Coping with Alzheimer’s

Three years ago this month, my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. At the time, she pretty much took this information as if it was the end of her world. As it turns out, it wasn’t. Not yet, anyway.

I just visited La Madre and here’s my eyewitness, Accu-Parent report. First, the disclaimer: Chances are real good that things going on with my A-mom may be a little different than the things going on with your A-mom. Maybe a lot different. That said, here’s what’s happening with Mary Lou, three years in.

If her short-term memory were a slice of bread, it would be a blackened piece of toast. For me, it’s the most trying thing about the disease; answering the same question 13 times in a half-hour chat. Wait ’til you get to do it. Its power to annoy is positively staggering. And yet, you learn how to suck it up and deal with it. Because you have to. I’ve cracked a couple of times in the past, and the resulting fallout wasn’t pretty. You simply cannot allow yourself to say, “Mom, I just told you,” or “Mom, we just talked about that.” You just can’t do it. It seems to be a raging sore spot with A-folk. At least, it is for my mom. I did it once, gave in and indulged, and quickly caused major upset that resulted in me being sent back to my motel room, which was rather humbling. Sure taught me how to behave, though.

So yeah, the short-term memory is way, way, WAY down the road. But you know what? Everything else is hanging in there pretty darn well. She’s healthy, she gardens, she can make a sandwich, and, most important, she can still do all the things one normally does by oneself. As in no Huggies or Depends needed. (I did indeed get the call to help the old man in the bathroom while he was dying at home back in ’03, and man, talk about unforgettable moments in father/son bonding!) The drugs she’s on seem to be helping, if only to slow down the degenerative process. They’re not cures by a long shot, but they seem to do something. (Question: Do placebos work on people with dementia?) I remind her constantly that she’s been into this Alzheimer phase for three years now, and we haven’t had to toss her into a facility yet. She’ll say, “You’re kidding. It’s been that long?” This news is pleasing to her (in fact, every dang time I tell her), since back in ’06, upon hearing the positive diagnosis, she had visions of being forced to move to an apartment with rubber walls within four to six months.

But it’s not hopeless. It’s not all doom and drama. It takes a while to get to those particular rooms in the Mansion of Dementia. If your relative is newly diagnosed, you’ve got time. Certainly enough time to work on that “bucket list.” One more question. What happens to Alzheimer’s patients when the day comes that they forget they have Alzheimer’s?