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, March 22, 2005

March 21

They seemed to be running early with lunch this week. I arrived about 11:45 and almost everyone, including Mother was already seated in the dining room. But with my cousin Marek coming to eat with us, I had reserved the private dining room, so I went to bring Mother down there.

She was very concerned about leaving the main dining room, mostly because she thought her absence from the main dining area was going to mess up someone's system. "Do we need to tell someone?" she asked about six times as we made our way to the private dining room. I assured her each time that I had told the aides when I arrived. But she wasn't satisfied until she saw one of the aides pick up the phone and call the kitchen.

The food was a bit late in coming, making it difficult to keep her in the room. She asked several times about going out for a walk, so I assured her we would do that after lunch. Something was concerning her about her fingernails and she kept holding them out, but I couldn't figure out what the problem was. She did moderately well with the food when it arrived. Marek and I chatted about our various jobs and Mother engaged a bit, although she really didn't say anything. But she did make eye contact a couple of times, which she doesn't always do when there are other conversations going on.

Marek left to go back to work just before 1 pm and, as promised, I took Mother back to her room to get her coat for a walk. She seems to have shifted her attentions now from Harold to Russell. He and Frances were still at their table in the dining room when we came by and she went right to him, patting him on the back and asking how he was. He was having a better day than the last time, so he looked up and smiled.

The day was bright and warm (relatively speaking), and we took a walk around the grounds. She is still quite solid on her feet, although she needs a guiding hand to help her know which way to go. She still had energy when we got back in, so we decided to do a puzzle. I had brought some new ones, but she went for an older one with a lop-eared bunny on it...good for Easter time, I guess. We went out in the dining room and Frances was still at her table doing a word search. "Would you like to do a puzzle with us?" I asked her. "Maybe," she said. "Why?"

"Well," I answered, if you want to do it, we'll just sit with you and do the puzzle right here on your table. If not, we'll go to another table. She looked concerned. "Russell is there," she said, pointing to the empty chair. Her table is pushed up against the kitchen, so only three sit there for lunch. She was worried that if Mother and I took up the other two, Russell would have no place.

"Maybe Russell wants to do a puzzle," I said. I found him and asked. He did, I pulled up a chair, and the four of us went to work on the lop-eared bunny. "Look at us," said Frances, "we're like kids with a new toy." My normal routine in doing puzzles at the Birches is to spot where a piece goes and to put it nearby, or to make suggestions about the piece someone is holding. I did that some this time, but Frances, Russell, and even Mother actually found some pieces on their own. Frances was full of praise whenever Mother put in a piece. I was sitting between her and Mother and at one point Frances leaned over to me and said, "I put in a plug whenever I can. I think she needs that." I reached my arm around her and gave her a little hug. The caring nurse that she used to be has never gone away. What a sweetheart.

The bunny puzzle was both missing two pieces and had two extra pieces from a phantom puzzle, so when we had done all we could, Mother and I left them with Russell still trying to cram the strange pieces into the two remaining holes. Perhaps he is still doing it.

Meanwhile, I needed to go back to the room and deal with the things I brought. One was a palm cross from Palm Sunday at church, which I put up with the wooden cross from her room blessing. I also had brought a tube of toothpaste, since Laurie told me she was out. I don't know how that could be. Last Monday there was the biggest tube of toothpaste I had ever seen in her bathroom. I noticed it because it was so big that I thought it was some other kind of cream and was worried that she would end up brushing her teeth with body gel or something. But no, it was toothpaste. But that was nowhere to be seen this Monday. Literally anything could have happened to it. There were also no fewer than four hairbrushes sticking out of the jar in the bathroom. I'll have to look around for other residents with unkempt hair...only one brush is hers.

We said a prayer again before I left, and then I headed for home about 2:30. The hour's drive is good for thinking, and this time I found myself wondering about the growing number of people with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. There are the basic questions of whether it is something in the air or in the food or what the cause might be; but I began to wonder if there might not be a more mystical dimension to it.

Marek and I had talked over lunch about the phenomenon of books like A Purpose Driven Life and other books that talk about life's meaning. I told him about the management seminar I went to a year ago where the leader, a former GM Executive, summed up the session on supervision by saying that the reason we should become better supervisors is that good supervision leads to better employee morale, which leads to better profits, which leads to getting a bigger house, better car, new gadgets, etc. So I began to think that the upsurge in memory-related disorders might not be some form of the collective unconscious projecting the reality that as a society we have forgotten our purpose. We don't know why we're here; we're wandering from place to place and don't know why or where we're going. We ask questions that don't make sense and wonder why we can't get answers.

That's probably a silly thought, but it kept me occupied until I got home.


Blogger Gail Rae said...

Definitely NOT a silly thought, Anne. Something I've begun to notice, in "the literature" though. Despite the fact that most of us agree to believe that there are more memory disorders, particularly among the aged, in fact, statistically, dementia in the elderly is neither more nor less prevalent than it has ever been (as per "Sick to Death" and "Fountain of Age"). We're just making a bigger deal of it, perhaps because our generation is the bulge in the belly of the snake and dementia in our generation and among our parents is going to get a lot more attention than it ever has; we are, after all, nothing if not an extremely vocal generation.
This attention is a good thing, I think. Although it causes more fright than it should among us, it may, eventually, help us to figure out how to reroute tangling brains.

5:17 PM  

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