Oct 24, 2014

Staying Connected with Mom

Staying connected with Mom may have begun as an obligation but it is now one of the great joys of my life.

By Marilyn Raichle
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Staying Connected with Mom | Alzheimer's Reading Room

I walked out of my mother’s room in Assisted Living, counted to three and realized that, inside the comfort of her room, Mom had no memory of my having been there.

“So why visit?” I hear people say. “She won’t remember you anyway.”

Is that true?

The research tells us that a pleasant experience releases endorphins that have a positive effect on a person with dementia even after the experience is forgotten.

Reason enough—but for me the answer is more personal. I know it makes a difference.

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Mom may not know who I am but she knows me. When I arrive, she beams with recognition, a big smile illuminating her face. We have fun—singing, marching, laughing, counting, viewing the Seattle horizon while she tells me how much the city has changed and wonders what it will be like in 50—or five hundred—years.

But I don’t do it just for Mom. I do it for me.

Staying connected with Mom may have begun as an obligation but it is now one of the great joys of my life. 

When I enter Mom’s world, I have permission to forget my cares and enjoy the moment with Mom and her friends in Assisted Living.

There is Joyce who is always accompanied by a small stuffed dog named Gus.

“Hi Gus,” I say. “You remembered his name! He is so pleased. You know, I wouldn't be alive if it weren't for Gus.’ she confides.

 I scratch his head and tell her about my dog Betty. “You know, I feel exactly the same way,” I reply.

Then off to see Flora, “Ciao, Bellissima!” I give her and Phyllis each a hug and kiss.

 Then Kathleen —usually so serious but beginning to thaw. I hug her and she—for the first time—calls me dear and hugs me back.

Next Gloria. “My but you look lovely,” I say. She’s not quite sure who I am and why I would say such a thing but smiles and says, “Thank you.”

Throughout all of this, Mom accompanies me—maybe not sure who I am but aware that—whoever I am—she knows me and likes me. But then Mom likes everyone. It’s part of her charm.

I like these women. I like being with them. They make me happy.

Who could ask for anything more?

*Marilyn Raichle writes at The Art of Alzheimer’s – How Mother Forgot Nearly Everything and Began to Paint – a blog about her mother Jean, art and Alzheimer’s. She is launching a new venture in support of arts programs for people living with Alzheimer’s and dementia – Changing the Way We Think About Alzheimer’s – One Painting at a Time.

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If I Only Knew Then, What I Know Now

What do I know now? It’s not about me.

Marilyn Raichle
+Alzheimer's Reading Room 

If I Only Knew Then, What I Know Now Alzheimer's Reading Room
As much as I write about how delightful it is to visit my mother—and it is delightful—it was different and far more complex with my father.

Both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s run in Dad’s family with Alzheimer's usually hitting around the age of 80.

As Mom is sunny, Dad’s family runs darker, with anger, aggression and isolation as the common experience.

But, if I knew then what I know now, my visits to my father would have been different.

Dad was, by turns, totally lucid and moving in and out of dementia. He was profoundly bored, frustrated with his physical limitations and, on occasion, terrified.

The constant was his relationship with Mom—married for 66 years and friends for 75.

When he developed MRSA, he had to move (temporarily) to a nursing home. It was a dispiriting place — with an overworked and overburdened staff doing the best they could but a far cry from his life with Mom in Assisted Living.

The anguish in his face was heart-breaking.

Visiting, even though we always took Mom, was hard and departure even worse. The sense of abandonment was palpable. And I admit I mirrored his desire to get out of there as quickly as possible.

What do I know now?

It’s not about me.

I wouldn’t have allowed the bleakness of the surroundings to frame my visits.

I would have stayed longer, realizing that just being there with him was reassuring. It provided a sense of normalcy and love and hope that he would soon return to Mom.

Thankfully, after two months, we got him moved to a better facility and the change in his face was immediate. In another month, we got him home to Mom.

Once, with Dad physically and mentally deteriorating and Mom increasingly agitated over his condition, I brought Mom to my garden to spend the afternoon. 

We were late returning and Dad violently lashed out—accusing us of abandoning him—shaking with anger. Mom immediately fell on her knees, promising never to leave him again. But my buttons were pushed and I reverted to the combative relationship I often had with my father and left.

I now know it was fear — sheer terror at the prospect of abandonment.

What do I know now? It’s not about me.

I would have joined Mom and reassured him. I would have hugged him, told him I loved him and been content to sit by his side to let him know I would always be there for him.

So what do I know now?

Visiting may not always be fun but it can be extremely satisfying —

if you let go of your expectations and old issues and embrace the parent who is with you. 

Sometimes being there is not only the only thing you can do but the best thing— for both of you.