I went to visit my mother today at her Assisted Living Unit. I took her another box of diapers and spent about an hour with her. She’s visibly losing ground every time I visit.
Today she had a copy of the local newspaper that she’d picked up in the ‘living room’ of her residence. She couldn’t read many of the words. And yet, her brain created a story for each of the articles, which she shared with me. For example, we had a tragedy last June where a 6 year old boy had been on a typical sleep over at his grandparents’ home. When his mom came to get him in the morning, her son and parents were all gone. Their bodies have not been found but a man has been charged with three murders.
For mom, this story involved a little girl from ‘up north’ (where she was from, which is 6 hours north) and it wasn’t the police investigating but the ‘cops’ looking for the little girl. She didn’t understand what was going on but her brain still tried to explain the story to me. A number of times. About 6 times in the course of 45 minutes.
She was also upset that someone had changed her television. On the weather network, there’s a scrolling bar on the bottom of the screen. Mom loves watching that network. But she had changed the channel so no scrolling ticker on the bottom of the screen. But in her mind, it was obvious someone had come into her room and changed the settings on her TV which removed the ticker. (She didn’t have a word for the ticker but rather words ‘walking across the bottom of the TV).
It is sad to watch her lose words and ideas and concepts. In the midst of these losses, her brain still fights to explain her world in a way that makes sense to her. In spite of her diminished capacity, she needs to explains her world and make sense of what’s going on around her. Whether it’s the news or her family or her neighbors.
She got an idea from somewhere that she was going to move back to her house. At least that’s what she tells me every time I’ve visited over the last few months. She has told my sisters that I am going to force her to move back to her house. Ironically, she moved out of her house 15 years ago and it has been torn down. She lived the next 14 years in an apartment but doesn’t really remember that. And of course she doesn’t remember that the health care system is how she ended up in a care facility. She’s not going anywhere but she knows enough to change her conversation to suit the person she’s talking to – with me it’s about other people telling her she has to move. With my sisters, it’s me giving her the news.
It sounds manipulative and dishonest but it’s not. It’s Alzheimer’s. Her emotional connections to each of us are different and she reacts differently to each of us. That means how she shares (and this is her prime fear right now) is slightly different. It’s her brain’s way of coming to terms with her anxiety that she might have to move.
I think she had a thought or someone said something about moving and her brain latched on and she became frightened. This fear is primary in her mind and so she talks to each of us about it – but in a different way.
It is so nice that I know that her consciousness is gone. She can talk but I know that her words are similar to the babbling of a baby who hasn’t learned to talk. I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way but rather as a statement that she’s lost enough of her cognitive abilities that she is no longer responsible for what she says. No one will be able to make her understand the ‘truth’ because she knows what she knows. That’s important to remember – she’s using words but she’s not really communicating – she is just spewing a series of words that she remembers and that she’s able to string together in a sentence or two.
The good news? I have to ask myself how often I’ve been stuck in ‘knowing what I know’, even if it isn’t reasonable or likely.
Thanks for another lesson, Mom.