Nov 9, 2012

What a Complete Stranger Reminded Me About My Mom

Sadly it didn’t take long before I could recognize the telltale signs of Mary’s upcoming difficulties. Mary is my mom all over again!

By Elaine C. Pereira
Alzheimer's Reading Room

What a Complete Stranger Reminded Me About My Mom
A few months back, I was asked to speak with an older woman named Mary, who apparently lives near me but whom I have never met. Through a roundabout series of connections, she knew about my mother's issues with memory loss.

Apparently Mary's daughter Cathy had expressed concerns to Mary about her mother's memory flaws and Mary wanted to talk to me.

So I called Mary who seemed like a lovely person based on her voice on the phone. Mary and I chatted for quite a while.

 She told me about her kids, twice actually in case I didn't get it the first time, and her many grandchildren.

Eventually though, Mary admitted that she couldn't remember the names of some of her grandkids, especially those that she didn't see as often.

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As we concluded our lengthy conversation, Mary asked if she could keep my name, number and address in her address book (you remember, a traditional pencil and paper type notebook, not the newfangled email address book.)

"Of course," I replied and started spelling my last name.

Sadly it didn’t take long before I could recognize the telltale signs of Mary’s upcoming difficulties. Mary is my mom all over again! Mary asked me six times if she could make certain that what she had written down for my last name (granted P-E-R-E-I-R-A is a challenging one) and my address were correct. She read it back to me six times absolutely perfectly but she showed the same early signs that my mom had long ago of uncertainty, hesitation and lack of confidence in her skills.

Mary’s request for “double checking” her information, or in this case “sextuple checking,” reminded me that earlier before my mom’s dementia and hostility were more evident, Mom went through a hyper-vigilance stage, unconsciously I assume.

I have vague but definite recollections of my mom repeating information back to me very accurately but over and over; maybe not six times but then again, maybe she did.

If my mom wanted to "remember" something or was trying to learn something new, she wrote it down, of course. But she had me write it down for her also and frequently she wrote it out on another piece of paper a second or third time.

It seemed to help if I colored coded it, remnants of her past. Then she repeated it back to me to "make sure it was correct." In each instance my mom was spot-on accurate. I remember how baffled I felt by her need for repetition and reassurance, which wasn't really characteristic of her.

But with the gift of 20/20 hindsight, my mom might have been subtly and subconsciously beginning to employ strategies to supplement what she was experiencing as a shaky and unreliable memory. I suspected that Mary might be at this early stage also as she volunteered those exact concerns.

Mary is someone else’s mom, but still another daughter is about to walk in my shoes. I can’t stop the inevitable, but I did offer to Mary to share my contact information with her family should they wish to connect with me.

Unfortunately, I've so "been there."

Elaine C. Pereira
Elaine C. Pereira is a retired school occupational therapist who worked with special needs children. She earned her bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy from Wayne State University and later completed her master’s degree. Pereira and her husband live in Michigan. Elaine is the author of - I Will Never Forget: A Daughter's Story of Her Mother's Arduous and Humorous Journey Through Dementia

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Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room