Jun 24, 2013

Unexpected but Delightful Insights from My Mom with Alzheimer’s

How terrible that someone’s “mind would play tricks” on them, I thought. Your “mind” should be your friend; after all it’s in your head and not someone else’s.

By Elaine C. Pereira
+Alzheimer's Reading Room 

Brain Games

I haven’t seen all of the incredible episodes of National Geographic’s new series Brain Games, but the ones I have watched boggle the mind.

What our brain does to adapt to movement, sights, sounds and more is truly phenomenal!

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A recent episode Brain Games explained that our mind adjusts for a tenth of a second discrepancy between what we see that makes noise (such as slamming a car door) and what we hear.

In real time, if we see someone shut a car door on a vehicle that’s a reasonable distance away, the sound of the slam follows the sight of it being slammed. Since that disparity is incongruous with our brains, if the actual time lapse is one tenth of a second or less apart, our brain self soothes to connect the sight and sound as simultaneous events, even when they are not.

However, if we observe the car door shut a substantial distance away, we will hear the slam after we see the event. We won’t like this discrepancy, but in real life and real time, we will recognize it as reality and accept it. On the big screen, however, our brains won’t tolerate the same disparity hence why the sound effects guru team tweaks the sound to be in sync with the slam. Movie-goers with happy brains will come back, and pay money, to watch other tweaked but in-sync special effects productions.

Years ago I experienced some mysterious event as a kid that must have triggered a conversation with my mom about seeing something differently than it really was. Her response to me was, “Well, your mind plays tricks on you sometimes.”

Although Mom clearly intended her reply to be reassuring, I distinctly remember feeling distressed by it, not comforted.

How terrible that someone’s “mind would play tricks” on them, I thought. Your “mind” should be your friend; after all it’s in your head and not someone else’s.

Obviously her remark stayed with me all of these years and I understand now what she meant.

Our brains are phenomenal bodies that orchestrate absolutely everything we do from our first steps, first words, first kiss (so we don’t miss and get the nose) through and including processing geometry (with difficulty), parallel parking (not so much) and changing diapers one-handed (now that I can do).

Our brains fill in the blanks, help us multi-task and basically choreograph us through life’s obstacles. Unfortunately our minds really do play tricks on us and some aren’t very funny.

Brain disorders from a head injury or especially a disease like Alzheimer’s distort the mind.

As my mother advanced into Alzheimer’s clutches, her new reality was anything but real. She was threatened by her surroundings, thrown off balance by confusion, paranoid, agitated unable to care for her self and more.

But the one bizarre upshot of Mom’s delirium, were the rare and delightful glimpses of my grandmother through her eyes. Those moments of insight into a long ago shelved past, I treasure today.

My maternal grandmother passed away when I was six years old; my only memory of her was the wonderful hug she gave me the day before she died. But as my mom drifted farther away from the present, she unveiled fragments of her past.

Mom was overheard “talking” with her mother, my grandmother, saying, “I’ll take care of you.” (From my memoir, I Will Never Forget, Chapter 36: An Assisted Journey)

My grandmother had suffered for years with breast cancer so I wasn’t surprised by my mom’s promise to her mom. In fact I delighted in the fleeting but meaningful reflections of Grandma when Mom’s mind “tricked” her into thinking Grandma Lillian was still here.

I couldn’t trigger any specific stories with probing questions, but when Mom’s past emerged into the present revealing flashes of her childhood and images of memorable events with her mom, it was a treasure for me, her granddaughter.

When my petite pixy of a mom wandered out of her assisted living facility in the middle of the night, in 25-degree temperatures, in nothing but her red flannel pajamas she was looking for her mom!

Fortunately my mom was found before she found Grandma.

Elaine C. Pereira is the author of I Will Never Forget - A Daughter's Story of Her Mother's Arduous and Humorous Journey Through Dementia, and a finalist for the Best New Non-Fiction USA Book Awards & The Hollywood Book Festival.


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