What Can You Do When Your Mother Doesn't Know Who You Are?

Photo used by permission of Henry Garciga
Photo used by permission of Henry Garciga
Flower by Henry Garciga
Flower by Henry Garciga

Dementia affects everyone . . . one way or another



My mother has been changing for about the last ten years. Now that she’s 78, I suppose that’s to be expected, but I don’t have to like it, and if she knows what’s happening to her, I’m sure she doesn’t like it either.

You see, my mother seems to be suffering from senile dementia or perhaps it’s the dreaded Alzheimer’s disease, which can eventually cause death. Along with old age, it killed President Reagan. At any rate, my mother certainly isn’t the same cheerful, affable, quick-witted person she used to be.

The “change” started about ten years ago. While visiting her at Christmas, she and I were talking about drunk driving – for some reason. She said this guy who had caused an auto accident had more than point-eight alcohol in his system. I said, “No, Mom, it’s point zero eight.”

And she snapped at me, “Don’t correct me - everybody says point-eight!”

I peered at my mother as if she had presently grown a set of fangs. “You never complained about me correcting you before,” I said.

“I’ve never liked you correcting me,” she said, “and I’m not going to put up with it anymore.”

I let the subject drop.

The following day, Christmas morning actually, we got into a big argument, the cause of which is unimportant, something trivial, and at one point I finally concluded, Well, I guess my mother is getting old.

So now I correct her only by accident.

If sudden testiness were the extent of my mother’s descent into the ravages of advancing years, it wouldn’t be so bad, but now she seems to be losing her memory and her social skills as well.

While on one of my bi-yearly visits, I’ll often see my mother mumbling to herself as she ambles about the house or watches TV. I talk to myself too, but not while other people are around. I wouldn’t want them to think I’m daft, of course.

She can lose her temper in a millisecond as well. She swatted my sister on the arm once, simply because my sister had told her to “not bother with something,” speaking in a way that we all talk to each other, not meaning to be rude, naturally, yet for some reason my mother took immediate offense.

Certainly the largest and most troubling change for my mother is that her memory has deteriorated, especially the short-term variety. She’ll ask me the same question over and over again, sometimes after just a minute or so.

Her long-term memory is still fairly good, but she’s lost a fair amount of that too. For instance, she can’t recall this VHS tape she had this video shop make using our old super-eight movies. (Her husband, my stepfather, remembers the tape but can’t recollect where he put it! So we can’t watch that anymore.) Also, my mother can’t seem to remember what some things are. On the telephone once, I asked her to change my zip code in her address book. There was dead air over the telephone line until I changed the subject, and the zip code still hasn’t been changed.

Perhaps the most troubling transformation in my mother, from my standpoint anyway, is that she no longer uses my name, on the telephone or in person. Apparently she’s forgotten it. During my latest trip to her place, she kept walking into my room without knocking, and she never used my name or asked if she could come in and move the blinds or whatever. In the past, she always would have knocked first and asked if it were all right to come in, just like nearly everybody else would do, of course.

Reflecting on such interactions, I often wonder if my mother still knows who I am. I think she does but I’m not really certain. At any rate, I’m afraid to ask her.

Nevertheless, at this point, it’s obvious my mother can no longer take care of herself or the house. If she lived alone, she’d leave something on and burn down the place or forget to pay the bills and they’d start shutting off the utilities.

However, as long as my step father – about the same age as my mother but in much better mental shape - is capable of taking care of her and the house, the status quo will continue. But when he can’t continue because of chronic illness or death, what will my sister and I do about our mother? One of us could move in with my mother, but since I still have to work and happen to live 160 miles away, I doubt that plan would work for me. After all, in advanced states of dementia people have to be watched all the time, as if they were still toddlers. Some of them end up in diapers. Even though my sister doesn’t have to work and lives close to my mother, I’m not sure she would take on that responsibility. Who could blame her?

On a related note, one of my mother’s older sisters – at the time quite a bit younger than my mother is now - got lost one day while taking out the trash. Her son had to go find her. Alzheimer’s eventually killed her. But another older sister, about as old as my mother is now, was lucid until she succumbed to natural causes. One gets it, while the other doesn’t, figure that out.

Eventually, if my mother lives long along, my sister and I may have to put her in a nursing home. These places are very expensive, naturally, costing at least $2,000 per month, so I’ve been told anyway. We could afford that expense only if we sold my mother’s house; otherwise, she’d have to be put in a government home.

So it goes. The uncertainly is not enjoyable to consider. But, when your folks get old, what are you gonna do? And, as I segue into senescence, what fate awaits me?

Here’s an update on my mother’s condition:

My mother looks and acts as if she were insane. She seems in a perpetual state of agitation, confusion and/or paranoia. She’s afraid of virtually everything and seems to have no friends, except for her husband who must be at her side virtually every minute or she becomes violently angry or weeps piteously. Isn’t there some release from this miserable state?

There is, of course, and we all know what that is. I hope my mother is granted this relative state of grace sooner rather than later. Amen.

The Big A killed my mother on May 22, 2011. May she rest in peace.

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Comments 23 comments

AEvans profile image

AEvans 7 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

I am a ER Nurse and I also take care of a woman who resides in our home who has Alzheimer's and Paranoia. She is 80 years old. I would recommend asking your step-father to take her to the Doctor as it does appear that she has Alzheimer's and the way it sounds she is either in stage 2 or 3. It is hard for a family member watch there mother or father deteroriate before there eyes. You have to remember that it is not her fault it is the disease that is taking away her life. When she is agitated or angry do not get up close and personal and do not raise your voice. Keep your voice calm and just tell her that what she did was wrong. Always hug her and tell her you love her when you can. They say the average time between diagnosis and death is 4.5 years depending on the stage they are in. Spend as much time with her as you can because she will not be here forever and most of all research the disease, understand it and whatever you do remember patience. I will pray for you and your family and should you ever have any questions you are welcome to e-mail me. :)


Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 7 years ago from California Author

Thank you very much for your insightful advice. Later!


Keith S profile image

Keith S 7 years ago

Kosmo,

your hub hits very close to home.


Kirk 7 years ago

Kosmo, I saw your mother 4 months ago and although she wasn't exactly herself, she was getting around and conversing and at least pretending to know who I was. The same was true a couple years abo about her sister Lou who now has degenerated to the rest home scene.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

Kozmo, Alzheimer's is heartbreaking and you have my sympathy. I hope that your mother is seeing a doctor. Some dementia is not Alzheimers but can be from another cause. Also,there are medications that can hold off the symptoms.


Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 6 years ago from California Author

Thanks for your concern, Dolores. It's hard to be optimistic regarding my mother's chances for keeping her faculties, but I'm doing my best. Later!


Dr Ken Romeo profile image

Dr Ken Romeo 6 years ago

Your first hand account of this story is well worth the time to read. I could feel the confusion and pain. It is something that I have felt as well. By the way, the cost for a lock-down Alzheimer's unit on the west coast is roughly $5,000 to $6,000 per month.

Good job!

Thanks


Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 6 years ago from California Author

Thank you for your comment, Dr. Ken Romeo. I doubt the average person could afford $5,000 to $6,000 per month for such services. I've heard of places that charge more like $2,000 per month, though the latter amount is still very expensive, of course. There must be another option. Later!


K. Burns Darling profile image

K. Burns Darling 5 years ago from Orange County, California

Kosmo, My heart breaks for you and for your family, I speak from experience when I say I understand your pain. My father, who turned 77 last November, and who was always a strong, bright, witty, and fiercely independent individual, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Related Dementia in 2006. I have also written about him and our struggles with the disease. Thank you for sharig your story, as you may well know, it is very easy to sometimes feel as if you are going through this all alone, and it helps to know that there are others out there who are walking in your shoes. Great Hub!


Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 5 years ago from California Author

Thanks for your compassion, K. Burns Darling. It has not been pleasant seeing my mother deteriorate, especially in the last six months or so. Of course, she has lots of company. Later!


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

The last time I saw my grandmother, who was 95 at the time, she said, "I don't know who you are, but I know you in my heart." I'll never forget that.

Thanks for touching on something that touches many of us.


Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 5 years ago from California Author

Thanks for the comment, Kathleen Cochran. The Big A certainly has touched many of us. Later!


Shaine Alexis 5 years ago

that's a really touching story and may she rest in peace.


Sue K 5 years ago

2 years ago my mother - 87 at the time & seeming fine - decided that she no longer wanted any contact with me, her only child. She wouldn't see or talk to me at all. Now, at 89, she doesn't remember why we didn't talk, and has no memory of me taking care of her through 2 hospitalizations for life-threatening conditions in the 5 years leading up to the estrangment. She thinks my children are her children. It's all so sad, and so surreal.


Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 5 years ago from California Author

I share your pain, Sue K. The last two months of my mother's existence she was like a woman possessed by confusion and paranoia. Nobody should have to see their mother in such a state. Thanks for the comment. Later!


carollfb 4 years ago

Oh dear, my mother is 78 she has dimentia and just under 2 weeks ago my step father and I placed her in a nursing home. She thinks I am her sister and does not remember my name or that i visit her. She is perpetually happy and chatty to anyone which is good. A lot of her clothes have been lost or picked up by other residents because we only had 2 HOURS to decide whether to accept the placement for her and didn't have time to label her clothes. She must have fallen over as my stepfather noticed her limping. An exra showed torn tendant in shoulder and swollen ankle.No one saw her fall, she has been moved to another high care dimentia specific section and has her own room. I want to make her room more homey, she wont however notice. I will gather up photos of the family to hang on the wall. I live 150km away also and my step father is 86 and is not well also. However, life goes on . Although I feel like crying when I see mum, I love to just cuddle her and hold her hand and walk in the garden. She still smiles at me. Although I know she doesn't know who I am.


Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 4 years ago from California Author

Hello, carollfb. Your mother sounds just like my mother, and my mother was 78 when she passed. The end was near when she stopped eating and drinking. Best wishes. Later!


carollfb 4 years ago

Hi Kosmo,Well its been 4 or so weeks now that mum has been in the nursing home. Im a tad worried though as many of her clothes and shoes are still missing and now it seems that she has been dressed in someone elses clothes and UNDERWEAR for goodness sake. That thought infuriates me and urks me a lot. I am not sure that the establishment is up to the high standard that we were assured it was. What would you do.? Should I complain. Is a complaint warranted or is the above clothes issue a minor regular occurrence in nursing homes. I understand that it is difficult for them to keep track of everyones belongings but I cant help thinking that it may be indicative of the overall care provided. or lack of.!!

Regards

Caroll


Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 4 years ago from California Author

Thanks for the comment, carollfb. I don't have much advice to give regarding your mother's stay at the nursing home. My mother wasn't sent to such a place until her death was imminent. All I can say it, keep an eye on those folks, and rip them a new one or two if you think they've transgressed. Later!


peachpower profile image

peachpower 4 years ago from Florida

You know, I wonder the same things about how one person gets something and others don't. My mother= possible early AD or vascular dementia. It's definitely something, but you know there's really no definitive diagnosis until autopsy. Not happening. My uncle (Ma's brother)= nothing. Totally normal.

I will make another Hub, soon, so I never forget some of the changes that we've dealt with. Like this one: my father brought her over the other day, she got out of the car, and she had on no shirt. What the hell. She had on a cardigan-type sweater with NO buttons and NO way to close it, and her bra. Awesome.

Thanks for sharing your story with us.


Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 4 years ago from California Author

Hey, peachpower, they just announced on the evening news that a test will soon be available to show if a person will get the Big A many years before the symptoms begin. Would you want to know years or even decades in advance? Later!


peachpower profile image

peachpower 4 years ago from Florida

Oh yes, kosmo. Yes indeed. The reason I believe I would want to know is because I want enough time to get everything situated. I would need the time, honestly. I would get the will in order (30 isn't too young for that); get the funeral stuff considered and paid for; the advance directives in writing. My children deserve to understand it too. They would need time to prepare themselves for the craziness that comes with dementia.

I would want to know so that I could grieve losing myself and get on with my life, instead of my life being taken from me, piece by piece.

What about you? Would you want to know?


Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 4 years ago from California Author

At this point, peachpower, I don't want to know. Maybe something else will take me first - I'm considerably older than 30. Thanks for the profound comments. Later!

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