By: Lily Finch
Growing up in my family I spent a lot of my time hanging out with my mom. We baked together, we made doughnuts together, we played dice together and a lot of board games. Each time I think of pleasant memories of my childhood they are of my mom and I doing something together. That was until my mother got sick. She had cancer. But she recovered and we went on. She was the Everready Bunny that shaped me. Fast forward to her eighty-third year and she suffers from a form of Dementia that’s most common disease is Alzheimer’s. “Dementia is not one specific disease. Rather, it’s an umbrella term for a set of symptoms caused by physical disorders affecting the brain. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of all diagnoses.”
Being one of three and having a parent with Alzheimer’s is a tough go. To be honest it is tougher on us than it is on my mom. She always seems content and happy, So when I decided to put a collection of memorabilia of hers and my dad’s (and some of her parents and my dad’s parents too) on a table in my front room she was amused and captivated. She looked upon each piece with wonderment and amazement and when she spoke she said, “I remember when… …it was a lot of fun and we all laughed and laughed.”
The exercise was therapeutic for both her and me. She had a happy and connected look for a moment that had been missing from her face now for a long while. I took a picture of her face because she actually looked like herself for a minute. I wish I could have bottled that day forever and ever. It brought tears to my eyes. The following day the artifacts and memorabilia were still in the same spot and my mom asked if she could help me; I was cleaning up and putting them away and taking down the table. The connected memories are all gone now and the captivation and focus were now gone.
Whether to keep on trying and search for more ways to get through to her without causing her to feel like it is demeaning is difficult. Sometimes my sister will pull out the photo albums and achingly put my mother on the spot to ‘name that character’ which to me is cruel. I prefer a more subtle approach with a wide open spaces approach. When mom feels like she is ready she simply goes and picks up something and touches it, smells it, rubs it against her face, or just holds it and for a split second she remembers something that is dear to her for some reason and she doesn’t ever have to share it. The beauty is in the watching. She looks energized and very enthralled as someone fully engaged with her target. She is seemingly in her own world floating with her artifact and her brain is making the connections of the synapses that still can connect to recall a memory that is satisfying for her to find. It brought back such a welcome look to her face that has been missing for so long.
Seeing how others treat Alzheimer’s patients like little children and have simple fun and games activities is not without merit. However, we want to ensure that the dignity of the person is intact and we keep their interests at the forefront of activities created for them. Sometimes that can be a real chore. It is simply taking a complex thought and twisting it into a simple thought. Being kind and pleasant is just par for the course.
What have I learned? I have learned to live in the moment of here and now. To ‘take the advice and pull down my pants and slide on the ice.” I no longer want to keep what I think about loving and warm moments that affect me positively a secret. I always am inclined to give compliments if they are due and to make sure that good times are told as such. Some of the best times with my mom I was little so I probably didn’t ever tell her about what they meant to me but when she sees her apron that I now have she lights up every time I proudly wear it whilst cooking.
Nobody in their right mind would ever wish this disease on anyone in their family. It is quite a bitch of a disease to live with whether you are the patient (I would guess) or the caregivers. We sit and take care and watch the mind slowly leave us each day being different and sometimes being the same as it ever was only to find that it is never for long. The cruelty with which it chooses its victims and then robs them of living a life of quality while we know they are in there but we just cannot get them to come out in a way that allows them to live again.
For now, we just go at our own pace and do our best to make sure each day is her best day yet. One day even that won’t be enough so we choose to continue to help her as long as we can. What more can we do? If you live with someone who has Alzheimer’s or a form of Dementia you can contact The Alzheimer’s Society of Canada: https://alzheimer.ca
My feelings make me recognize my own immortality and I understand that someday I could easily become my mother and my kids will become me. But I have already told my kids that I do not want them to be preoccupied with coming to see me if I am in a home somewhere, as long as they make it a good one! All I ask is that my needs are met and that I am not neglected.