I’ve never been much at writing a journal, but there are times when I find it necessary to commit something to paper, or in this case Word. My mother came to live with me 11 years ago, this summer. At the time she was 80, in good health except for high blood pressure, we just celebrated her 90th birthday last month. She often told everyone the only bone she ever broke was at my home, by my dog, Perdida, and that would be the truth. She’s been in relatively good health her whole life. Maybe that’s why it’s so difficult to watch as she slowly disappears before my eyes.
Missing Mom Syndrome
We never had a particularly great relationship prior to her moving to Denver, as she had mostly been absent from my life, other than a yearly visit, since I was about 17. We shared a few family vacations and as I mentioned the annual trip to see the grandchildren over the years but that was about as far as it ever went. She lived much of her adult life across the country in Paducah, Kentucky where she moved after the divorce from her second husband, Ron.
The decade before she moved to Denver, we spent a little more time together during the stretches after my husband passed away, when the dog broke her ankle and extended her visit and of course the extra time she spend after 9/11 because of the limitations on air travel. We became a little closer then and I started to see an adult mother, I had really never known. Spending so much time with her over the past 10 years has given me a whole view of someone I never knew as a child, who just sees their mother.
Getting to Know Your Parents As People
During our time in Texas, she was always the life of the party at any church or social function, one of the pastors even pointed out her friendly disposition during one of his sermons, and she knew all of my co-workers! She walked a lot and spoke to every person she came in contact with, she knew every dog on the block and every car that wasn’t supposed to be in the neighborhood. She has never met a stranger!
Late in 2011 at 85, she had a bout with dizziness and fainting that landed her in the hospital for about a week. After that time her memory started fading, more than the slight short term memory loss she experienced after the 2 strokes she suffered back in the 1990’s. The only definitive thing that came out of that hospital stay was she was in great health, had not had another stroke, and had a healthy heart. They said the only thing they really found causing the incident was low sodium and potassium. That was slightly alarming as there were several days during the course of that week that she was, what I could only call delirious or hallucinatory.
It didn’t take long, maybe a month before I noticed that things were not getting better as the doctors had predicted. Having seen severe dementia & osteoporosis in my grandmother, I was concerned about those in my mother as well. Her doctor indicated that the hospital stay could have started the process in her and to be safe she put her on Aricept. That’s about the same time I started noticing other things as well, she started acting more like a child. I often joked that I was living with a 5 year old again; looking back I’d revise that to say maybe a 10 year old, as she could still make lunch and stay alone by herself for long periods of time.
The Progression of Alzheimer’s
As mom’s memory continued to fail, we moved to Southern California, in 2012, to be closer to my daughter. By the next year, she was diagnosed with mid-stage Alzheimer’s and put on Namenda to help slow its progression. Over the past 5 years her memory may have continued to deteriorate, but her overall health remained much the same. Up until about a year ago she walked several times every day, was able to make herself lunch and see to most of her daily needs. Since moving back to Denver in October of 2014, she has lost about 30lbs, started walking less and fallen numerous times. She is much less steady on her feet and started using a cane, around the house. When she does venture out for a walk I insist she use her walker. We have also been able to remove much of the high blood pressure medicine as well as the Namenda, as the doctors thought it could be contributing to her unsteadiness.
Late last summer (about 6 months ago) I first noticed a change in her disposition and overall attitude. There have been many times I felt she realized she was getting worse and had just given up. But, having lived with it for a time now, I see it is just the progression of the Disease. She no longer talks much, and you can’t really hold an intelligent conversation with her any longer. She say’s “I don’t know” a lot. She has good and bad days, but the good days are becoming further and further apart. Lately she started getting ready for bed shortly after dark, in our case that’s about 6:30 right now (Feb2016). I let her know she can watch TV with me as it is way too early for her to go to bed yet. Our dogs get about as much of her meal as she gets, she occasionally throws temper tantrums but mostly sits in her recliner staring out the window (or sleeping) and counting the airplanes that fly over the apartment complex we live in.
Mom still narrates whenever we go anywhere in the car, announcing all the things she sees along the way, but she’s no longer the vibrant, friendly, happy person she once was. She no longer knows how to push the button on the coffee maker or the microwave and often has to be reminded where things, like the trash can and her coat, are. In reflection, I’d say she is more like the 5 year old now; she can’t quite take care of herself or stay home alone. It’s sad to think most of my family never knew the woman she was, but fortunate they don’t know the woman she is becoming now.