for a qualified home that will accept Jill and is close to where my niece lives has become a nightmare.
If we’re unable to find a home for Jill near my niece, we’ll begin looking here in the Viroqua area. I’ll be added to her medical directives. I’m selfishly hoping this happens, but I respect my niece’s wishes to have her mom close to her.
On the day of my favorite memory, Jill didn’t stop chattering as the numbers got called. I listened and responded while pointing out any matching bingo numbers.
I wanted to hear Jill shout out “Bingo!” I wanted her to win and get a sticker. Instead, the resident next to us told Jill to “Hush up.”
Jill rolled her eyes, leaned in toward me, and whispered loudly, “They take their bingo games seriously here.”
Her sudden clarity shocked me, and I wanted to double over laughing. But then Jill resumed talking nonsense, and the lady next to us became more annoyed.
“B-52,” said the caller. I pointed to the number on Jill’s card while she randomly placed her finger down and kept pushing. I grabbed a marker, waited for her to move her hand, and placed it over B-52. My heart sped up—Jill needed only one more number for bingo.
The more focused resident next to Jill told her that ifshe was going to keep chattering she needed to go to her room. This made me giddy, and I giggled at the craziness of the situation, like when we were naughty kids and our parents sent us to our room.
Jill glanced at me, pumped her fist in the air, and yelled, “Bingo!” The room sighed as one, and while the aide started heading over I said, “Oh, no. Jill, no. I don’t think we have a bingo yet—we need this number still.”
Jill started laughing. Had my sister just played a joke? Either way, we needed to stop playing bingo. The residents were confused and some had emptied the markers off their cards. Now we were getting dirty looks, even from the aides.
It’s been five lonely and no doubt confusing days for Jill, living in a sterile hospital room while the search for permanent housing continues.
I won’t ever hear Jill yell “Bingo!” again. She has slipped further down the hellish rabbit-hole of severe memory loss. She will never go back to what she referred to as her “house.” Her belongings will get packed up and a transport company called to bring them to her new residence.
When she’s settled, I’ll visit as often as possible, take her hand, and warmly say, “Hello, Sister!”Update: Jill is now in her new home in Brookfield, Wisconsin. Her furniture will not have to be transported because it’s a furnished room. Although further from my niece’s home, it is closer to her work—and closer to me!