Debra Brehmer is an art historian, the Director of the Portrait Society Gallery and a member of the Sandwich Generation
Cookies. Dorothy Brehmer loved to bake them. And her children, Debra and Randy, probably loved eating those cookies when they were young. But while mom’s cookies evoked wonderful childhood memories, they also became the tipping point that eventually led Debra to understand that her mother, who lives with Alzheimer’s disease, couldn’t live alone anymore. “I started to notice gradual alterations to her everyday life,” said Debra. “Mom used to bake bar cookies that were more complicated and had eight ingredients. Then she switched to baking cookies with just four ingredients. Finally she purchased cut and bake cookies. Then she stopped cooking and baking altogether.”
Life was becoming more complicated for Dorothy, who was nearing age 86. Neighbors alerted Debra and Randy that their mother was having problems backing the car out of the driveway. Taking away the car keys was definitely a difficult decision for the Brehmer family. And then there were the medications that Dorothy needed that further complicated living with Alzheimer’s disease. “It was becoming very stressful for Mom to live alone,” said Debra. “She couldn’t do it anymore.”
Dorothy was moved to an assisted living environment. She had a very nice apartment and lots of supervised activities to keep her busy. But after a year and a half, it again became apparent to her family that her condition had progressed too far. Dorothy was having a hard time navigating her surroundings.
Debra was torn about where her Mom should live next. She considered bringing Dorothy to live with her and her two children. Debra said, “I agonized for many years over this. To make this work I would have to sell my house and move because all the bedrooms and bathrooms were upstairs.” The family finally chose an excellent memory care unit that was conveniently located so they could visit often.
“I am a classic member of the sandwich generation,” said Debra. “I visit my mom once a week. I take her grocery shopping. In the summer, I bring her to my house to have some family time, have a meal, and enjoy conversation. “ Debra’s brother, Randy, takes his Mom out to dinner every Tuesday evening. Now at age 92, Dorothy’s overall health remains good, and she still enjoys doing things. “Any experience that connects institutionalized people back to life, dinner, shopping, having your nails done, all of this is so important,” said Debra.
Debra also considers the Memories in the Making®program a wonderful way for individuals with Alzheimer’s to connect back to the world in which they live. “It is so incredibly interesting to see what comes out of people who many times are no longer able to have a conversation. They don’t recall anything from their past. But in the paintings, there is this incredible range of abilities. Amazing painting out of the blue and lots of pride. It is assumed that individuals with Alzheimer’s can’t do anything. But Memories in the Making steps beyond that. This program should be in every care facility.”
Debra acknowledges that Dorothy’s personality has changed as her dementia has advanced. But Debra has been strong enough to see and embrace the positive. “She’s been very cheerful and reaches out to other people,” said Debra. “ She jokes with staff. She still tries to be funny even though she doesn’t have a lot of language left and not much memory. There are some charming qualities that she exhibits in a very difficult environment. I’ve been proud to see that.”