Dementia is an insidious disease that steals a person’s identity and leaves them feeling vulnerable and alone. I know this because my mother suffers from Alzheimer’s as well as another form of dementia.
For all intents and purposes the mother that I knew and loved has been dead for over seven years. While her body remains, her spirit is long gone. The person I now see before my eyes bears little resemblance to the woman I knew.
Most people get an advanced warning that Alzheimer’s might be creeping in to take away a loved one. Unfortunately, I was not granted that gift. One day my mother was laughing and joking with me. The next, she looked at me without a hint of recognition.
That day will haunt me forever. I couldn’t even take her in my arms to comfort her as we awaited the doctor. She was repelled by my touch. Why wouldn’t she be? To her, I was a complete stranger.
Determined not to put mom in a nursing home, my husband and I took her into our home. On good days, bits and pieces of hope glimmered in the sunlight.
A sparkle in her beautiful green eyes; a half-smile that let us know she was pleased would come at the most unexpected times. But it was hardly enough.
Like a child, I wanted what I wanted and I wanted my mother back. I wanted to hear her beautiful voice singing hymns. I wanted her soothing hand on my fevered brow. I wanted her childlike appreciation when I gave her a simple gift.
No matter how old a person becomes, the child within them always wants its mother. I was no different.
Hearing her call me by my sister’s name instead of my own was worse than plunging a dagger into my heart. Watching her look at me with suspicion and fear ripped my very soul into. Every day was another venture into the unknown.
As if taking away memory isn’t enough, dementia also effects a person’s ability to do the simplest things. Mom wouldn’t brush her hair or teeth. She wouldn’t bathe or change her clothes.
Every attempt to get her to do those things was meant with resistance and resent. By the time I was finished forcing them upon her, it was I who was reduced to a mass of tears.
Doing her hair in her favorite style no longer made her smile. Instead, she would just say, “I don’t like it!” and destroy it with her hands.
Buying her any gift was fruitless. She didn’t react at all; often just throwing it aside with contempt.
Making her favorite meals sometimes made her happy. Other times she would refuse to eat at all. All she wanted was the latest junk food she saw on the TV.
In many ways dementia is harder on the family of those affected than the person themselves. Their eyes are tricked into believing their loved one still with them when, if fact, they are not. It boggles the mind and wounds the spirit.
Mom, on the other hand, seldom remembers the day before. She starts each day anew, which in some ways is good for her. If only the rest of us could do the same.
The disease also wreaks havoc with the sufferer’s health. Mom has high blood pressure and diabetes because she is no longer as active as she once was. Her heart is failing and cancer threatens her internal organs.
Dementia also leaves a person without dignity. Mother wets herself without even knowing it. She can’t gage how quickly she needs to get to the bathroom.
She spills her food and drink. She turns on the stove burners and places pans of them with nothing inside. We’ve barely evaded more than a few fires.
Once, she walked out of the house while I was taking a shower. When I found her she insisted she was going home. It took both my husband and I to get back safely.
It was then, coupled with her health, that forced us to put her in the place we swore we never would. At first she was happy there. She had constant attention and made new friends. Now, of course, she hates it; is depressed, won’t eat and won’t talk to anyone.
I thank God that she doesn’t recognize who she is because my mother was a woman of great dignity, self-respect, and self-confidence. Seeing herself as she is now would surely have broken her heart.
Like others with family members suffering this disease, I choose to focus on happy memories rather than the present. Otherwise the guilt would us all alive.
Hopefully, my mother’s soul is already free and in a better place. I choose to believe that because anything else would be unthinkable.