Wednesday, June 21, 2017

I have Alzheimer's and other surprises

People ask how I am all the time. Its hard to answer that question. How I am swings like a pendulum do---and the pendulum is mom. This week has been a tough one for mom. Her dementia is more pronounced every day, practically every hour. She has delusions, not just confusion. She sees people that aren't there. She talks and her words make no sense--they aren't words at all, but she is frustrated if you don't understand her. Social situations are very difficult. Even social situations with her own family.

 On Sunday, my brother and his family came for the afternoon. Mom doesn't always know who my brother is--sometimes she thinks he is her brother, and painfully, sometimes she thinks he is my dad--from who she has been divorced for over thirty years. Once in a while, she thinks my sister in law is "the other woman." Fortunately, this visit, he was her brother. He wasn't consistently the same brother through-out the visit. Sometimes he is Fred and sometimes he is Charlie. I make the mistake of trying to figure out the sources of mom's confusion. As if I could fix her by just preparing better. One can hope.

Part of what throws mom is the changing ages of our kids. Her youngest grandchild is 13. In her mind, my brother is 13. She is often looking for him to come from school. Many afternoons she calls me in a panic because the kids aren't home from school.  My kids are near the age she remembers my brother to be, so that adds to her befuddlement. But these are excuses I make to myself, trying to make sense of a disease that makes no sense at all.

This week mom told me that she and dad came here on vacation once and left all her furniture here. "Isn't it amazing," she said, "that the furniture has stayed here all these years?"
"When was that, when you were here? I don't remember it." I said.
"You didn't come," she said, "it was just me, your dad and the boys."
I only have one brother.
"Which boys?" I ask
"All of them," she says.
"How many are there?" I ask
She looks at me and says challengingly, "don't you know?" 
"Help me out," I say, "I only remember one."
"well there's Jr." she says. She looks sideways at me.
Charlie Jr is her brother. I try to keep my face neutral. She is watching me. This watching thing is a test, and it can go really wrong.
"Oh, Jr," I say, "was he here."
Test passed. Phew

One of mom's caregiver's painted with her. They painted pictures in honor of Alzheimer's awareness, which mom said she was doing for her sister, "who has that." The picture is a purple vase with purple flowers in it, with the Alzheimer's ribbon featured in the foreground. It is very pretty and mo proudly displays it in her living room. She tells people she painted that freehand--just "out of my own head." This week she picked the picture up and showed it to a new caregiver.
"This ribbon is for awareness of something," she said, "I forget what."
"Alzheimer's, mom" I said, "It's for Alzheimer's."
"I have that," she said, very matter of fact, and put the picture back down on the table. My breath was knocked out of me. It was the first time mom had said she has Alzheimer's. She has said to me a couple of times that she has trouble with her memory "because she is so old," but mention of Alzheimer's has always been met with bristling and fury.
"You have that." I repeated.
"Oldtimer's" she said. Now I see her looking at me, and I know she is testing me to see what I will do next. I can't school my face. It's too late. I don't know what she reads there but she throws her arms around me and I hug her back, tightly. She laughs and says "oldtimers." Maybe my face showed the right thing after all.

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