Early Signs and Symptoms of Dementia Dismissed
I felt a sense of relief that my mom was so independent for her age. Almost 80, she looked and acted years younger. Her health was good, she ate well and exercised daily.
Years as a dietitian had taught her the value of a balanced diet filled with fruits and vegetables. She loved to cook, sew, crochet, knit and embroider. She was an artsy-crafty woman who never knew the word “bored.” Mom had more plans and goals than someone many years her junior.
I felt a strong sense of gratitude that I had reached my late-fifties and early-sixties with a living mother. Too often we take our parents for granted when we’re younger. But as we reach later stages of life and still have living parents, we’re grateful.
That doesn’t mean that every minute between us was bliss, we had our share of arguments. We were like any other Mother and daughter— but I couldn’t imagine a day without her.
After Mom’s husband passed away, our times together became more frequent. I made the trip across town (we lived on opposite sides of a large metropolitan city) twice weekly. It was a renewal of an old friendship for me. We hadn’t been together as often since her days with my father, more than 15 years before. Now we were learning about each other all over again. My brothers visited, also. We alternated days so she would have fewer days alone and less time for grieving the loss of her most-recent husband.
Oddly, Mom seemed a happier person than I remembered. The strain of marriage to my father all but forgotten, happy memories with her new husband became the topic of our conversations. I wanted to hear about their travels, the places she’d seen, the experiences she’d had, the souvenirs she’d brought home and preserved in stacks and stacks of photo albums and shadow boxes. A bedroom full. And I wanted to share with her all the experiences I’d missed while she’d created a new life with someone other than my father.
One afternoon as I rummaged through Mom’s travelogues, searching for a particular city I wanted to learn more about, I thought of something a little odd. “Where are our photo albums, Mom?” I asked her. It had been years since my brothers and I sat around a messy stack of photo albums and laughed at younger photos of ourselves until our stomach muscles ached from raucous laughter.
“Your photo albums?” Mom repeated my question with a blank look on her face, clearly she had no idea what I was talking about.
“Mom..” I said. “We had stacks and stacks of photo albums. Kindergarten through High School, Children through Grand-Children and now… Great Grand-Children.” I hadn’t seen those albums in years, but I was certain of their existence. “Yes,” I was firm, “the photo albums of me and Randy and Tim. Our families!”
Mom stared at me for long moments, clearly trying let what I’d said soak in and plan a response. It was almost as though I were a stranger, why would she have pictures of my family. Then she grew suddenly flippant and answered, “Oh, they’re around here somewhere.”
She stood abruptly, averted her eyes as she brushed the question away along with the imaginary dust on her apron. “I’m gonna fix us both a cup of tea,” her voice trailed off as she ducked her head and rushed off to the kitchen. Clearly, without a word, she had said the subject was closed, no more questions about our family photo albums. Amazed, I could only wonder at how odd the entire encounter had been.
And I still thought of it that evening at home. It seemed a strange thing to be so bothered about, I consoled myself. A small moment of brain freeze, perhaps, I tried to comfort my doubts. It was bizarre, none the less. And if it wasn’t weird behavior, and shouldn’t upset me, why was my stomach in such a knot.
As I thought back about that strange day, much later after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s had been made–then, it all became clear and made sense.
Mom had hedged on every album I pulled out. She wouldn’t identify a picture, name a city or discuss her, now deceased, hubby’s family. Yet it was all of them so obviously smiling from so many of those pictures taken in Wisconsin. I had wondered if her heart was too heavy with grief. Maybe she didn’t want to remember all those good times, didn’t want the reminder of what her life had been, maybe the grief of losing her husband ran too deep, it had been scarcely more than a year since his passing now.
She seldom spoke of him anymore, and when I mentioned his name Mom would change the subject. Another mystery that I’d been unable to solve. My mother just wasn’t quite my mother anymore. I couldn’t explain it, I just knew Mom wasn’t her old happy self.