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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Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Okay, in these last weeks before my move, those of you who eagerly look for this posting on Monday or even Tuesday should probably gear up for disappointment. I'll do the best I can, but if I were you, I wouldn't start looking until mid-week. My schedule is approaching warp speed.

When I arrived at The Birches on Monday, Mother was in the kitchen along with Eleanor in her wheelchair, Russell who was madly trying to dial the phone, and a couple of aides. She brightened up when she saw me and I kissed her hello. I told her I was going to go to her room to put my things down and use the bathroom. "I'm coming too," she announced. Coming into the room I went and patted the stuffed dog and said, "Hello, Muggins!" "No," said Mother, "Not Muggins." I asked what its name was, but she couldn't seem to come up with anything. She sat down protectively beside it and stroked its back.

When I came out of the bathroom, she went to the bed to lie down. She tried several times to get the dog to jump up on the bed and sleep with her but, like most of our animals growing up, it paid her no mind. I asked her what had been going on. "Some guy with a funny hat is going to be coming on Saturday for some section of..." she tried for some time to think of a section of what to no avail. I looked down at the shoes by her bedside and saw that one of them was stuffed full of used tissues.

Soon it was time to head down to lunch and with someone else visiting another resident, it was a full house. They apologized for having to squeeze me in on the corner of a table, but to my delight, the table where they squeezed me in was with Frances and Russell. It was the first time we have been with them for a meal. I was on the corner between Mother and Russell.

I knew it was not a good day for Russell when I saw him on the phone earlier. That usually means he is trying to reach his wife, Helen, who died in December. That was confirmed when I sat down. "I can't find my wife," he said. "I keep calling the house but she doesn't answer. We've been over this a hundred times. If you're going to go somewhere, leave me a note, so I know where you are. And be back for dinner. A hundred times." I decided he needed distracting, so I asked him where he was from.

There followed a wonderful conversation that lasted through dinner. He was born in Marblehead, Mass. and worked as an engineer for GE. He had been a pilot in the Air Force and had run a plane depot in England. His father was from Chicago...also worked for GE. He talked a lot about Helen. How she won all the amateur tennis tournaments there were to win in Massachusetts and could put the ball anywhere she chose. She was a nurse and very petite, so that people sometimes mistook her for his child. Periodically he would go back to her missing status. In one minute he had heard her say goodbye this morning while he was in the shower and in another minute he hadn't seen her in weeks, but in both minutes he knew something was amiss. I debated whether or not to tell him again about her death, but decided against it.

He said that he and Helen used to travel a lot, so I asked him about his favorite place to go. Tennessee was his answer. He loved the graciousness of Southern people. I tried to engage Frances also and discovered that she was from Deerfield, NH and had a daughter who lived nearby, but between a persistent cough and her being hard of hearing, we didn't get too far. Twice there was a loud outburst on the other side of the room from Eleanor...just single words without much meaning shouted at the top of her lungs. An aide would respond by going over and giving her a hug to calm her. Dot was beside her, but I couldn't tell whether she was an aggravating factor or not.

My conversation with Russell turned to The Birches. He explained that he used to bring lots of clothes when he came, because sometimes he came for several weeks at a time. But the clothes would disappear, so now he didn't bring as much. He was quick to point out that the staff always compensated him for his loss. We both agreed that the important thing was having something comfortable. "Anything is fine," he said, "As long as it doesn't say 'kick me' on the back!" We laughed.

He did think they could have a better system for car keys, since no one seemed to be able to tell him exactly where they parked his car. "They ought to give you a number," he said. Of course he doesn't come and go and he doesn't have a car, but I just nodded.

He indicated he needed a shave, which he did. Then to my surprise, he reached in an interior pocket of the jacket he was wearing and pulled out a huge electric razor, complete with long cord and plug! One of the aides took it to test it and saw that while it whirred when you plugged it in, it didn't cut at all. He put it back in his pocket.

Mother was pretty quiet, although I tried to bring her into the conversation a couple of times...especially as Russell talked about traveling. Mother has traveled all over the world. But she didn't chime in, even when I mentioned the pictures of her and my father in Yosemite that are up in her room. Russell looked over at Mother, who had eaten all of her meal except for the mixed peas and carrots. "You'll have to go to bed without supper. You didn't eat your vegetables!" he joked. He turned to me. "She's a sweetheart. I just met her and felt like I had known her ten years."

Eventually it was time to get up from the table, and I did so reluctantly. It was a wonderful thing to be able to carry on a conversation during lunch, even if it wasn't all based in reality. I think it was good for Russell, too, since there aren't many residents with both his intelligence and verbal ability. We smiled and laughed a lot. With Carl gone, Harold is the only other man. Harold could have matched Russell in intelligence, but verbally he is like my mother...disjointed, unconnected. Russell said he looked forward to my next visit.

Mother and I went back to the room and she went for a mini snickers bar. She took a bite and then tried to feed the rest to the dog. I told her that chocolate was bad for dogs, so she ate the rest herself. She lay down on the bed, calling again to the dog and using a name that sounded suspiciously like "Edward." I took out a book. After about ten minutes she sat up alarmed, looked over at me and said, "Oh good, you've got the book." She settled back down. "You'll have to help me keep track," she said. "They didn't use their summer stuff. Well, she did, but he didn't, because they switched the..." she drifted off.

An aide knocked on the door and took Mother into the bathroom to be sure she was dry and cleaned up. The aide told me that several of the girls had been quite startled by the dog and even argued about whether it was fake or not. When they came out of the bathroom, I said a prayer with her and said I needed to go. She didn't follow me this time, but just said goodbye from the door, closing it again as I left. I wound my way back out toward the door. Russell was dialing the phone.


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