Alzheimer's takes toll on mother


Friends and followers have been asking me for the latest news about my 92-year-old mother, whom we affectionately call Mummy.

Mummy has shown signs of dementia for about five years and is in the beginnings of severe Alzheimer’s disease.

After moving into assisted living last fall, Mummy’s symptoms worsened significantly and she continues in a downward spiral.

Communicating has become quite a bit more difficult, as Mummy rarely talks anymore. Sometimes, we can guess what she want to convey, but not always.

Occasionally, she will say a few words, or much less often, a complete sentence — usually when you are least expecting it.

Most often, Mummy is simply very quiet. Quiet and with a grim expression. Like she is going through the motions of life, but doesn’t enjoy it anymore.

Sometimes, I’ll try hard to get a reaction or smile and be rewarded with one, but her ability to understand and interact with the world around her seems to be fading away, bit by bit.

In the place of social interaction, Mummy has adopted some repetitive behaviors, which can go on for hours and hours and pretty much fill up a day.

While I’m well aware these repetitions are part of the progression of Alzheimer’s, it is still difficult to watch, and impossible to stop.

Mostly, Mummy seems mild, but there are flashes of anger that boil over. Usually, it happens during toileting or showering. We try to work with the staff to avoid confrontations which will only make the issues worse.

We’ve come to the conclusion that good enough is good enough, and it is all right to lower standard a little.

I’m no longer certain Mummy knows who I am. I think she knows I am one of her daughters, but she probably doesn’t know which daughter.

The list of activities that my sisters and I can enjoy with Mummy is now so short. Eating, sleeping and repetitive behavior has basically become her life.

We do still play cards with her, but the rules have been thrown out the window. It’s now a mish-mash of rummy and other games. Mostly it is improvised, each hand played a bit differently. We continue to play because it is a familiar activity, one she always loved, and I think she still enjoys it.

One thing is for sure, Mummy does enjoy having her hands and arms massaged. She will almost purr like a kitten and sometimes even naps when I’m massaging.

Sitting close on the couch and looking through old albums of photos is also a nice way to connect.

My oldest sister bought Mummy a portable CD player so we can put on 1940s big band music or some Frank Sinatra. It helps soften the mood.

The days and the weeks roll by and then another month has passed. We wonder, how long can this last? What lies ahead for Mummy?

My sisters and I would love to know, but the path will only be revealed as it is traveled. It is a long journey, but we do what we can to make the best of it — for Mummy and for us.

Nancy Wurtzel writes about making big changes at midlife. Her column, Dating Dementia, covers topics such as relationships, single parenting, empty nests, Baby Boomer issues, families, dating and caring for aging parents. She is based in Minneapolis.


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