Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Walking into the Next Stage Together

My mother and I crossed paths in the hallway last night, just before bed. Though we were mere inches from each other, she didn’t notice I was there. Or, more accurately, it seemed as if she herself was someplace else.

“That bastard Mario. I’ll bet he’s f******every girl in East Boston tonight,” she muttered.

Two things immediately struck me as odd and sent an alert tramping up my spine.

1) Whenever she speaks of my father, it is always as her husband. She has never regressed to their relationship pre-marriage when he lived in East Boston.

2) Though my mother can curse better than a foot soldier in the Army, I’ve never ever heard her use the “f” word in this way. As an adjective? Absolutely. But as a verb? Only in the deep heat of an argument and even then, sparingly. Sure, she’ll say it often in Italian. But all curse words lose weight to those of us who aren’t native to the language.

Though I know it is better not to draw attention to the memory loss (or memory shift in this case), I was unable to keep silent. I was frightened for her; the absent look, the change in speech. If these were signs of her entering the next stage of dementia, I was going in with her.

“Daddy is dead, Ma.” I said.

She turned and gazed at me through muddy eyes; half seeing, half mired in the muck.


“He’s been dead for thirty-three years.”

“Oh,” she looked down at the floor. “Who’s my boyfriend then?”

“Do you mean Norman?”

“No…forget about it.” She was not only confused but also seemed embarrassed.

I waited a few beats and then went into her room. She was already under the covers, only her naked head peeking out. I eased myself down beside her and spooned her close.

“Are you ok now?”

“I didn’t understand. I was confused. I really thought…”

“I know Mummy. It’s ok.”

I stayed only a minute longer. She can sometimes get annoyed with physical affection, and I didn’t want to add another stressor to the night.

The progression of these symptoms leads me to believe my mother is now somewhere between Stages 5 and 6 of Alzheimer’s.* We are seeing her doctor on Thursday and I’ll ask for a professional verdict then.

In the meantime, I must find a way to accept new manifestations of this illness when and how they present themselves. This is not a disease that gets better. There is currently no cure, and drugs only work to slow the process or treat the symptoms (minimally on both counts).** The disease never goes into remission, and there are no Alzheimer survivors.



  1. Lisa, I feel your pain. One thing that might work better, is to simply reassure her rather than trying to bring her back to reality. We didn't with my mom, we reminded her Dad was dead, etc. Now I'm thinking that caused her more confusion. One night we awoke to find Mom in our bedroom, giddy and laughing, "looking for those kids hiding from her." I took her back to bed, and tucked her in, reassuring her I'd make those kids get back in bed too. It was late and they needed to sleep. She giggled, crawled under the covers and fell fast asleep, a smile on her face.

    When we told her dad wasn't coming because he had been dead for years it bothered her that she was so confused. I've known some caregivers who just go along into the past and reassure. You might talk about this with her doctor and see what he suggests. I'm holding for you!

  2. I admire the way you're hanging in with her. As she "shrinks" you grow. You said there are no "Alzheimer survivors" - but there are. And you will be one of them.

    Straight From Hel

  3. Sylvia, I agree with you completely. I often 'play along', especially when she is deep into the memory. But there was something about this time that really bothered me...the next step into the abyss. I wanted to pull her back to me! Going forward, if she continues along this line with my father, I will definitely go into her world instead of pulling her into mine. Thank you for your comments and sharing your experience.

  4. Helen, your comments made my eyes fill. " will be one of them..." Thank you. I WILL be.

  5. Yes, Helen reminded me of that, too, and sure enough, she was right. I survived. And today would be my mom's 90th birthday. So I'm a little weepy today. And celebrating her life all over again.

  6. Oh Sylvia, I'm sorry :-( Yes! Celebrate her life! YOU are a celebration of what she gave to the world, right? I send you loving thoughts..

  7. My grandmother is also going through the same thing. My aunt is taking care of her, and I am honestly afraid to visit because I fear she won't remember who I am... I don't think I could bear that.

    I am trying... I have an enormous amount of admiration for you.

  8. Thank you Tomara. I'm shoring myself up for that day when she says "who are you? where's my daughter?" I'm sorry your grandmother had to be stricken with this disease, and I know how you feel about being frightened. I feel frightened often.

    All the best and thanks for reading.