Alzheimer’s in fiction and in real life

I’ve been watching “Away from Her,” in which the beautiful Julie Christie plays a woman with Alzheimer’s. It’s not quite finished – I keep getting interrupted. But so far, I am not convinced by her portrayal. Of course, I am an expert now, or so I think… But really, I’m an expert only on my mother’s disease, and how it began, and what it’s like now. And though I’ve read quite a bit about what sicker Alzheimer’s patients are like, I can really only guess what might happen from here. I wanted to like this movie. I do think it’s pretty good. I relate, no surprise, much more to the husband in the movie. He suffers quietly, but he gets frustrated, he looks at her and expects normalcy to come out of her mouth. And that’s what is most difficult for me to accept in this movie – Julie Christie speaks complete sentences. Everything she says makes sense. She recognizes in her friendship with another man that with him, she’s not confused. And she barely recognizes, or opts not to recognize, her husband after only 30 days in a facility. I don’t buy that at all. He is, after all, part of her long-term memory and not just her recent memory. I’m interested to see how it ends – who knows, I might come around to be more forgiving. I’d like to read the story on which it’s based.

In real life, I visited Mom today and was pleased to find her looking adorable. Sundays can be tricky – Mom’s apartment is cleaned on Monday and she is showered on Tuesday. So by Sunday, both her apartment and her appearance can be pretty rough around the edges. But the apartment looked pretty good, save for the litter boxes, which I scooped. And I found Mom already in the dining room, with fairly neat hair and one of her favorite animal-print shirts on. She also had bright pink pants on, which I loved. They are spring pants, but I was tickled by her choice of such a dramatic color at this time of year. She also was wearing her pink Crocs – one of her two pairs of Crocs. And light blue socks. And a bracelet with multiple colors, including a bit of the same bright pink as her pants.

I think she is still dressing herself, though I see evidence that it might be getting more difficult for her. She’s always got stray socks lying around in odd places, and sometimes in her purse, so I am used to that. Today, she had a pile of clothes neatly stacked on her bed. I THINK the person who washes her clothes also puts them away. So Mom might be retrieving them from the closet to select something, or she might be stacking dirty clothes on her bed. It’s hard to tell. I have decided not to worry too much about this. She has plenty of clothes and I see evidence that she wears different outfits (though she definitely sometimes wears the same outfit for a few days). I once hung up a series of outfits for her on her bedroom door, and the next time I visited, they were gone. I took that as a rejection of my help. And that’s OK. As long as she can do things independently, I want her to do them. She tends to not like to be told what to do, and I can’t say that I blame her for that.

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