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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Friday, March 31, 2006


Today was actually the second time I've visited since I last posted. The last time was in mid-March when we gathered at the Birches to celebrate Laurie's birthday. Today I took advantage of the warmest day of the season so far to head north, see some contractors at my cabin, and stop in at The Birches.

When I arrived, they had just finished an activity in the great room and Mother was the only one left seated there. She couldn't tell me what they had done (at least not in a way that I could understand) but there was an Easter basket on the wall that might have been the creation of an afternoon.

Mother was wearing a favorite red and white sweater with bright red, stained, rather ugly pants that I had never seen before. "Are these new?" I asked her. "Yes," she said. "I've only had them 110 years." Then she burst into peals of laughter. One of the nurses came by and pulled up a chair to ask if Mother minded being called "Joanie." I said I didn't think so, although not many people called her that. "She's pretty easy," I said, and the nurse agreed. She told me that Mother reads to people. I knew she would sometimes read in her room, and apparently the staff noticed that. So, when she's just sitting at a table with others, they'll give her a book and she'll read aloud to everyone. Who knows if she understands what she's reading, or if anyone else understands what they're hearing, but everyone seems quite happy with the arrangement.

Evie the wanderer came through, but seemed to want to stick around, at least as much as she is capable of sticking around. She pulled up a chair to the table, although she never actually sat in it. But we had just decided to go outside for a walk.

Evie preceded us and out we all went. It was a perfect, 70-something, sunny day. They had the stairs off the patio blocked with patio furniture, forcing people to use the ramped walkway...or so they thought. Before I knew it, Mother was walking out on the cement buttress on the side of the stairs. Olga Korbut never did so well on the balance beam. Evie was headed in the same direction, but I managed to get them both back, having no idea what they would do at the end where there was a good-sized drop. Probably a forward, double-twist was out.

And so we just walked and enjoyed the birds and the sunshine. Mother seems completely adjusted. She engages conversation in groups much more than she did before. Of course "engaging conversation" is a relative term. But she speaks right up. Back in her room she was petting the stuffed cat that Rob and Steph got her for Christmas. She said it was a good cat. She patted it some more, then she looked up and said "65%." So, is it 65% good? 65% cat? We'll never know.

I noticed at the birthday party a few weeks ago that we have adjusted some as well. It used to be that we didn't know how to handle her "conversation." We would be sitting around the table in the private dining room for whatever occasion having a normal conversation, and then she would say a typical string of strange words. And we would fall silent. It was the elephant in the room--the brilliant conversationalist that could no longer make a bit of sense. Whenever it happened, you could feel the pain around the table. If she just kept silent, we could keep our denial at least partially intact. When she spoke, it was a stake to the heart.

But now, it is different. She is more comfortable speaking...perhaps because we are more comfortable hearing. We are having conversation. Who cares that it makes no sense? It is normal that people get together and have conversation, and she is perfectly content to engage in that normal activity. Others are content to listen. It is comfortable.

Evie had gone from in front of us to behind us on our walk, and when we rounded a corner to return, we met her coming the other way. She put out her hand to Mother as she shuffled forward. Mother took Evie's hand and shook it. "Hello," said Mother. Evie turned around and followed us.

On the way back, David came walking out. Apparently he missed his visit yesterday and came today instead. So we all went back to Mother's room, where Laurie was waiting. Mother's glasses were missing. Apparently they have been missing before. The last time they found someone else wearing them. Who knows where they'll turn up this time. David had brought their tax return for Mother to sign. He had her practice signing her name on another piece of paper. Not great, but okay. Then they went for the real thing. But she couldn't see the lines without her glasses. So David put his glasses on her. Then she could see, but David couldn't see to guide her! They gave up.

I gave the 65% cat a pat on the head and kissed Mother goodbye.


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Blogger Karma said...

Thanks for keeping up with your blog. My mom is about to be moved into an Alzheimer's care facility, and I'm nervous about how she'll take it.

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