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, June 22, 2005

June 20, 2005

My friend Barbara joined me for the visit this week, so we reserved the private dining room.

When we arrived, we found Mother much as I had left her last week...sorting cards. She seemed to know Barbara, was glad to see us, and quickly jumped up to tend to Cody (the stuffed black lab). Sometime in the intervening week, Cody had gained a white collar. She sat behind him and patted his back. "He's been sitting there in black and white while the wheels go round," she said. "He's a young intellectual."

I grabbed for a piece of paper and wrote down her words. It wasn't that they were so meaningful; it's just that I find myself at a loss to describe the odd thing this disease has done to her language. Sometimes she just grabs for the wrong word, but sentences like the above are way beyond that. I try to convey that, but if I haven't written them down immediately, I can't recall them.

That has taught me something about memory. My memory is not phenomenal by any means. I would be a terrible court witness, because I can almost never remember someone's exact words. I can tell you exactly what they meant...what was implied beneath their words, what the tone was, what was conveyed in their mood. But I have trouble with exact wording.

The way I manage to recall someone's words is by association...remembering a certain phrase and knowing the language well enough to figure out what must have naturally followed. Again not really good in court, but sufficient to relay the basic jist of a conversation. With Mother, however, I am completely lost. "He's been sitting there in black and white while the wheels go round. He's a young intellectual." is just not a thought I could ever reconstruct from memory, because nothing follows naturally from what went before. So, when I can, I reach for pen and paper to try to give a sense of what conversation is like.

Soon it was time to go down to the dining room. The kitchen staff was scrambling because their half of the building had lost power and they were running on generators. Not a great thing when you're about to serve lunch. But they were their usual gracious selves, even though things were a bit behind schedule. Glazed ham or apricot chicken were the options and between the three of us, we sampled both. The food is quite good, and Mother ate just about all of it. She seems to have put on a bit of weight, which is good.

Once we were through with dinner, we headed back toward Mother's room, passing the little neighborhood kitchen on the way. Russell was there, trying to dial the phone and call his wife. So we intervened. Last week I had discovered that Russell was a painter, but when I went to look in his room and see his paintings, the door was locked. In a hurry, I told him I would see them later.

So I pulled that out of the hat and asked if he would show us his paintings. First he opened his wallet and showed us a picture of his granddaughter. He also had about ten playing cards in his wallet. I asked him if he had a good hand in there, but he didn't seem to get it. I tried to show him that I meant the playing cards in his wallet, but he still didn't get it...looking through them as if they were something else entirely and naturally belonged in a man's wallet. Next time I see him playing gin with Frances, I'll have to alert her to his secret stash!

We got down to Russell's room, which is on the same hall as Mother. What a treat! Russell was a talented painter indeed, and his room was filled with many watercolors of the various places he and his wife had lived. There was her home in Westerly, RI, their home in Hamilton, Mass., and a street in Aberdeen, Scotland. Apparently his wife (who died in December) had Scottish roots. Their were also paintings of their children. He apologized for the messiness of the room, saying that his wife hadn't cleaned it up yet today.

After viewing the paintings, we went out for a walk. It was a lovely day, and we checked out the planter full of flowers and herbs and vegetables. Then we went and sat down at one of the outdoor tables. Mother talked about strange things, and we responded as best we could. After one particularly confusing string of phrases she sat silent for a moment and then announced, "But I got two cookies out of it." We all agreed that was a good thing.

We headed back to the door into The Courtyard, but Mother was not really ready to go in and she sat at the table close to that door. Each neighborhood has a little patio area outside of it with outdoor furniture...the usual tables with umbrellas and chairs. I headed inside to visit the restroom and encountered Eleanor, who was on a tear. "Hello, Eleanor," I said. She rolled her eyes way back into her head and with a huge sigh of disgust said, "Oh, God." I went on. A little further along my path was Pearl, wandering the hall. "I don't know what to do about it," she said, meaning Eleanor's ranting. "I don't want to just ignore it, but I don't think there's anything I can do to help." I agreed that there wasn't, and we talked about it for a couple of minutes. Then she wandered on and I found my way to the bathroom.

Eleanor was not in any better mood upon my return and began to tell me how she could see how it was and others couldn't and they thought she was wrong. I entered into her world and allowed how that could be very frustrating. She told me her problems, in speech as confusing as Mother's, and I sympathized. She scrunched up her face and blew a raspberry at me. Then she burst into a fit of giggles. I told her she was silly, gave her a kiss on the cheek and then went outside to the table.

Mother and Barbara had attracted another visitor. I'm not sure of her name...Eta or Ita or something like that. She's the one who was a peacemaker at Eleanor's table some time ago and then was the rabble rouser who wanted real butter. Anyway, she was outside talking with Mother and Barbara about the upcoming Penny Ante game. She was sure no one was going to be there for it and said she ought to get a rebate on some of her fees if she went to an activity and was disappointed.

We all headed inside together, and Barbara and I went out as Eta, Russell, and a whole, slow-moving crew of others headed for the elevator up to the Penny Ante game. I guess she won't get her rebate.


Blogger Gail Rae said...

I am so grateful for your recordings of the peculiar language traits of the demented, Anne. Although my mother isn't there, if she ever goes there I will have already considered these turns of communication and will be as ready as I suppose I can possibly be. Thank you.

12:04 PM  

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