Mondays With Mother: An Alzheimer's Story

In 2002 my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. It is a hard road, and we live it one day at a time. This is a chronicle of her disease and my Monday visits with her.

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Name: Anne Robertson
Location: Plymouth, Massachusetts, United States
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Thursday, September 30, 2004


I've often heard that a person's personality changes with Alzheimer's. I have a different theory. I don't think the personality changes; I think it emerges. For instance, there are times when someone does something that irritates me. My inner self would like to at least read them the riot act if not slap them from here to next week. But I was taught better manners than that. Christians don't behave that way...or aren't supposed to...and I want to do what is right. So I swallow hard and find another way to deal with the problem.

Whatever mental function it is that allows me to register that my gut response is not appropriate and to select something more in keeping with societal norms gets lost at some stage of Alzheimer's, I think. What is left is the gut response, unchecked.

Take the incident at the Weathervane. In an effort to keep my mother's weight up, my step-father took her out to eat quite frequently. (My father died in 1980.) Living close by, I am often included in the outings, and this Sunday afternoon it was out to the Weathervane. We all ordered our meals and had just had them put in front of us. Each of us had taken about two bites when my mother looked out the window and saw the ice cream stand next door. "I want coffee ice cream," she said. "We can go over there when we're done," I said. "I want coffee ice cream," she said again, louder. David, my step-father, said, "Is it okay if we finish our dinner first?" She looked at him. "No," she said, and she proceeded to shove him out of the booth. David's daughter was also with us and she took her next door for ice cream. In a few minutes she was coming back into the Weathervane and sliding into our booth with her ice cream cone from next door.

There are two things going on here. One I learned just recently. Apparently as we age, our taste buds get as lame as our hearing and eyesight. We come to appreciate stronger tastes because we can't taste anything subtle anymore. I also learned that the taste bud for sweet is the last one to go. So, basically, everything non-sweet just tastes like cardboard. Thank God she's not diabetic. That's one thing. The other thing with this incident is that there has always been a part of her that ate an unpleasant dinner in order to be good-mannered, but that her inner self wanted to dump the whole thing and go get ice cream. Her taste buds have changed, but her personality has has just emerged. She wants what tastes good, and no longer feels obligated to put up with anything else for some greater cause.

I don't begrudge her this. It is true that only eating ice cream will make her body deficient in certain nutrients. She won't live as long. Well, so what? I do not wish her long life at this point. I simply want whatever life she has left to have shining moments. There is enough of her in me to appreciate that coffee ice cream can be a shining moment.


Blogger Gail Rae said...

One thing I have to say, here, regarding a long demented life vs. a short one: My mother has always asserted and continues to assert that she intends to live to be 120. Since her Anemia Due to Chronic Disease has come under excellent control, in fact, she more often says that she wishes to live to be 150.
When my mother's health was very poor, early on as my companionship of her suddenly began to include intense caregiving, I felt much the same as you express in this post. As the caregiving has become more and more a part of my companionship of her, though, I'm finding that wishing a shortened life for her was more about my lack of understanding of the joy she continues to gain from being alive and my horror at the thought of being in her circumstances. I now find myself wishing for and aiding her determined walkering toward as many years as she wants to, and can, manage. I think the change came about when I stopped thinking about the possibility of myself as demented and switched to compassion, which allowed me to perceive her experience of her reality, rather than my fear about some vague, possible future reality of my own.
Please don't think I'm scolding you, Anne. I'm not. I went through that, too, and I'm reluctant to scold myself for it. I think one of the mistakes we all make, though, is imagining a horror of a reality on behalf of our parents (and our future selves) that doesn't actually, and/or yet, and/or may never, exist.

6:45 PM  

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