An ‘anniversary,’ I guess

Yesterday, I looked back four years, to Mom’s last election. Today, I quietly observed that this is the fifth anniversary of Mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Nov. 3, 2005. I still have the dated prescription pad pages – two of them, actually, that the doctor filled out with medicines and other recommendations now that the dementia diagnosis had been confirmed.

I took the day off of work. My sister Laura came in from California to go to the doctor’s appointment. Mom had already been through lots of testing – written and oral tests in the clinic, an MRI and nuclear medicine scan of her brain. I think Laura and I felt pretty sure about what we were going to hear. I honestly don’t know what Mom was feeling or thinking that day.

The doctor showed us the scans and talked us through the findings. In the end, he said the results pointed to a dementia that most closely resembled the Alzheimer’s form. He didn’t go into any great detail about what to expect. I think that right away, he suggested that Mom could be a good candidate for a clinical trial of the investigational use of an existing drug to see if it could benefit Alzheimer’s patients. Years later, I read a news story that indicated this drug, a diabetes medication, did not have any positive effects for dementia patients. I never knew if Mom got the drug or a placebo. Mom was later in another clinical trial that ended up being a bust, as well.

My memory of Mom’s reaction was that it was patient and quiet, like she was working just a little to absorb the news. She told the doctor she had spent many years as a heavy drinker, and asked if that caused the dementia. He said no, it was not a cause, but that the drinking probably left her with less brain to work with. She was going to get Alzheimer’s anyhow, but having an alcoholic past probably moved its development up to an earlier point in her life.

After the appointment, we visited my office, which coincidentally was right across the hall from the clinic. I don’t think we knew how to act or feel, so we put on happy faces and said hello to my co-workers. I imagine we probably went to lunch. We later called our brother to let him know of the diagnosis.

It’s weird, I remember being in the clinic room, sitting and listening to the doctor. But I don’t remember much else about the day, or my sister’s visit. I think at that time I was so full of dread of what was likely to lie ahead that I was consumed with feelings about my own future and not so much about Mom’s. I do think I realized at this point, though, that I needed to mellow out on her and be more patient with her. I’m ashamed at how long it took me to really fully grasp what she must have gone through during those early months and maybe even more than a year of being confused, having trouble finding words, losing track of her finances, being suspicious and distrustful but not knowing why, feeling withdrawn from her friends and family, maybe getting lost while driving. And who knows what else. I’m frankly glad those fears are behind her now. If it has to be that she is an Alzheimer’s patient, I am relieved that she has become the kind of patient she is: content, full of laughter and smiles, comfortable. Happy, I’d even venture to say.

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5 comments so far

  1. Andrea Carlisle on

    Your posts are getting better and better. The writing just gets stronger. I’m right there with you as you describe this oh so sad day.

    It may have taken you a while to understand what she was going through from her perspective, but that’s how it was.Your compassion for her now is so touching.

  2. Jeff on

    I agree with Andrea. Wasn’t this after her car accident and you had to take her keys away? It seems like more than 5 years to me. Is it to you, or has that just flown by?

    Love you – Jeff

  3. momsbrain on

    Andrea, thank you. I must be feeling it more these days, with these little milestones going by. I try to forgive myself for how this all began, but that is where most of my regrets are.

    Jeff, that accident actually came later, by almost two years. She moved into assisted living in October 2007, about six weeks after the accident. So the bad thing is she drove that much longer…which is not terribly uncommon. We’ve worried about her for more than five years. My time perception varies but I don’t necessarily feel like it has flown by. Love you, too.

  4. kewyson on

    Thanks for sharing your experiences – once again – I just read a CNN.com article on young caregivers, and by young I mean adolecent family members, not ones in our, say, comfortable years.

    Your writing seems theraputic but also a great journal – I hope you can retrieve / save the posts easily.

    I also agree w/the driving issue – the entire family was waiting on pins and needles for an accident to occur that was my dad’s fault – I even was trolling local websites from Tucson to just check for traffic issues / fatalities – but my parents were / are very stubborn. Even after a great-uncle of mine (my Dad’s uncle, separated by only 5 years) was the driver in an accident that killed 3 (his wife and the elderly couple in the back seat), my Mom still somehow separated ‘that’ from ‘them’ (she couldn’t drive due to macular degeneration.

    Glad she is happy now

  5. momsbrain on

    Hi, kewyson – The driving issue was a tough one, but not as tough as many I hear about from others. I think spouses have such a hard time with being an enforcer; at least that’s what I feel like I am seeing in some other cases of dementia among friends and family. And apparently a difficulty for your mom. Thanks for commenting. I hope your family is holding up OK.


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