Archive for January 29th, 2009|Daily archive page

How it began, I think

I am a bit concerned that I sound so completely negative about this experience, and about my mother. I have actually come a long way, if you can believe it. And I think things started out so badly for me, emotionally, because for some time, Mom’s symptoms resembled just plain irritating behavior, and it took me quite awhile to realize that she had either memory problems, confusion, or both.

I am around her more than my siblings are, but it was a family vacation for all of us that was the first strong indicator for me that there was a problem. We were all in Seattle visiting my brother. Mom flew out with my husband and me. I don’t recall the flight particularly well, but the vacation itself, in my memory, is a series of incidents in which Mom said something that seemed completely out of place. We were all sitting around the table eating dinner, talking, and out of nowhere, she said, “What are you all talking about?” We were driving to a prime photo-taking spot and Mom said she had a camera. When we got there, she said, “Well I don’t have my camera WITH me right now.” That was one of the funniest moments of the whole trip, but looking back, it’s a clear indication that her thinking was a little off. I thought she was hard of hearing, and I suggested sometime around that same time that she consider a hearing aide. She thought it would be too expensive. This coincided with her apparent lack of familiarity with her banking and investing, which should have been a bigger clue than it was to me that there was a problem. She became suspicious of her bank, and actually wrote a letter accusing the bank of moving her money around without her permission. I began accompanying her to bank meetings. Eventually, I started paying her bills for her. This was when it was dawning on me that Mom had a serious problem. She had been a bookkeeper for a newspaper, had aced her accounting class as a nontraditional student. Finance was not mysterious to her.

And then my sister said that when Mom visited her new house for the first time after my sister had moved across the country, Mom could not remember where her bedroom was. She would stand at the top of the steps and ask, “Is my room down there?” Mom had been very out of sorts about my brother moving from Seattle to New York the same summer that my sister moved from New York to California. It really turned her world upside down, and only later did I realize that a change of that magnitude was very hard for her to comprehend and was taxing to her to think about. When my dog died, she took it extremely hard, almost to the point that I thought her reaction was over the top. And probably the biggest symptom, which I didn’t recognize until much later, was her complete obsession with her cat. Mom began refusing to go on day trips or overnight trips because she was concerned about leaving the cat alone. She lavished the cat with special foods and toys. She said the cat was her best friend. She said the cat was the only being that ever showed her any love. This behavior was completely abnormal. And yet, it was also upsetting to me to witness my mother’s devotion to this gray and white snotty little kitty after a lifetime of longing for a hug, a kiss or an “I love you” for myself. I pretty much hated that cat. And yet, it was probably so good for Mom to have something like that to focus on, and I imagine that cat offered lots of security at a time when Mom was literally beginning to lose her mind. The cat eventually died, suddenly, after the Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Mom said a tender goodbye and we had her cremated, and I must say, Mom handled it pretty well.

So, for years, actually, Mom was slowly declining, and it was just subtle enough to appear to me that in her older age, she was becoming more and more needy for my attention and help. She also had an irritable edge to her that she hadn’t had before. And rather than slowing down to think about what might be happening, I became increasingly angry and impatient with her. Several years have passed now, and I have really turned those emotions around. She can still be argumentative and irrational at times, but I have learned, over time, to go with the flow, not argue, and just try to reassure her, no matter what we’re talking about. Keep her calm, make her feel safe, reduce her anxiety, make her laugh. The disease is complicated and complicating, but ultimately, the key for us is to keep it simple. It’s better for both of us.

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