My Writing, Dementia and Mother
Why I Write
I’ve develop a yearning
To write for learning
When I write for learning
My “mind-wheel” is turning
As my “mind-wheel” is turning
Dementia, I am spurning
The poem above was written by me to give an emotional response to why I am writing this blog. I know I’ve written before that I am writing for myself but I have not given many specifics. Hopefully, this adds a little more clarity. Having stated that, please don’t think that I am constantly worried about dementia. I am not!
When my mother was having problems with senility and/or dementia, my sister and I would encourage her to write down what was happening in her life. We thought that it would help her to remember, reflect and in general, revive her mind. You see, she had little or no short term memory. To illustrate what I mean by little or no short term memory, my sister visited her one morning and the two of them went to the St. Louis Zoo. Later on, after she was taken back to where she was staying, I picked her up for a spontaneous, last minute dinner. On the way to my house we passed the zoo. I mentioned to mom that it had been a long time since I had been to the zoo and wondered if she would like to go. She said immediately, that she hadn’t been to the zoo since she was a little kid and would love to go. Later, after talking with my sister, I learned that they had spent over three hours at the zoo that morning.
The experience with my mother is not the only encounter that I have had with dementia and/or Alzheimers. I mention Alzheimers at this point since my second close encounter with dementia was with an aunt that most, including doctors, thought had Alzheimers. It seems the only way it is known for sure that a person has Alzheimers is if an autopsy is done after passing. Well, there wasn’t one done on our aunt so therefore, it was officially dementia. It doesn’t matter for this blog since my point is that my writing is a possible answer to avoiding such horrible afflictions of the mind.
So, how is this blog writing working out? My first post was on December 23, 2008. The first few posts were more learning attempts than actual blog entries. Now, since I have a little history doing the blog, I have noticed that my mind appears to be “sharper” and my writing comes easier. Is it helping my mental abilities? I’m not sure but I think it is.
The way I look at it, mental exercise is good for us and this is definitely mental exercise for me.
What do you think?
Alzheimer’s, dementia and their old-school synonym “senility” are words/terms that represent behaviors which seem to strike terror in those of us who have yet to reach those end stages of life. Obviously, you and your sister did not distance yourselves, and instead took the initiative to make the most of the last days you had with your ill mother. Sadly, not everyone does.
Many times loved ones will turn away from the elderly family member who falls victim to these ailments. Often the parties involved are children, partners or siblings of the afflicted person, and the short term memory lapses quickly result in hurt feelings of those who have spent time (and/or money, effort, emotion, etc) trying to “help” — only to realize that their efforts appear to have gone unnoticed or unwanted.
I think this natural tendency to distance one’s self is founded in an inner fear that we, too, are vulnerable. We all fear the loss of our mind, our memories and our dignity…especially when the evidence of how fragile a thread we hang on by is shoved in our face by the very actions of the loved one. Our psyche reminds us that if this mother/father/brother/uncle with whom we have either been raised by or with can lose so much then so can we.
Not to mention the fact that we sometimes hope that OUR relationship with them, or OUR time spent with them will somehow be so emotionally valuable as to supersede their illness. We love and care for them so earnestly that they simply MUST remember that trip to the zoo we took a few hours ago, or the day we baked cookies together earlier in the week. While totally normal and understandable, these expectations are not fair to either us or the loved one.
My daughter has recently moved in with an elderly woman who is experiencing mid-to-late stage dementia. I’ve had the opportunity to spend a good bit of time with this woman (who is not related to us, yet reminds me so much of my own paternal grandmother that it’s eerie). From what I have seen so far her short term memory cycles vary throughout the day based upon some unknown factor (hunger? fatigue? socialization? medication?). Sometimes she can remember recent things for 10-15 minutes, sometimes for 2.
She has four adult children in their late 30’s and 40’s and over a dozen grandchildren between the ages of 13 and 24. Every family member lives within 10 miles of her home. I don’t know the family history, or anything about them personally….but I do know that none of them even wish to be her part-time caretaker much less take her into their own home. I think the reasons must be numerous and very complex, but perhaps the root of it all is what I’ve stated above.
I hope that my post does not end up coming across judgemental in any way….we all do what we feel is best. With both of my parents being relatively young as well as extremely healthy and self sufficient, I have never walked a step, much less a mile in the shoes of an adult child dealing with an ill mother or father. I’ve always seen my parents as rocks of stability, and it must be very hard to witness the tremors and earthquakes of the mind and body that dislodge that rock.
The time I have spent with my daughter’s new “room-mate” has been enlightening and has awakened something in me. Since I am not related to this woman and have no past with her, I find it easy to be patient, understanding, and logical about her memory lapses. I also feel a great deal of empathy and warmth towards her that may have been hard to tap into if there was a history of any type of relationship with her.
The awareness that I enjoy spending time with the elderly and/or senile has made me consider looking into some sort of part-time career working with such patients. And while I may have been too young and too closely related to my own grandmother to help, perhaps I can be the one to make the life of another person with dementia a little bit better. I’d be thrilled to make any little difference.
Thanks for your insightful comment. I appreciate the personal narrative and have learned a lot from it.
Please feel free and encouraged to comment anytime.