Archive for May 31st, 2010|Daily archive page

‘What’s your name?’

The last time I visited Mom, she certainly recognized me when I arrived. She and Mr. R were sitting on a couch together in the program area, as usual. I hugged her hello. She asked Mr. R to scoot over to make room for me on the couch. We sat together and chatted a little bit. Mom was not in great form conversation-wise. I suspected she might have some recollection of an activity she had done earlier, or an event that had happened sometime recently, and talked in circles about things that, in the present moment, did not make sense. I just nodded and went along with it. At one point, she reached down and started to pull up my pant leg. I wondered if she was having a physical memory of something – getting dressed or undressed? Being showered? I really don’t know. She was definitely confused. But perfectly content.

And then she looked at me and said, “What’s your name again?” She seemed a little sheepish. I said, “Emily.” “OK, that’s right,” she said. And it was fine. I said, “Do you recognize my face?” And she said, “Oh, yes.” It was not a test for her – I just never want her to think I’m a stranger. I don’t want her to fear me. I don’t suspect she would now that she is in the Alz center – the atmosphere is so loving and comforting that just about every human contact is a positive experience for the residents unless they are in crisis for some other reason. I do believe she will always know I am her person.

I filed her fingernails. They are so long, and I had once again forgotten to bring clippers. She seemed to think the filing tickled, or was a little uncomfortable, but she let me do it. And then I plucked some hairs from her chin. At some point, I made a reference to Mr. R being her boyfriend. And he said, “We’re just friends.” And I said, “Oh, I’m sorry. OK.” They had been kissing when I arrived. So they are very good friends. Eventually Mom suggested we get up and go somewhere, so the three of us took a walk. As we headed toward the lobby, Mom said, “I’m so happy.” Nothing beats that. We crossed the lobby and walked to the skilled side, and then turned around. Walking back toward the program area, Mom and Mr. R were holding hands. I took her other hand. Once again, Mom said how happy she was to have her two good friends with her. “But you’re more than a friend,” she said to me. “You’re such a good person.” I replied, “And so are you.”

Later in the week, at support group, when it was my turn to talk I said I am suffering from some hurt feelings. That Mom is so wrapped up in Mr. R and that, being on borrowed time with Mom, I am missing out. When I had arrived for the visit, a family member who is always around had told me I should just tell Mr. R I want to be with Mom and that he would understand. Maybe so, but it wouldn’t necessarily be what Mom wants. And it could create temporary conflict between them. As I talked about this in support group, I told the doctor that I heeded his advice: Do what is best for Mom, not for me. That can be hard for caregivers – to figure out what is best for the patient, and then to do it. With Mom, it’s pretty easy to tell she is quite content to hang out with Mr. R all day, every day. The doctor reminded us that loneliness can be one of the worst consequences of Alzheimer’s disease. That social interaction improves quality of life dramatically. I am lucky that Mom has found a way to fend off loneliness. The comfort I get from knowing she is happy outweighs any other emotions I might have.

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