Insight, Understanding, and Alzheimer’s

Even when a diagnosis is given, Alzheimer’s is a strange enemy. Sometimes it is obviously present and caregivers as well as the one diagnosed knows and recognizes that something is just not right. It may begin with questions like: “Where are my keys?” “Which street do I turn on?” “Who left the stove on?” Questions once in a while are no problem, right? When questions recur with arguments and vengeance, a problem definitely is present. As Alzheimer’s seeps into one’s brain, the lapses of memory expand. “Where are my keys?” becomes a daily routine and then suspicion enters. You diligently search for the keys and when you, as caregiver, locate them on the table (in plain view) and try to hand them over you are greeted with, “Why do you have my keys? Why did you hide them? Never touch them again!”

Anger mounts as the ridiculousness of the accusation intensifies. No apologizes or explanations suffice, and if you become angry in what feels like justifiable return, problems only escalate. Arguing with a person who is confused with dementia is not a winnable situation. Never.

Then suddenly the key accusation is dropped and life returns to normal. The lost keys are temporarily found, the anger dissipates, and eventually the entire trauma of the moment vanishes from memory. If you bring up, “Remember the last time… ” a blank stare of disbelief may appear which may then be replaced by a return to anger if you pursue the conversation. This lapse in memory may also be laced with fear for your loved one, especially if s/he has witnessed this voracious disease in others. A wink of suspicion of cognitive deterioration can be devastating. Imagine visualizing it within yourself.

My mom hid her knowledge of the disease until it was hurtled into her face. She had been active in a group called Century Club, a philanthropic organization. She had held several offices, attended regularly, and donated generously. For the fall gathering she had been assigned the responsibility of refreshments. As an early morning meeting was scheduled, she decided on donuts as snacks. She called Mildred to bring a dozen; then she called Maxine; then Angela, Patricia, Clara, Zelda, and… She forgot that she had called these friends, and so she called more. To be sure that there were enough, she also brought three dozen extra. Donuts covered the tables, the chairs, and filled the room. Mom was embarrassed at her error but she smiled nevertheless. After all, it was a minor error, a silly mistake. Helga, the president, however, was not so inclined. She scathingly berated Mom, in private before the meeting, in front of others during the meeting, and again at its end. She followed Mom out into the parking lot, harangued her once more, and left her in tears. My mom dropped out of the organization, and in fact she quit every outside club to which she had belonged after this incident.

As her daughter I wondered why she had stopped the clubs that she had enjoyed so much as I encouraged her to maintain her active lifestyle. Only months later did she reveal the dreadful, insensitive attack. Why would she ever want to attend anything ever again? And I was left with uncertainty and worry. What was happening to her? She was forgetting and misplacing things more frequently and she became confused by the littlest things. She fought the decline by writing herself reminders, keeping a calendar, and circling the date on her newspaper each morning, but eventually bewilderment enveloped. Alzheimer’s had begun rather slowly and gently but it was about to launch into full swing.


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