Visiting family and friends in Minnesota is one of my favorite things to do, but it always goes by too fast. With my mom in the mid-stages of Alzheimer’s disease and her recent move to an Assisted Living Home, I feel the need to visit more often. If you’ve seen “The Stages of Alzheimer’s and My Mom,” you’ll understand what I mean.
Mom was completely surprised when I arrived at her place on Saturday morning, and then she burst into tears. This was a new reaction that concerned me as she continued to cry in my arms. But her tears eventually turned to smiles and I decided to think of them as her heart recognizing me. I like that. But still, I have to wonder — does she know what’s happening? Is she being treated alright?
There were just a few subtle changes with mom. Her language continues to diminish. It’s very difficult for her to communicate and knowing context is critical to understanding her. It occurred to me that she doesn’t use a lot of nouns anymore, maybe because she has trouble naming things. But Mom speaks in a happy voice, with her upbeat sentences sounding something like this: “Sometimes I go . . . and then we see. . and so forth . . . and I say, why not!” Then a reply might be, “Exactly! Why not?!” Then laughter usually ensues. Mom loves to laugh and make other people laugh. Laughing with my mom is such a gift, because it’s right there in that opening that a connection is made. I found mom’s high school yearbook when I was home, and next to her senior picture it appropriately says:
“Laugh and the world laughs with you.”
Another subtle change could be seen in mom’s motor skills. Her gait and footing are not as steady as they used to be. She also needs some help getting dressed, when she didn’t need help before. Losing motor function is a late stage characteristic that could last for years. The caregivers and I discussed mom’s eventual need for a walker.
The other change is a good one. Mom used to fixate on giving back rubs and back scratches to almost everyone. A simple hug would end with a vigorous rub or scratch — whether you wanted one or not. This friendly but compulsive activity is almost completely gone. Yes, this is a good thing.
Mom “knows” everyone, and everyone is a “friend.” So when we go out, I am used to gently moving her along when she engages a little too long with her “friends.” We went to a local park one afternoon and she suddenly gasped and couldn’t believe her friends were there! She rushed over to say hello to a strolling couple and as I prepared to intervene, her “friends” said “Ruth! How are you?!” They knew her! Mom was right! They were friends, and for some reason it just blew my mind. We chatted a bit before parting, then we saw the couple again about five minutes later and mom gasped in surprise and couldn’t believe they were there!
Mom turned 75 in September. I gave her a baby doll for her birthday, because I’ve seen women in nursing homes holding baby dolls and I thought mom might like one too. I was just thinking that if she got familiar with a doll now, it might offer her comfort later. Anyway, it was fun to watch her hold and feed the “baby” while feeling just a little bit silly it seemed.
Overall, mom is doing well. She is happy and seems to really enjoy her new home and the other residents. Mom gets a fair amount of visitors with her most recent being a dear school friend from her hometown. While visiting with mom’s friend who is sharp and has a very active life, I couldn’t help but wonder — what if? What would mom be like at 75 without Alzheimer’s disease? I try not to go down that road, but it’s easy when I’m with someone mom’s age.
For those of you who know my dad, his ankle has improved after replacement surgery in May and he’s getting around with a cane now. He has a fairly full social calendar that includes visiting mom a few days a week. But he struggles with living alone, and he has no interest in cooking. This has been a difficult adjustment for dad and he’s another reason I visit more often.
A highlight of my visit was reconnecting with my dear friend Judy. A beloved, life long friend with x-ray vision as her super power.