When the famed ‘Alice” of Alice in Wonderland watched the white rabbit disappear down a dark hole, and then followed him, strange and terrifying things happened to her.
Having Alzheimer’s must be a bit like that.
My mother was a gentle woman with a wry sense of humour. At the age of twelve she had been sent out to work as companion and general help far from her home. I never heard my mother express self-pity or regret. But when Alzheimer’s began to rob her of her recall, I could see it was destabilizing, like having the rug pulled out from under her mental and emotional footing.
I was visiting her and Dad one day and Mom was determined to challenge Dad’s statement that Mom can’t remember things anymore.
Jerry was here today, she told me, looking at Dad to make sure he was listening.
Yes, he came this morning for coffee, Dad confirmed.
We had a nice visit, Mom said, smiling at me. Dad nodded.
And Jean and Roy are coming over tonight to play cards, she announced almost triumphantly. Again, Dad nodded. Yep, he rubbed his hands together anxiously and turned away from us to look out the window. They sure are.
Mom smiled and nodded her head in satisfaction as if to say Point proved!
She was getting up to make tea when she looked down and saw a well-used pill pack on the table beside her. Frowning, she picked it up, looked it over and said, Whose are these?
They’re yours, for goodness sakes! Dad said, unable to keep the irritation out of his voice.
Mom’s disappointment was palpable. Her shoulders sagged, her eyes filled with frustration and fear.
It hurt, to be ambushed by her own mind. To have this common, everyday information disappear down a black hole.
I could see that this sudden loss frightened her, caught her completely unaware. She was blind-sided by a gaping hole in the kind of memory that we all take for granted, that she had taken for granted all her life.
How terrifying to live with a memory thief inside her head! So much of who we are now is made up of the memories we treasure and share; and so much of our expectation for the immediate present comes from. our short-term memory, from absorbing and retaining the content of recent and current conversations.
As caregivers, sometimes the best we can do is recognize the trauma of this ongoing loss and admire the coping skills that our Alzheimer’s-inflicted loved ones have developed.