Alzheimer’s, Mum and Me
by Rose McCrave
As I sat beside mum on April 9th last year to officially receive her dementia diagnosis, an unusual sense of peace surrounded me. The lovely large gentle psychiatrist tried to explain to her that she had Alzheimer’s disease and there were four different tablet options, and mum could try them one at a time to see which one suited her best. She spoke in an easy almost casual tone as though she was offering her four hats, all different colours and each with its own ‘advantages’! Mum wasn’t in the slightest bit phased and just nodded politely and said ‘thank you very much Doctor, thank you for your time’.
The two of us left and did what we always did in these situations, got back in the car and headed to the nearest tea shop. A scone and pot of tea and all would be well. In fact, these appointments were as routine to us as they probably were to the psychiatrist. This is because mum is 86, I’m 56 and for more than the last 40 years we’ve attended as many psychiatric appointments, as we’ve had scones.....well almost! Mum has suffered severe depression for most of her life. Now Alzheimer’s has come along and I want to share the ‘friend’ it has been to us in the last year .
For the first time in our lives we are living without her depression simply because as a result of Alzheimer’s, Mum has forgotten everything she was depressed about! Namely a terrible childhood, 50 years of a predominantly unhappy marriage, a lifelong battle with no self-esteem etc. Whilst she can clearly remember a period of her life from about the age of 17 – 27, her Alzheimer’s symptoms mean that for some reason she chooses to recall mainly only happy memories. It is incredible that she has forgotten where she lived for the last 60 years and the jobs she did too. All those years have just disappeared. As her primary carers, this takes some getting used to for myself and my husband who have looked after her for the last 40. But for her it is a total gift. She lives not in the past, nor in the future, but only in the present moment. Often not even in the present day, as by evening she usually can’t recall much if anything of the afternoon, she is only present to the moment by moment clock!
This means that she lives now like at no other time in her previous years. As a workaholic, she had no hobbies, no interest in her world around especially nature, which always saddened me, as I always loved every aspect of the natural world. We never had flowers in our home, as she wouldn’t have dreamt of spending money on them when she hadn’t enough for food. Now, wherever we go, she wants to stop and admire flowers, plants, trees, birds, sky, sun, moon anything she can see! Her favourite place to go to is church. She has a deep devotion to Our Lady and in church, whilst she has little engagement with the theology, she loves the statues, candles, stained glass, flowers and sings along following the readings and joining in the prayers. The vibrance of our liturgy is itself a gift for her, that I too often take for granted.
I don’t want this to sound like Alzheimer’s hasn’t come with its challenges because of course it has. The tablets didn’t ‘suit’ her, and we’ve made all sorts of adaptations to her independent living apartment. We have also had to change many things within our family in order to accommodate ‘Nanna’s needs’, but overall I wouldn’t have my last 56 years of her back. As ‘Mum with Alzheimer’s at 86 she’s not in any pain, she knows she’s deeply loved, she laughs a lot and tells me she is looking forward to our next walk and tea shop trip. There’s much to be said for ‘Contented Dementia’!
“Do Not Be Afraid For I Am With You Always”. He is and we aren’t! Thanks Be To God.