The good news is I’m not the one with dementia (yet). The bad news is, it’s my mom. And dealing with her and her illness kind of consumes my life.
I first noticed a problem several years ago, when my dad was still alive and we were planning a party to celebrate his 85th birthday. We were trying to decide which weekend would be best for the most people. At the same time I was planning a long-weekend get-away, so I made it very clear to my mom that that particular weekend would not work for me. And … you guessed it. She planned the party for that weekend. (Luckily I hadn’t purchased my plane tickets so no harm was done.)
A couple of years later, after my dad died, my mom took me on an amazing trip, a cruise to Antarctica. (In case you’re wondering, this is not a luxury cruise but rather an adventure expedition.) I noticed her inability to remember where our room was – even after a week on the boat. And, she began making things up to cover up for the fact that she couldn’t remember things.
It’s gotten progressively worse since then. I remember being appalled when she put a stamp on an envelope where the return address sticker should be. It’s almost impossible to have a conversation with her for more than a minute without her repeating herself. When I talk to her in the evening, she doesn’t remember what she had for dinner. She often leaves the exact same message on my phone, three or four times in a half hour. (Honestly, I am not exaggerating: ask my sister or my nieces.)
A few months ago she took one of those driving tests for people with impairments. She was only driving around in her little suburb, only going places she’d been to a million times. But we were so worried about her getting lost or getting into an accident, and an elder care specialist confirmed that she was an accident waiting to happen, which scared the daylights out of us. Sure enough, she did not pass, and her license was taken away. So, we hired a caregiver to take her places. Problem is, she doesn’t really need a caregiver – and she sure doesn’t want one. A companion, maybe, but it’s proving impossible to find what we’re looking for: someone like her, only without the memory loss!
The really sad thing is that she is in this in-between stage where she remembers who she used to be and what her life used to be like, and she knows that she’s not that person any more. Physically she’s perfectly healthy; in fact, if you met her, you’d think she was 70, not 84 (unless, of course, you tried to have a conversation with her). But mentally and emotionally she’s a hot mess. She knows she’s losing her memory and, worse, she knows she’s losing her ability to be the strong, smart, independent woman she was. She knows she needs our help and she hates herself for that. What she doesn’t know is just how painful it is to watch her fade away.