How Alzheimer's Upset My Mother's Life and Mine
Major upset is what we’re talking about. We cannot ignore it. We cannot fix it. We’re forced to accept it, and that means rearranging our entire lives to accommodate it.
As upsetting as the Alzheimer's disease is, I have to embrace it when it confronts me wearing my mother’s face. Even while it aggravates me, I must put my distress on pause long enough to recognize that my mother, not me, is the primary victim.
My mother is an introvert, so she could have been in the early stages of Alzheimer’s for a while before she said or did anything to make it obvious. However, a few months ago she was visiting me. One morning she woke up, got dressed, and sat in the bedroom past breakfast time. I went to inquire what was keeping her. “You’re supposed to tell me when you’re ready,” she scolded me.
That was never part of our routine. I suspect now that she had completely forgotten about breakfast, and cleverly covered up her forgetting—one of the usual signs of Alzheimer’s.
Ten Warning Signs
from the (Alzheimer's Association)
- Memory loss disrupting daily life
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Confusion with time of place
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- New problems with words in speaking and writing
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
- Decreased or poor judgment
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood and personality
The disorientation was not always easy to conceal. There were some obvious signs:
- She gave me her laundry, then complained to me within minutes that she had not seen some of the items she had just given me.
- She bought two new blouses and swore the next day that they were not the colors she bought.
- She walked out of the restaurant ecstatic that it was the first time she had ever been in one, which was not true.
- She accused me of causing her confusion by tampering with her personal property or giving them away.
Some incidents were perplexing and scary, including accusations which felt like thumps on my chest. I wanted to hide, but what would happen to her if she could not find me?
“It’s the illness,” some of our relatives said when I related the incidents. “Don’t take it personally.”
I wanted to understand that, but I found it difficult. I had heard about the memory loss and disorientation, but I never heard anyone mention the suspicions and the rebukes bordering on resentment. In time I would learn to react with less emotion, but at the start, I was an emotional wreck.
Alzheimer's Facts and Figures
- Alzheimer’s disease was first identified more than 100 years ago, but only in the last 30 years has research into its cause, treatment and so on gained momentum.
- One in eight people (13%) aged 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease.
- Nearly half of the people (43%) aged 85 and older have Alzheimer’s disease.
- 16% of women aged 71 and older have Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia compared with 11% of men (not that women are more prone to the disease but that they live longer).
- The cause or causes for the Alzheimer’s disease remain unknown.
(Alzheimer’s Association, 2011 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures for the U.S.)
Having accepted the fact that my mother needs my care, I bought my one-way ticket to my Caribbean home to care for her. I am her only child. It is a major upset, but I dare not think of it with regret.
It was difficult to sell out my furniture and furnishings within one month. There was not enough time to consider my best interest concerning the prices that were offered to me. My aim was to get rid of everything however I could, and be on my way in response to the urgent call from my relatives.
Permanent relocation to the Caribbean was never in my plan. I considered having my mother move to the United States to live with me, but all three times she visited, she insisted on returning home. Now the situation demanded that I return to her home. Why did I never imagine that my mother would become unable to care for herself?
On the one hand, the Alzheimer’s disease upsets me because it threatens my control over my life; and it has also taken away my mother’s control over the rest of her life.
On the other hand, I am grateful that my mother and I can face this dilemma together. If means living together in her house,so be it.
Alzheimer's: The 36-Hour Day
I went back to the Caribbean reluctant to live there permanently, but willing to become my mother's caregiver. I settled into the routine of preparing meals, organizing doctor's visits and administering medications. I never forgot that my mother had done the same for me in my childhood. It was a privilege to extend the same love and compassion to her in her second-childhood.
We were yet to learn that the Alzheimer's disease can become a continual upset. It does not relax just because we settle into the drill.
My mother entered into the phase where she became super-possessive of her household items--curtains, tablecloths, drinking glasses, cutlery etc.--and was offended that I used them. My constant presence annoyed her and constant badgering was detrimental to my state of mind.
At the same time, she expressed fear whenever I had to leave the house. Locked in together, we were fast becoming each other's nightmare. After twelve months, she took up residence in a home for the elderly; I went back to the United States for a mental breather.
Upset but Not Unmindful
The following Mother's Day I called from the United States to speak to my mother. She was indifferent to my wishes for her. She talked about having a bad day, but could not explain why. She promised to tell me later. It pained me that she was unable to express what she felt. It was like having mother and at the same time, not having a mother. My plan is to reside in the Caribbean so I can be near her.
I am grateful to my mother for teaching me about faith in God. My favorite promise from Him is “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you" (Deuteronomy 31: 8 NIV).
I know that God will be with my mother and me, and I depend on Him to sustain us beyond this upsetting disease.
© 2012 Dora Weithers