Haircut

I would test Mom

and ask how her day went

after she’d had an outing.

Often I got a blank stare

or a vague reply, as

her memory is fading.

Today was different –

“I had a haircut”, she offered,

“By the usual lady.

She’s been cutting my hair

a long time now”,

she happily told me.

 

 

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Forgotten, in a manner

Mom was admitted to hospital for a brief illness, and I was visiting her.

“Hello, how are you today?”

“Hello. My daughter just went off.”

I wasn’t expecting that. “It’s me. I’m your daughter, Mom.”

She looks uncertain, and then, “No,” she says, “My daughter, she just went over there. Can you go and get her?”

I knew she had an earlier visitor, but hadn’t realized she thought that person was me, or so I hope, if she still remembers she had a daughter like me. So I decided to go along, “Oh, she’ll be back in a while.”

It’s really strange and unexpected.

At home, we never go to Mom and ask her, “Do you know who I am?” We assume all is fine if we get a cheery Good Morning! or Hello! The routine exchange of greetings, the signs of familiarity, the ease with which Mom navigates to her regular chair; surely all is well.

Or maybe the problem isn’t Mom, but me. Maybe I’m forgettable. Really.

I once went back to a workplace after a gap of a year. There were a few familiar faces at work that day, but they could not recall me. “Did you work here before? When? Really? No, we can’t remember you” they said. It gave me a turn and my heart pounded. I had a fleeting thought of “Twilight Zone” and then I wondered if I had caused offense and was being purposely “forgotten”.

On thinking back, I think it could be because I was task focused and did not get to know these colleagues personally, or they were task focused and did not see me. Or the turnover of staff was so high that those who stayed did not bother to keep track and remember those who had left.

Whatever, I think I can accept being forgotten. It’s the forgetting I’d rather not have.

Reality Check

Mom is back from hospital, and physically she is much improved. No more fever and no more falls. But that’s about it. She isn’t physically up to where she was a few months ago, and mentally, her dementia seems to be progressing.

We could almost see the Words fade and disappear. We sense the Meanings of words shape-shifting.

She has forgotten her birth date. She can no longer sign her name because she cannot grasp the order of her first, middle and last name. She has definitely forgotten her age – she used to be able to name the decade, but now she is completely off. Or maybe she no longer has any sense of numbers.

She is poetic, though. “The Rain falls like a Lump from the Sky”.

She gets up in the morning, and goes to bed at night. I remind myself to be grateful for that! Enjoy this while it lasts.

She can still make her breakfast, but she often has no appetite, and throws it away. She eats very little now, but because she is so sedentary, she is not losing weight.

And we? We are mostly in denial. Surely these changes are reversible? If not completely, then somewhat. We will step up the exercises, and stimulate the neurons. Grow, grow! Make new connections! Then maybe the Words will be back.

Mom is still Mom. She knows who she is, and she knows who we are.

And the years fly past

While looking for a photo to use in my previous post (the Photo Challenge), I chanced upon a photograph of Mom taken almost 5 years ago.

The difference is startling.

Then – she was standing in her own kitchen, her hair dyed black, laughing at a joke and looking into the camera. At that time, she was no longer driving, but she took the bus around, and her kitchen was stocked with food items she had bought herself. The house was clean, though there were plenty of things lying about. Little knick-knacks, plenty of half-used pens and stubby pencils, stacks of this and that – just in case these items were required some day. She was a bit of a hoarder.

I remember being a little concerned about a change of personality and conversations were kept to simple topics; complex ideas could not be conveyed. She was vague about whether she had paid some bills on my behalf.

Today she is but a shadow of that person almost 5 years ago.

And I recall the advice I was given when Mom was diagnosed with dementia –

Enjoy your Mother, enjoy her now.

Good advice to follow then. Good advice to practice today.

Not anything

I was struck today by a change I saw in Mom. This happened at dinner time. Before I tell you what the change is, let me describe what Mom was like a year ago.

I would ask, “What would you like to eat?”. There would be a short pause, and I could see her expression as she struggled to think about it. In the end, the usual answer came, “Anything. Anything will do.”

It got to the point I would automatically give her two or three choices, just to avoid hearing “Anything”. With the choices, she would choose one or the other, almost at random. It seemed she could barely remember the two or three choices, and would grasp at one, and choose that.

After a while, I stopped asking, and decided for her instead. Let’s eat this, or that. Mom would be quick to agree.

Today, however, there was a change. A big change.

I brought her to a food court and asked her what she would like to eat.

She paused to think, and looked around. As usual, I prompted. “Rice of Noodle?” Noodle, she replied without hesitation, and she told me which type – beehoon, or rice vermicelli. I looked over the stalls that were open and told her there’s no beehoon here today.

“In that case, rice,” she volunteered. She answered quickly when I told her the types of rice dishes available, and she mostly said No, firmly. In the end, I took her to the variety rice stall, and let her pick out her dishes. She chose one vegetable confidently, and agreed after consideration when I suggested another two.

You might not think it much, but I find it a huge improvement from “Anything!” She did not say “anything” a single time while we were deciding on dinner.

We must be doing something right 🙂

 

Oh Brother!

One weekend at breakfast I asked Mom, “How many brothers do you have?”

She stops and thinks, counting them off in her head, “Three!”, she says confidently.

Hmm, not quite right, but I am not about to correct her, and ask her to tell me about them. After all, I was curious to know which three she remembered.

There’s the eldest, she says. Then she names a middle brother by name, and then there’s the youngest.

What did they do? I asked her.

The youngest ran a shop selling… she struggles with the words… and finally says, that thing you know. He runs it with his wife. Actually he has a wife and children… in another house. And in the shop there was a secretary who was helping him. He married her. The wife and children in the other house, that’s his first wife. The secretary is his second wife.

The middle brother has two daughters. Mom starts to tell me about the daughters growing up and getting married and moving away. At first, I was puzzled, as all this was news to me, and I wondered why Mom had not kept me up with the news. I also wondered when all this happened, and how she could remember it all.

However, gradually the story became more familiar, and the penny dropped for me when she said the second daughter’s wedding took place recently and that I had taken her to attend it. It dawned on me that Mom was talking about my paternal cousins. So she had started talking about her brother’s children, my maternal cousins, and gradually they had evolved into my paternal cousins.

Oh, I corrected her before I could stop myself – it’s the other uncle’s girls you are talking about.

Oh? she says, and continues with her breakfast. Not bothered.

Again, her confidence in her own memories made me doubt my own, until I figured it out. Nonetheless, half-remembering is surely better than not remembering at all.

One Step Forwards Two Steps Back

Medinella

I’ve often been asked how Mom is progressing, and mostly I reply that she is well and sometimes I even venture to say she seems to be improving.

She seems more alert and is able to follow what is going on around her. She looks forward to the weekly sessions at the dementia daycare centre and on those days she comes back physically tired out but mentally prepped up. I guess the activity and affirmation she gets at the centre stimulates her and gives her confidence.

On the other hand, I notice her memory of past events can be unreliable. She remembers only three brothers, and details of one of the brother’s daughters are mixed up with another of my uncle’s daughters. Talking to her I imagine in her mind one face melding into another, the history of one person meshing with the history of another. In this sense, Mom is not typical of those patients with Alzheimer’s who are described as remembering distant events with accuracy and clarity; Mom cannot remember distant events clearly.

Mom does not seem too bothered by this loss. She is completely focused on the present, concentrating on what happens today and maybe paying a little attention to tomorrow’s plans.

Mom can still read the clock. However, she cannot understand “in five minutes time”. She does understand “now”, “later” and “at 1pm”.