Is Your Mother Losing Her Memory?

Is Your Mother Losing Her Memory

The Color of Memories

I know I’m not alone.  There are many of you out there living the same situation: my mother is losing her memory. She has dementia.  She is 94 and lives in the skilled nursing section of a Senior Living establishment.  It’s beautiful and there are times when she can articulate that she likes the single room that my brothers and I have decorated with family photos, her special chair, books, TV and personal mementos that are part of who she is.

The Kind of Dementia My Mom Has

But her multi-infarct dementia is getting worse.  Though she knows us, her three children, she can rarely remember anything that has happened within the last ten minutes.  She can no longer store information.  So after I had driven five hours to visit her, hung new pictures in her room, shared letters and photos of my grandchildren, taken her around the premises to visit old friends—it was like I had vaporized.  I was never there.  And the result of all of this, as I see it, feel it, is that I am an uncaring daughter who doesn’t bother to go see her, to hold her hand, to kiss her forehead, to pray with her at meals.  I am ungrateful and distant.

How a Parent’s Condition Can Hinder Your Relationship

Maybe somewhere deep in her heart she feels that this is not so.  But how am I to respond when after five days of attention to her needs, she asks me on the phone, when am I coming to visit.  It’s even worse for my brothers.  I can drive to Chicago.  They have to fly.  Somehow my younger brother can laugh about the many times he is just coming in the door from a long flight back to LA and the phone is ringing.  It’s Mom.  “When are you coming to visit?” she asks.

People With Dementia Are Hard to Entertain

Now that won’t happen any more because she is hardly able to use the phone.  She doesn’t watch TV any more, though it’s still there, available to her.  We took away her stereo about a year ago because she never used it.  And the old joke about seniors and the VCR—well now she can no longer even watch a film.  She cannot follow a plot.  Bravely she says that she reads the novels piled around her room.  I hope she does.  I hope that what is on page one is enough to get her to page two.  She reads historical novels.  I know I often skipped the dates.  Maybe she does too.  Maybe the intense activity of the moment is enough to keep her going.

It’s like 50 First Dates, the movie with Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler—my mother has lost her short term memory.  And much of her long term memory too.  But it’s not funny like that film.  At least it’s hard for me to laugh when I know she is struggling and angry.  It must feel sometimes, like a huge vacuum is sucking her away from the familiarity of her life.  That’s why the room and its surroundings are so important.  Once she’s out of that context, she could be on the moon.  She’s not even sure she is in Chicago, the city of her entire life.  I gently remind her.

Her Dementia Makes Me Angry, Hurts Our Relationship

Almost every time I am with my mother, she gets around to asking me how old I am.  When I reply that I am 63, she acts like I’m from another planet.  “That can’t be,” she says.  Well how old does she think I am, twelve???  It makes me angry, I can’t help it.  She’s 94 and that makes me old too.  And because I’m a baby boomer with adult children (one still in college) a house to run, a part time job, and a husband who I love dearly and want to be with—can’t she see that my life is going to have some stress in it?  Your mother is supposed to get that and help you with it. Not add on to the stress daily.  But she does and she cannot help me.  She needs to suck me into the vortex of her vacuum life, pull me to her as often as she can.

Some days are better than others.  Blood flow must be getting to those grooves on the surface of her brain because things click a little more and she’s not anguished and crying out.

If anyone has suggestions or words to share with me regarding how to handle these days which are turning into months and years, I welcome your comments.

POST SCRIPT: My mother died on March 19, 2013. I was with her. It happened very quickly. I arrived on a Saturday after a long absence (my husband had been very ill) and she told me, “I have to go. But I’m scared.” I pledged I would stay with her. I did and so did my brother. She died early on Tuesday morning. I have faith that what she lost of her memory has in some way returned. She is at peace and so am I.

Is Your Mother Losing Her Memory

9 thoughts on “Is Your Mother Losing Her Memory?

  1. I found your post by Googling “how to deal with mother losing memory”. My mom has Parkinson’s and has been losing her memory slowly over the last 15 years. She is now 82, I am 56. I’m having a really tough time. A year ago my parents lived 20 minutes away and I quit my full time job to take care of them. My dad had macular degeneration and neuropathy and mom’s memory loss was getting worse. My dad was still insisting on driving at the time, so I had to take their car away from them. I drove to their apartment at a military retirement community every day for 7 months to dole out their medications, cook for them, clean, wash clothes, I drove them to doctor appointments, shopped for them, etc. Unfortunately my dad’s health declined steadily, he came down with pneumonia in March of 2011 and passed away after 3 days in the hospital. In February of 2011, a month before dad passed away, my mom fell and broke her hip, had hip replacement surgery, then came down with pneumonia while recovering in the hospital. She recovered, but does not have any memory of falling or breaking her hip, her time in the hospital, even my dad’s memorial service and funeral. After my dad was gone it was clear that she could not live alone and I was told by the the healthcare facility she had been living in while she was recovering was planning to move her into their Alzheimer’s ward which was called “The Oaks”. I visited The Oaks and felt that mom was not as far gone as the other patients who lived there, so I decided to move her to my home so I could take care of her.
    She is a very proud woman and is having trouble accepting her circumstances. She belongs to several organizations that have monthly meetings and wants to be able to attend them and carry on with what she thinks she should be doing. She has no clue that my life is on hold because I’m attending to her needs. I know she appreciates me for helping her, but she never tells me. She doesn’t know what day, month, or year it is. She tells me things over and over and asks me the same questions over and over all day long.
    The hardest part of taking care of her is that she doesn’t want to be told by me or any of the rest of the family when she has told a story for the third time in one hour, or asked the same question 20 times in one day. I don’t do this very often, but sometimes I tell her that she is repeating herself when I get frustrated – almost immediately she breaks down in tears and tells me that she’s not doing it on purpose and that it hurts her feelings when I tell her. Unfortunately, when my my dad was still alive, his way of dealing with her was to act like nothing was wrong. He would fill in the blanks for her when she couldn’t remember a word or name, he would patiently listen to her stories over and over never telling her that she had told him five minutes before. He would answer her repeated questions, but never sat down with her to talk about the fact that she was losing her memory. He loved her very much and I know he thought he was doing the right thing, but it has made things very difficult for me, my husband, and our children. We are all trying to take care of her, but her stubborn nature and pride has us all feeling like we have to walk on eggshells to avoid hurting her feelings. She has been living with us for 2 months now and I can see my husband and children avoiding interaction with her because it’s just too frustrating. She is not the mother I once knew. I have two brothers but neither of them is available to help, so I am doing what I feel I should do since she took care of me when I was little.
    Anyway, I completely understood your description of being sucked into a vortex when I read it. I have not done anything for myself in the last year. Mom wakes up several times during the night and I’m so afraid she will fall and break something that we have put a motion sensor in her room that is wireless and an alarm goes off in my bedroom if she gets out of bed. She gets up at the crack of dawn and keeps me running all day long. I’m stressed and depressed. I never thought I would say this, but now I know why so many people put their elderly parents in retirement homes – they do it so they can have a life.
    If you are still going through this I wish I could offer you some advice but I have none. I can only tell you that I understand and have empathy for you and your situation. If you have found some solutions please let me know!

  2. Dear Anne:

    This is exactly what I want my blog to be and I am honored that you shared so much with me.

    First of all I think you and your family are incredibly giving and amazing. Very kind. Very understanding.

    But I am worried about the current situation.

    I see it a blessing that your father has died and that now you can focus on one parent. Those months you took care of both of them had to be extremely hard on you and your family. You literally were taken away from the flow of your life and gave everything to them.

    Your mother doesn’t always thank you. She doesn’t like to be reminded that she has dementia. You cannot sleep through the night. She is not the mother you once knew.

    Looking at all of these statements, in the end one thing rises up in my mind: safety. Not only for your mother, but for your family.

    If she cannot remember what she told you five minutes ago (exactly like my mother) she cannot remember if she left the gas on the stove on, or if she left the water running, or if she took a phone call for your child who needs you–no matter what age.

    You don’t want her burning down your house. You don’t want your need to take care of your mother to put your other family members in danger–either physical, mental or emotional. Your mother needs you, but she doesn’t have to control every aspect of your life. What if you were to take ill because of the stress you are under? Then where would she be and where would your family be?

    I think it’s time you looked for a place for your mother to live. Or maybe a few months down the road. Dementia is progressive. Does she really still belong to organizations and go to meetings? They would note her inability to follow the course of a conversation.
    Yes–dementia is a cruel and horrible disease. And Parkinsons. But you have young people to consider. If your mother lives in a home near you I know you will visit her. But you will also sleep at night, have friends over again and lighten the load of all of your family members. And please remember this key phrase: she is not the mother you once knew. No, she is not, and that might help you to get to a point where you allow yourself this decision.

    My mother is 95 and lives in a home. She gets excellent care and at some level realizes why she is there. Dementia patients begin to live in their own world. She tells me she plays bridge and goes out to dinner. She doesn’t. I hired a caregiver to visit her frequently as I don’t live near her home. I am there when I can be and because my husband has a chronic illness, this works well for me. QUALITY OF LIFE has to apply not only to my mother, but my family also.

    Let me know what you think. And I wish you the very best, Beth

    • Hi Beth,
      Thank you for your comments and ideas. Yes, I agree with everything you said. I know I will come to a decision to put my mom in home someday. I read back over what I wrote to you and realized that I forgot to add that mom’s dementia is different than most Alzheimer’s patients and even Parkinson’s patients (according to her doctors) because it has progressed so slowly. She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 20 years ago and according to the typical pattern of most Parkinson’s patients, she should be dead already! Her neurologist is amazed by her and says that of all of his patients she has lived the longest after being diagnosed. He monitors her medications closely and believes it is the mix of medications that has made the difference.

      The thing that is difficult to understand about her dementia is the way it comes and goes. Maybe this is normal to some extent, but mom still has lots of moments during the day where she seems normal, carries on normal conversations, enjoys talking with family members, talks on the phone to her friends, etc. She still wants to attend her meetings because her moments of clarity are close enough together that she somehow muddles through. She forgets words, but replaces them with other words to get her point across, and all of us and her friends tend to help her out the same way my dad did by filling in the blanks and reminding her of names to help her get from point A to point B in a conversation. These moments of clarity pop in and out sporadically between moments of total memory loss. Her friends who are members of the organizations that she belongs to are all close to her age and have known her so long that they look past her moments and treat her like nothing is wrong. I’m sure it would be different if they were with her all day, every day.

      It’s very difficult for me to cope with these lapses that don’t make sense. One moment she’s acting normal and doing things like playing solitaire or Gin Rummy and a few hours later or the next day she has no idea how to play. She has played cards all her life – wouldn’t that be part of her long term memory??? Some days are good for a majority of the day and next day she is completely confused all day and doesn’t even know where she is on the planet. One evening she was packing her things because she thought we were at one of her friend’s homes in another state and she thought we should be going back home. It seems strange to me that the memory loss fluctuates so much. I guess I thought that if someone loses short term memory they lose all of it not just pieces here and there.

      Being able to talk this out has helped me understand my own feelings. It’s her moments of clarity that keep me from coming to terms with this situation. When she is clear headed she realizes that she’s slipping away and tells me how hurt and upset she is that this is happening to her. Seeing her struggle is heartbreaking. I know for sure that if we move her to a nursing home at this time she will die from the pain of being moved away from all she knows and cares about if she is still experiencing clarity.

      So, I continue to care for her in my home. Because of how slowly her dementia has progressed, I’m afraid she will be with us longer than a few months. My husband has been great about her being here, but does not have the affinity for her that I have since he is not related by blood. He thinks I’m silly to go out of my way to take her to her meetings to make her happy when a few days later she has no memory of even attending the meeting. I am taking what you said about putting my family at risk to heart. If it gets to that point I will definitely move her out of my home.

      You spoke of how dementia patients eventually go into their own little world. I’m glad you told me about that. I think that will be the stage at which I will be able to move her to a facility and make peace with the decision. I’ve been doing a lot of brainstorming about how to cope with having her here in the mean time and how to make time for myself. Today I called a sitting agency and signed up to have a sitter come in once a week so I can have a day off. They said they can have a sitter available with just a few hours notice if I need a sitter in case of a family emergency or an illness on my part. I’m also planning to call her doctor tomorrow to ask him to write out a note to her saying that she “must” take a nap in the afternoon every day so I can show it to her to remind her (she obeys rules given to her by professionals). I think I can manage for now, but it really helps to have someone to talk to who can understand what I’m going through. You have done a good thing by starting this blog.

      Thanks so much,

      • Great decisions, Anne. I failed to mention sitter availability that can give you a break. And your husband stated just what my brother did this morning when I was urging him to fly to Chicago and visit mom. Why? he is asking when she doesn’t remember those visits. Well, they are for him, at this point, not for her.

        Blood flow can have a lot to do with how they are responding day to day. My mother has multi-infarct dementia, which means synapses in her brain no longer function–so she even has trouble bringing up long term memory. She was able to play bridge for a long time, which amazed me, but when I saw the confusion getting worse, I called her partner and said–no that’s it. Possibly your mother’s friends could take her to those meetings on days when you think she’s pretty with it.

        I am glad you are considering yourself and your family. BOTTOM LINE:
        if your mother were fully brain active, she would want you to take care of yourself and your family.


  3. Thank you both soooo much for your posts here. my mother is just now starting to forget things and I am trying to think about how to help her. She lives in a retirement home and is starting to get that depression that elderly people get just before the full-blown manifestation of their dementia begins. it is really hard to be the good daughter to a mother who the rest of my siblings won’t have anything to do with because she was harsh as a younger mother. But here I am, trying to take care of her and recognize that she is slowly slipping away. In a way, I hope she goes quickly and quietly, but it doesn’t look like that will happen. So it is helpful to read your comments and think about what I will plan to do one day soon.
    Thanks again, and God bless you both!

    • Barbara,

      You are so welcome. I wish you the best as you start this journey. I think at this point the most important thing for you to do, besides trying to provide love and support when you can, is to see what your mother’s financial situation is and how you can help provide for her as she fails. Does she have a long term care policy? What is the amount of her social security income? Can she afford a home down the road where people will care for her? You will not be able to care for her alone if she loses her memory as she will become a danger to herself and to anyone who lives with her. We saw the need to move my mother when she set off the fire alarm in her apartment 2 or 3 times. She claimed the toaster didn’t work properly but now I know she forgot that she had toast there or the flame on the stove Etc Keep in touch and thanks for writing, Beth PS Maybe your siblings will agree to supply a monthly payment. She might have been harsh, but she did bring them into the world.


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