Alzheimer’s is more than just memory loss.
More than just memory loss
The disease is much too cruel to stop there. It also evaporates basic reasoning skills and cloaks its hosts in thick fogs of confusion. Yet memory loss gets most of the headlines. For me, it’s the sum of those nasty parts that’s most baffling to me in caring for Mom.
How quickly everything can go from “Hmm, Mom seems ok” to “Wow Mom is having a horrible day. Is this her new normal?” It’s scary, it’s sad, and it’s way too easy to feel overwhelmed by fear and grief–or to feel like you’re running from it.
Mom’s not running from it and couldn’t even if she wanted to. How could I? So I compartmentalize and (try) to laugh. Sometimes to myself and sometimes out loud. Either way, it helps me know I’m not running from it.
Compartmentalizing is Key For Me
Every visit and phone call could be a cruel reminder of how much Alzheimer’s and its memory loss, theft of reasoning skills, and cloak of confusion–sucks. But the trick, for me anyway, is compartmentalizing.
I don’t want to be sad or lamenting her situation when I’m with Mom or talking with her on the phone. I want to enjoy it. I’ve decided that it’s less about seeing the forest for the trees, and more about taking the time to enjoy each individual tree. Even if it is looking at the same tree many times.
Last week, Mom was giving me a tour of her assisted living community (she’s been there more than a year and I visit regularly). Luckily, it’s a nice place filled with caring people and I enjoy the walks around. Mom excitedly told me about the swimming pool and offered (more like insisted) to take me to see it.
The repetition gave me a quick and sharp reminder of Alzheimer’s cruelty but I didn’t dwell on it–I wanted to enjoy the visit. So I repressed the pang as quickly as it came on. I compartmentalized.
Here We Go Again. And Again.
Great, I thought, she’s happy about something, which makes me happy. We got to the pool, which is a typical indoor pool with the same warm, chlorinated humidity as the not-as-nice pool at my gym. Mom told me about how she and her friends do water aerobics.
I knew this already but was happy to be reminded that she is: a.) exercising and, b.) has friends. I’m was also starting to sweat and regretting my choice of a light blue shirt, so I suggested we head back into the drier and cooler air where my body could readjust.
We arrived back in her apartment and sat at the table. We chatted for a couple of minutes and I was still toweling off the sweat dripping down my cheek when Mom mentioned the pool. “You really should see it. It’s so lovely.” I smiled and subtly tried to change the subject–but no such luck. She took me by the hand and we were off–back to the pool.
“Isn’t it great? This is where my friends and I do water aerobics.”
I was still glad there are friends and exercise but wasn’t so psyched to be sweating again. So I suggested we get something to drink. After heading back to Mom’s room and hanging out for a bit (Dr. Phil was on, again), and just as I offered her a glass of water, she mentioned the pool. Where she does water aerobics with her friends. Naturally, she insisted on showing it to me.
Laugh (to myself) So I Don’t Cry
Over the course of the next hour, we repeat this a couple more times. Pool. Water aerobics. Friends. Sweat. Chills. Sweat. I tell myself to remember to bring another shirt on my next visit–and that it’s Alzheimer’s, not Mom.
I laugh to myself. Feel like I have to. It brings me comfort to chuckle about it because I know Mom would’ve laughed at it too, and it’s the moments like this that keep me from dwelling on–or running from– the sad reality we’re dealing with.
She doesn’t have her memory but Mom can still walk with me, talk with me, and be excited about water aerobics with her friends at the pool. It’s taking a moment to enjoy the splendid evergreen drenched in sunlight in an otherwise dark and foreboding woods.
By the way, there are 135 steps to the pool and 147 steps back to Mom’s room if you go through the common area. It takes 2 minutes, round trip, but 5 if you stop to talk to Judy about the next water aerobics class at the pool, which you really have to see.
Does anything about your caregiving journey get you laughing? I’d love to hear it!
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