|Mom in 1964 at the Pyramids|
Recently at a doctor's appointment the doctor asked her: "What is the President's name?" She didn't know. "What is the year?" She answered, "It's 7 or 11." Again, she had no idea. Then the next question, "Do you know what town your are in." Answer; "No idea." We were shocked, we had no idea that her cognitive impairment was this far advanced.
Within a week, Mom began asking questions like. "Does a bus come by here? I need to catch a bus to the airport, so that I can fly home to Seattle." I heard her testing doors at 4:00 a.m. She was trying to escape, to go somewhere in her past. There was no home in Seattle for her. It had been sold long ago. In her mind she had been on a long vacation, it was now time to go home. Mom cannot prepare meals, drive a car, or take care of herself in the bathroom anymore. In her state of mind, she believes that she needs to find a job. She needs to become a productive part of society and contribute her part in working and finances. She does not realize that reality is something far different than what she perceives.
It is really heartbreaking for us, her family, to watch her fade away and decline. Three weeks ago, Mom made good on her escape attempts. We ran to the grocery store and upon returning, she was gone. The doors were all unlocked and open. The dog didn't go with her, he stayed home. Mom was gone. We frantically searched the house and yard, shouting for her, then I recruited the neighbor to go one direction, while I went the other. My wife called 911. It was over 100 degrees out and Mom is 85 years old and very frail. We knew she wouldn't last long out in the heat. Within 5 minutes we received a phone call from a police officer. He had picked Mom up 4 houses down from ours, but she could not tell him which one she lived in. He took her to the local hospital emergency room and had just dropped her off there.
We jumped in the car and picked her up at the hospital. The staff told us she looked great for a 114 year old. They asked her when she was born. She told them Jan. 1st, 1900. It made it difficult to figure out who she was, with that birth date, it did not connect her name in the computer.
Now we knew that we were prisoners in our own house. We couldn't leave Mom alone ever. This was a 24 hours a day dilemma. Within a week we found a Alzheimer's home, where she will receive 24 hour professional nursing care. Mom has been there for two weeks now. They have a bus stop in the side yard for the folks living there to make an escape when needed. The difference is the bus stop is behind the fence and no bus ever comes. The residents will go out and sit at the bus stop, then eventually they forget why they are there, or they get hungry.
The really difficult part of this nightmare, is Mom doesn't really remember me anymore. She doesn't recall me asking her for her daughter's hand in marriage, 20 years ago. (I never knew her husband, he had passed away years before.) She can't remember so many of the fun vacations we took together, and the great memories we have built over the last two decades. She does remember our son, but does not recognize the young man that he has become. She remembers him as a little boy. She clings desperately to my wife, who represents the last fragments of her memory. The things she imagines are just as real as the reality that surrounds her.
One blessing that we have are the wonderful angels that care for these older folks as they cling to life, but lose their minds. It is difficult to imagine living and working in an Alzheimer's care center, where there is no hope of recovery. When a patient walks through that gate, it is a one way trip. This is the last bus stop for them. They are disembarking from their life as grandparents and parents, they were productive members of society. We thank God everyday for the people that work to provide dignity and as much freedom as possible, in the twilight of life.
We know that Mom will not recover, this is a terminal condition. She often says, "I'm going to get better." But we know better.
Update: Mom has left us and gone on to her eternal reward. She left us a note, telling us not to rush through life and that she would see us again. She wrote this note, while she had Alzheimer's, which makes it even more meaningful.
We are so grateful to her care givers, and the Hospice people that helped her and us at the end. We will always miss her. Mom was such a vital part of our lives, and it is just not the same without her.
Alzheimer's is an enemy to be fought and resisted. Take care of your body, eat healthy food and avoid bad habits. Smoking and excessive drinking are an open invitation to this terrible disease and condition. Don't open the door and usher your enemy in. Take good care of yourself and your loved ones.