The Alzheimer's brain is a strange country. Some days,
I try to make maps of how connections work--but in a landscape that is
constantly shifting, it's hard to get good data.
Some things, I
know to be true. For instance, watching TV is not good for DSLO. It's
so passive, and Alzheimer's blurs the line between real and fantasy.
Sometimes when mom watches TV, she falls into the show, believing she is
being stalked or that she has to go to school. It's hard to bring her
back to real when this happens, and even the news can draw her in.
So, I've been reading to her. Which has been good for months. Even
though we're reading Little House on the Prairie books, which aren't
complex, I have to stop and review what's happening. I remind her of
character names and plot points.
This month, we're in The Long
Winter. She has been captivated by the story. But yesterday, our warmest
day of the year so far, we were reading about Laura and her family
huddled around the fire of hay sticks. Mom began to shiver. I had to
stop reading and dance her around (gently, because of her back) to
distract her so I could redirect. It's the first time she has jumped
into a book and funny, because my sister had just told us how when she
read that part of the book, she was all wrapped up in a quilt.
So, I changed to a game. We play a game called "name five." We started
playing this game at the Woolly Worm festival, years ago, when my kids
were little. It started as a car game, and used to be "name 10, " but 10
is too hard now. The game works like this: we ask each other to name
five of something, like, I ask mom to name five kinds of cars.
She says "Ford, Chevy, Ford, Pontiac---How many is that?"
I say "3, you said Ford twice."
She says "ok, 3. Did I say Ford?"
We go like this a bit and then it's my turn. She says "name five cakes."
We play the game for an hour. Every asking turn, Mom asks me name five
cakes. At first, I name the same five cakes every time, waiting to see
if she ever finds my answer familiar. After 7 times, I start changing
cakes and making up cake names like "Coconut Macaroon Cake" to see what
her reaction will be. She never claims not to have heard of a cake, she
doesn't comment if I name the same cake twice in a list, unless I put
the answers right in a row---chocolate cake, chocolate cake---then
she'll say "you said that."
Then I ask her "name five presidents."
She says, slowly, thinking and ticking off her count on her fingers "Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Ben Franklin--"
I interrupt, "Ben Franklin was never President."
She says "why not?"
I say "I don't think he wanted to be."
She says "ok, then"
I wait, she rocks in her green chair.
I say "you've got two Presidents, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington."
She says "What about Thomas Jefferson?"
I say, "Yep, he was the third President, and he's third on your list. Good one, mom."
She says "Ben Franklin"
I say, "No, sorry, Ben Franklin was never President. Try again."
She says "why not?"
I say, "I don't think he wanted the job."
She says, "Ok then, what about Roosevelt?"
I say, "The one you like or the one you didn't?"
She says "which one do I like?"
I say "Teddy"
She says "Right, I like Teddy. Which one do I not like?"
I say "Franklin"
She says "right. I don't like Franklin" (previous conversation identified Franklin as a socialist)
Then she says "that's five."
I say "Four. Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson and Roosevelt"
She says "two Roosevelts, one we like and one don't.
I say "you're right! That's five"
She says "Name five cakes."