Friday, June 2, 2017

UNDERSTANDING MOM

This post may help others better understand their loved ones struggling from behind the fog of dementia.

I've noticed that Mom has been announcing my arrival in a
strange new way recently. When I enter the room, she recognizes me, but she seems confusedly surprised when she looks at me, and she says, "You're my daughter Laurie," as if verifying her assumption.

I finally asked her, "Are you surprised to see me?"

She replied, "A little."

In the past, I assumed this was because she couldn't remember my visits once I left the room, but as we broke the ice with conversation, Mom seemed sad. When I asked why, she said her mother came into her room and was upset that she hadn't cleaned her room. She still suffered over her mother's disappointment.
"How long ago did ago do you think this happened, Mom?" I asked.

"A few minutes ago." She was still very glum about the situation. I realized she was still living in another place, another time, and I wondered how seeing her grown daughter walk in when she was living in a moment of her own childhood would have affected her. I asked her, "How old do you think I should be, Mom?"

Her face twisted up. "About twelve," she answered more as a question than a statement. "Little."

"Does it seem weird to you to see your daughter all grown up?"

She shrank back into her covers and nodded. "Yes.

"And how old do you think you are?"

A moment earlier, she thought she was twelve too. She looks at me and begins processing memories of marrying, and having a family, including at least one grown daughter standing before her.

My brother and I have had to answer questions about Dad's passing dozens of times, as if she relives the first news of his death many times, but now I realize that she's living in a time warp daily, a strangle "wrinkle in time," a "Matrix" where one minute she's twelve, and a moment later she's grown and a mother, and an old woman a moment later, surrounded by photos and faces of people who were real to her a minute ago and then lost to her in an instant.

Some people listen to the ramblings of dementia patients and think they're crazy, but consider the mental gymnastics their mind is performing, the fight their engaged in to make any sense of all these simultaneous realities, and to come back to us in our time at all.

I hate this disease, but I now have a better understanding of the frightening, shifting world my mother lives in, and I can help her navigate better.

She wanted to be left in that bed and stare at me while we chatted. It took over an hour to get her to agree to sit and then stand, to shift worlds, so to speak, but once I pushed her mind to leave the comfort of the past, and reenter the present, we went outside and faced the glorious beauty yesterday offered. I don't know if it was the exercise pumping blood to her brain, or her sweet personality that couldn't bear to ignore my coaxing, but once she was outside she played bocci ball for two hours, she chatted with her friends, and she won the game!

I hope this helps you better understand your own loved one with dementia. I don't know how long I could retain my own sanity and clarity if I was flip flopping through time and realities this way. Don't discount how hard they are working to hold on to each moment in time. Start now formulating questions that help you gauge where their mind is, and find ways to gently nudge them back to the present.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you Laurie. I don't think I could handle the constant change in time like that either. I always feel so terribly sad when I leave my sister thinking how confusing it must all be and things changing so rapidly for her. We always had such great times together constantly laughing and joking. But she remembers that every time she sees me. Always says to me "oh Carol, you always make me laugh and hugs me tightly". How strong in their core they are to handle it at all. Thanks for sharing.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

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  2. Thanks for sharing your story, Carol. There was a sweet little woman in Mom's Assisted Living home who said very little except, "You're a sweetheart, Mary," to everyone who spoke to her. We found out that Mary was her sister. What a bond they shared. So glad she still is lingering on happy memories when you're not there. Mom goes back to her childhood home, and to her grandmother's house. It really makes me aware of how important the memories we make with family are, and how deeply they are planted in our hearts. Have a wonderful day, Carol!

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