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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Tuesday, January 11, 2005

January 10

It seemed odd to only go to the Birches once in a week, after all the extra trips during the holidays. When I arrived, Mother was not in her room. I asked about her and they said she had gone upstairs for Communion and would be down shortly. I made myself at home in her room and soon they came to say that she was in the TV room. I found her there watching a re-run of the Golden Girls.

She was glad to see me but was in some distress. "I have to go to the bathroom," she said, "but I can't get in." I took her back to her room and got her straightened out, then we went back to the dining room for lunch.

It was a quieter visit, in large part because Dot was not at lunch. It didn't seem the same without her constant yammering for food. Mother and I took our place with Harold, and I watched anxiously as Carl came shuffling by...remembering the attack of last week. Harold looked up at Carl. "You need a haircut," he told him. Both of Carl's hairs were a bit long, but no incident ensued.

Eleanor was seated at the table behind Harold, quiet and minding her own business. Harold turned around to her and said "Shut up!" Fortunately Eleanor is hard of hearing and didn't understand, and the others at her table interpreted the sentence as the anticipation of a good meal. But I did wonder if Harold might not have been asking for the wallop he got last week.

As we settled in to lunch, he was nice to Mother, however. She was wearing the red blazer she almost always wears. "Is that a new suit?" Harold asked her. "No," she said. "I just haven't worn it in a long time." I was surprised at her coherency. He couldn't quite hear her, so she said it again. "I don't think I've seen it before," he answered.

She ate all her salad, a good part of the grilled chicken meal, and all her fruit cup. I was glad it was relatively quiet. I filled her in on some family news as we waited inbetween courses, but she is so very easily distracted by conversation or activity during the meal that she forgets to eat. I am learning to eat very slowly so that she has the reminder of what we're supposed to be doing. If I finish early, she eats much less. Harold is a slow eater, too, so I'm glad they are at the same table.

At the end of the meal we got up and she patted Harold on the shoulder. "I'll be back later," she said to him. She wanted to go back to her room, which we did, and she took up her usual position on the bed. I was prepared this week and brought a book. She opens up to talk when she is lying down. Perhaps with her eyes closed and her body quiet she can give more energy to expressing herself.

When I arrived she had told me that things were going badly for Ralph...that he had lost two wives just this week. As she lay down, she drifted back to Ralph's troubles. There was something about medicine and hymnals and sitting in a circle, but I finally figured out that Ralph is really Harold...there is nobody named Ralph there or in our family. I never could determine what had happened, but clearly there had been some disturbance with Harold at the center. "They didn't handle it very well," she said at last. It was the only sentence that made any sense. She talked for awhile and then drifted off into a nap.

I know this seems odd, but it seems that Alzheimer's takes away brain capacity, but it does not seem to diminish intelligence. Mother knows if something is not quite right...she just can't explain how or what to do about it. It's like having a house that is all cross-wired. You flip the switch in the living room, which should be correct, but the light goes on in the bedroom instead. The people who never liked small talk still dont...even though they can't follow a more complex conversation or utter a meaningful sentence. As I look around at the other residents, the ones with the higher educations and more complex backgrounds are the ones who are the most bored and frustrated. Something remains that knows better. I think of Harold's frustration last week as he tried to read his Boston Globe. I think I'll work harder on cultivating simple pleasures for the years when they may be the only ones I have.


Blogger Gail Rae said...

My mother has what used to be called vascular dementia...I don't know what it's called, now, although I'm aware that there seems to be an effort afoot to cram all types of dementia under the "Alzheimer's" umbrella. I've noticed, though, as you have about your mother and the members of her community, that my mother's intelligence is not affected, nor her sense of humor, nor her preferences. This never fails to interest me.

5:52 PM  

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