Dementia–the very word makes me cringe and I hate to say it. There are a number of varieties–Alzheimers is the most dreaded, but there is vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, mixed dementia and so forth. They each have their own set of symptoms–except for mixed, which borrows from them all. Mom’s dementia doesn’t fit any of the types.
Now that I am completely past the denial stage and can look objectively at the past few years, I think her mental decline may have started around 6 years ago, but it might have been longer ago than that. Whatever type of dementia a loved one has, those closest to the afflicted one often seem to miss it at first. It’s the denial. You make excuses for the occasional odd behavior or attribute it to something else.
Before she started repeating herself–telling me the same story multiple times, I remember Dad started doing more and more housework for her. I just thought it was physical weakness, but now I wonder if it wasn’t more than that. After all Dad was 7 years older. I remember she would get fixated on some small event in her life or someone else’s life. She would talk about it over and over until something else happened to take its place. It didn’t seem like normal behavior for my mother, but my mind wouldn’t take me to some sort of conclusion.
Now my mother’s short term memory is very broken. Sometimes her long term memory doesn’t work too well either. Lately she’s asked me numerous times about her parents, for example. Her mother and father died 47 and 42 years ago respectively. Before Christmas she told me she was very concerned because she hadn’t bought her parents a Christmas present yet. As gently as I could I told her they were no longer with us, they had passed and were in heaven. Very matter of factly, she said, “Well, I guess that takes care of that.” I had to grease the file cabinet drawer with the stories about their passings before it would come open and she could access her memories. A couple weeks later she asked me why her mother hadn’t come to see her at our house. Again I told her the story about her mother and she was able to recall her mother’s passing.
It’s the short term memory loss that is the most obvious though. She will ask me numerous times in a day who will be home for dinner, what day it is, what the weather will be like. But yet when I buy her something online she will ask me about it every day until it comes. I never know what she will remember and what she will forget. For that reason I am careful about the things I say around her. I can’t let myself think she won’t remember something I say. And if she asks the same question over and over I try to answer as if it was the first time she asked.
Her memory issues are often humorous. On Inauguration Day, 2017, we spent the day in front of the TV watching the festivities. The next day Mom started talking about being in DC the day before. I asked her what she was talking about and she told me patiently she was talking about how we went to DC for the Inauguration. I told her we all sat in the Family Room all day watching it on TV, that we had not gone anywhere. She asked, “Why did I think we went to DC?” If only I could answer that question.
Mom loves to read. She is a life long bookworm. And thankfully she is still able to read and enjoy it. The catch is, she doesn’t remember anything she reads. When I finally figured that out I quit going to the library for her every couple weeks. I bought 4 books in her favorite series: The Mitford books by Jan Karon. She can read them over and over and it’s like the first time each time. Her favorite is: At Home in Mitford. It’s the first in the series and introduces all the wonderful characters. Recently on her 3rd or 4th reading in the past year, she announced she did not like the book anymore. She said the characters were different and she was going to stop reading it. It was said with such conviction I picked up the book when she wasn’t around just to make sure it was the book I thought it was. Yes, it was–no mysterious trickery going on.
A few days later she picked up At Home in Mitford again and started reading. She just opened the book at a random page and became engrossed. After a while I asked, “Mom, how are you enjoying your book?”
Her reply, “Oh, it’s so good.”
Memory loss has some benefits for the bookworm. Every favorite book is fresh and new every time you read it. And sometimes it can even become a different story!