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, June 16, 2005


Sorry again for the lateness of the posting, plus a heads up that I will be moving on June 27 and will not get to the Birches on that day.

When I arrived on June 13, I found Mother in her room sorting cards. She has cards all over the place, as so many have been gracious to send them to her, and she does read them, although it's hard to say how much sense she makes of them. "Hello!" I said. She was sitting on her bed with her back toward the door. "Well, hello there!" she said, recognizing my voice, but not getting up or even turning around to see me. She remained focused on the cards.

She had different within other cards, mixed in with the occasional paper towel or tissue. There were Valentine's cards mixed in with the torn off back of a Christmas card, all surrounded by a general Thinking of You card. Each pile had anywhere from three to 7 or 8 cards. She opened them and read them, keeping them nested inside each other. Then she would put one pile on this shelf and another pile in her pocketbook and another on the bed. Two minutes later she would take a pile and go through it again.

She was not revisiting the warm thoughts of the cards or enjoying memories of good friends. She was organizing, even though that is now beyond her capabilities.

Soon it was time for lunch, and they had us seated with Russell and Frances again...this time pulling the table out from the wall so I didn't have to sit in a corner.

Eleanor was not having a good day and there were many loud outbursts down at that end of the room. The worst seemed to be caused by Harold who had to squeeze by Eleanor's wheelchair to get to his table. She cried out loudly in dismay...said he was hurting her...called for the aides to get him away. Of course his seat was within arms' reach of her, which didn't help.

It also didn't help that Dot was at Eleanor's table trying to steal her food. They had to assign an aide to that table in order to keep the peace.

Harold does not sit still for long. If there is not food in front of him for even a split second, he is up and roaming about. Of course he roams toward his room, which is on the hallway just beyond Eleanor's table...meaning that every few minutes he was up trying to get past Eleanor again, which set her off again. "It's really emotional down there today," said Russell, and he was right.

We had finished eating a very good meatloaf when I saw Harold getting up again and heading for the war zone. The aide had left the table for a moment. So I went rushing down to Harold. He lit up when he saw me, and I invited him to come and say hello to Mother...our table was in the opposite direction. He came with me. "What are we going to do now?" he asked. I suggested we take a walk. He didn't want to go outside, so we went on a field trip outside the Courtyard to see the place where they post up pictures. Mother was wearing a royal blue blouse with bright flowers, which Harold commented on many, many times.

Then we came back around by his room, which had a big fan in the doorway blowing into his room. A large, darker spot on the rug helped me to understand some of his rambling about having his feet in water. We left Harold in the hallway and Mother and I went outside for a walk. It was hot, but we inspected the herbs, vegetables, and flowers that had been planted outside and then found a table with an umbrella where we could sit for awhile.

Like the last time we were outside, she was quite content to sit and visit, even though I could understand very little of what she was trying to say. Overall I would say she is much less depressed than she was even a month or two ago. Maybe she is more settled there, or maybe it is the increasing daylight hours. But she no longer heads straight for the bed to sleep, even when the weather forces us to stay indoors. Eventually the heat sent us back to the air conditioning.

Harold was still hunting for us indoors, but I could smell that Mother needed to get down to the bathroom and get changed, so that's where we went. When that was finished, she went back to her card sorting activities, we had our prayer, and I headed out.

Going there is sort of like having ongoing, unpleasant medical treatments. On the one hand, you know it is making you better. But you wish there was another way to be made better. You don't look forward to going, but you know staying home is not the answer either. You learn to find the grace in suffering, even while you're wishing not to have the occasion for such learning.

I went from there to a local assisted living/nursing home facility that had asked me to come and talk about my book. The 30 or so people present had put together a list of faith questions to talk about. The first one was, "How do you cope when your body begins to fail?"

"I'm not qualified to answer that," I said. "You are the tell me." One of the members of St. John's who is a resident there spoke up. "Grin and bear it," she said. Good advice.


Blogger Gail Rae said...

Interesting question from the person at the assisted living facility. Even more interesting answer.
I thought you might be interested to know that my mother "copes" by having made the decision that her body is not failing, it just doesn't always work the way it used to. Nonetheless, she always expects it to work the way it used to and her creative memory allows it to not disappoint her.
I think, also, one of the keys to helping beings with "failing" bodies feel comfortable in them and glad they're still in them is touch, touch, touch, of all kinds. Too often we ignore this with elders. Too often we ignore this with everyone!

4:43 PM  

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