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Curves ahead road sing

Like dangerous curves on a mountain road, no one knows what to expect from Alzheimers.

Do women change dramatically once Alzheimer’s begins its attack on their brain?  Rose and my mother, Irene, remained gentle people, but I don’t believe that’s always the case.  I was told of one woman suffering with AD who seemed to have the strength of a lion.  When she was provoked to anger, the adrenaline really began to pump.  Reaching over the rail of her hospital bed, the distraught victim picked up a nearby chair and hit her attending husband with it.  Quoting my friend Madalyn once again, “They’re all different.”  It would have been interesting to know if that “hearsay” patient was a violent person before AD.  In any event the family and I were grateful that the two mothers in our lives were not combative.  Perhaps I should say there was no occasion to thoroughly test their defenses, and that’s always a good thing.

Both women were cognizant of gratitude, and always managed to say, “Thank you,” for favors and services received.  There was a sweetness which remained as part of their personalities, along with other facets of who they had been before AD.  Their memory was stolen, lost in the shadows making us strangers to them, more than them becoming strangers to us.   The changes taking place so slowly it’s often difficult to recall exactly when they began.

With Rose it was her forgetting that we all noticed first.  Ken would call to ask if she and Dad were going to be home as we were planning to visit.  “Oh, yes,” she answered, “we’ll be home all afternoon. Please come.” When we arrived they were gone.  Rather than drive the 30 miles return trip we waited believing they were probably at the store.  Sure enough, they soon returned with Rose asking why we hadn’t called to let them know we were coming.  We made up some transparent excuse and enjoyed our visit.  She did, however, remember telephone numbers.

“Mom fills my answering machine with one call after another,” Loretta complained as we talked about Rose’s inability to remember her daughter was at work during the day.  When the machine no longer picked up, Rose would call me.  We talked for a while, her asking the same questions with me giving the same answers, and then said goodbye.  Ten minutes later the phone would ring again and, sure enough, it was Rose.  Over and over again, the routine continued until, for my own sanity, I had to let the calls go to the answering machine.  Thirty five years ago, the entire AD experience was new to all of us.  We were all learning, but still in a state of wonder as how to manage and get some constructive advice.

Our daughter, Debbie, came with me one day to visit her grandmother.  Rose was looking at an old photograph album.  With Debbie sitting by her side, Rose looked at the pictures naming her brothers, sisters and friends from the distant past.  Over and over she told the same stories turning the pages back into a circular motion with no beginning and no end.  It was only when Debbie laid the book flat allowing the album to close that brought the book and the stories to a natural end.  Rose read the newspaper the same way —  always stopping and reading aloud an article of interest  (the same ones each time she rotated the paper) over and over until she grew tired and something else sparked her curiosity .  Little by little we began to put the mystery pieces together.

Following Nick’s passing we realized Rose was not only forgetful, she was becoming more and more confused.  The TV dinners we bought had worked for the two of them in the past, but alone she found the boxed meals of no value.   Peeking inside, Rose sampled the contents; the food was tasteless and cold.  She rejected the entire package except for the applesauce, which she ate, leaving the rest of the soggy dinner in the refrigerator, and then placing another frozen meal on the counter to thaw.  Even with my constant visits and Loretta living close by, we realized Rose could no longer live alone.

With my mother, Irene, it was her inability to listen that was one of the first signs she was changing.  She had been a wonderful conversationalist; not only a good talker, but a great listener as well.  Spending time with her, before AD began, was a joyful experience where we could exchange thoughts, ideas and ideals often delving into deep – sometimes controversial subjects – but our exchange was that – an exchange.  It was never an offense/defense debate, merely good conversation between two grown people with each leaving the other a little food for thought to consider until next time. I found the time spent always something to look forward to, but when AD arrived, she stopped listening.  There were no more inspiring tidbits from years of experience for me to take home and no more solid advice.  Her conversations no longer made a point, words became just words and when I spoke up she interrupted as if she were spending time with someone else – or possibly her mind was somewhere else.

Even if no one was with her she often droned on and on without end.  One evening, during dinner, she chattered while the rest of the family ate — her plate nearly untouched.  Finally, my father murmured, “Irene!  Please just be quiet and eat your food.”  She took a few bites then went right back to her endless jabber expressing her rambling thoughts.

Once Alzheimer’s has become an unwelcome part of a family — coming at will – it takes up permanent residence departing only when its victim passes on to a better place.  However, watching for a return visit in other family members becomes second nature to the survivors.  So it was that my heart stopped as Ken and I stood on a grassy knoll where spring-like water gurgled from the ground, and where we had been several times before.  “I have never been here in my entire life,” he claimed after I had mentioned that it looked the same as last time we visited.  I knew then AD had arrived again, its slime once more creeping into our lives like wisps of fog along the shore.  No one’s road signs are the same, personalities become altered, and relationships change.  I go back to my friend Madalyn and her reminding me that Alzheimer’s is different for everyone, yet the end results are, unfortunately,  identical:  No one has ever recovered from the disease.

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