Through the looking glass: Forget me not, part 2

Read Part 1 here.

Emily had sat quietly trying to take in everything the therapist had thrown at them regarding her mother’s dementia, while her brother grilled, cajoled, bargained and eventually cried. Emily cried too. She wasn’t losing her mother, she felt like she already had.

‘Worldwide, someone is diagnosed with dementia every four seconds.’

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Their father had passed away several years earlier. Their mom was a pillar of strength and they never worried. Then, Mom started telling the same stories over and over. She started asking Emily to pick up a few groceries for her. Mom stopped going to church and her prized flower garden started to suffer. Emily and Darren related it to grief until Darren was visiting one day. Opening the fridge for a drink he’d noticed four jugs of milk. When he asked his mother about it, she dismissed it saying she always seemed to run out. After that Emily started to visit a little more and noticed other things; when Emily brought groceries her mother would struggle to find her money. Once Emily found it under the bed, another time it was in the bathtub. Her mother seemed to have no recollection of putting it there. When the police called Darren to come pick up his mother after she got lost in town, they knew they had to make decisions.

‘Increasing by 50% the activity level of Canadians (65+) who are already active

would yield a 30-year reduction in Direct Health Costs of $31 billion

and a reduction in Total Economic Burden of $52 billion.’ 

The therapist explained how memories are stored in the brain like in a file room. The most recent memories were stored in cabinets closest to the door with the history tucked away in the back. The paths to these files cabinets became muddled with debris. Initially just a little, making the trip a little slower. As the disease progressed it would throw more debris on the road until it became impassable. Sometimes the debris would shift, allowing smooth passage, but this would not usually last long. The therapist went on to explain how the debris would also destroy the file cabinets; affecting the ones closest to the door first. “The answers they give to your questions are based on the information that’s given to them, based on what pathways are clear and what cabinets are left. If you constantly argue that they’re wrong, you’ll breed paranoia, anxiety and eventually contempt.” He went on to explain that it was important to reassure their mother. To not argue with her and just try to be comforting and supportive. Emily wondered briefly if marijuana might help her cope. Emily, not her mother.

‘Alzheimer’s is the most significant social and health crisis of the 21st century.

Without fundamental changes in research funding and service delivery,

it has the potential to overwhelm Canadian families and our health-care system.’

Emily’s thoughts are invaded by the front door opening. Her mother doesn’t seem to notice. Darren rounds the corner to the kitchen. “Hey sis.” He smiles and pats Emily on the shoulder. Before he has a chance to acknowledge his mother she lights up.

“Franklin!” Darren’s heart sinks. It’s not the first time she’s mistaken him for his father, but it doesn’t hurt any less.

“No, Mom. Darren.” He turns to Emily. “Everyone will be here soon. Are you sure it’s a good idea?”

Emily pulls her stare away from her Mom. “I am. I think it’s important. You know, there was a moment this morning that she knew me. She’s still in there, Darren. Sometimes.” Emily says nothing of the blue dress in the stove. Over the next hour family and friends continue to arrive at Emily’s home. Around thirty in total. Emily’s mother is completely overwhelmed. She continues to sit at the table clutching her purse. The family is tolerant, patient and as helpful as they can be. Emily’s grandchildren are even old enough to understand their Great Grandmother’s ‘condition’. Emily sometimes wonders if it keeps them away. She knows it keeps her husband from retiring.

‘One in five Canadians aged 45 and older provides some form of care

to seniors living with long-term health problems.

A quarter of all family caregivers are seniors themselves;

a third of them (more than 200,000) are older than 75.’

Sometimes Emily wondered if she was doing the right thing. She and Darren had toured the third facility before she finally decided she would care for her mother. “These places are just like home.” Darren had argued. Emily couldn’t help but notice the ‘Staff Only’ signs and uniformed staff mixed in with the artwork and flowers. Not ‘just’ like home. Darren was uncomfortable with the idea but promised to support and help where he could. And he did.

The last of the family leaves shortly after eight o’clock. A tired Emily closes the door and returns to the kitchen. Her husband finishes loading the dishwasher and is licking the icing off the birthday candles before throwing them out. “I’m going to watch some TV. Care to join me?” He offers. She is about to answer when a woman’s voice takes her breath.

“Emily? Would you mind helping me with this teapot? I can never get this cover on right.” Emily smiles at the recognition. Her husband kisses her forehead, smiles and heads downstairs. Emily covers her mother’s hand with her own.

“This pot always has had a tricky lid. If it wasn’t so special I’d throw it out.”

“Oh! Your Grandmother would turn over in her grave if she heard you say that!”

Emily’s eyes widen, then soften slightly. “Yes, it was Gran’s wasn’t it?”

“Did I ever tell you about the time your father brought this fishing? He was going with that Andrew… Michaels was it? I can’t remember. But he thought I didn’t know….”

As her mother continues to regale Emily of the history of the teapot, Emily revels in this moment of clarity. She didn’t know how long it would last. And today’s events reminded her that she probably couldn’t keep it up much longer, but she would take every second she could get.

‘There are more than 35 million people living with dementia in the world at this time.

It is estimated that by 2050, this number will increase to 115 million people.’

Rising Tide: The impact of Dementia on Canadian Society (is the final report of an Alzheimer Society project funded by Pfizer Canada, Health Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada, Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Rx&D)

Looking for more information and important links to local services: Alzheimer’s Society of Canada

Upcoming fundraisers for Alberta: Hockey games taking place in Calgary and Edmonton in April

Why Population Aging Matters /A Global Perspective


Jennifer Barry writes for The Spectator Tribune

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