Saturday, July 12, 2008

We're in a Different Place Now

I recently did some cleaning and organizing in our kitchen and decided that it would be more efficient to keep the aluminum foil and plastic wrap in a different cupboard than in the location they've happily resided for the past six or eight years. I'm sorry to say that neither my husband nor I are capable of incorporating this new information into our respective memory banks. He's wearing a martyred, "Is nothing sacred?" demeanor while I stubbornly insist that the new system WILL work...once we get used to it.

This reminded me of another area of my life in which I continue to struggle to adapt. Although my mother has lived with us for four years and struggled with the beginning stages of Alzheimer's disease for several years prior to that, I am proving myself to be a slow learner when it comes to understanding and making allowance for her diminishing capacity to think and reason. For nearly fifty years of my lifetime prior to my mother's diagnosis, she was capable, clear thinking, and independent. Although I know better, I still sometimes expect her to be able function as she once did. She looks and sounds like the mother I've always known, and she puts up a good front. But incidents like the ones I've related below reveal her struggle to make sense of her world by utilizing the memories that remain in conjunction with the observations she makes in the moment she's in.

This afternoon Mom said, "Now, am I right that you are a teacher, and that this is summer, so you have some time off?" (I have been a teacher since 1978. Mom helped in my various classrooms for years.) I acted put-off by her comment, although the reasoning process Mom used to arrive at this question was really quite sophisticated for someone in the mid-stages of Alzheimer's disease. She had checked her white board for the date and had utilized her long-term memory of the fact that I had once been a teacher.

Awhile later she said, "Now, tell me why I'm here, in this room. Is it just because I'm old?" Once again, I was not particularly supportive or reassuring. I answered her in a perfunctory way and went about my business.

Shame on me when I become short tempered with Mom because she does not comprehend some situation or conversation as I assume that she should have been able to do. She's not where she once was, and I am the one who must adapt.

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