We had noticed my mother's memory was slipping but it came into focus over the holidays one year. During the 2003 Christmas holiday, we went to a hotel for their famous brunch. As usual, we all got up to visit the buffet and indulge until we could no more. I noticed my mom walking around aimlessly. She was lost, not knowing where she was or who we were. As I went over to her, she seemed startled at my approach. "What do you want to eat?" I asked her gently. "Oh, you know, the usual." was her noncommittal answer.
In spite of this warning sign she and my dad continued their independent life for several more years, refusing to make the required changes in spite of our begging. As her memory grew worse, she mastered the technique of the elusive "throw-away" answer. My dad supported her deception either by design or by necessity.
Sitting across the table from her during breakfast, we chatted intently about dad being in the hospital. I had to keep reminding her that he was not well and it was serious. In the midst of this serious talk, she looked at me with clarity in her eyes and simply asked "Now, who are you again?"
With dad now gone forever, my brother and I made the difficult decision to put mom in a home in 2006 where she could be watched and cared for every second of every day for the rest of her life. Her doctor confirmed she had Alzheimer’s. I took early retirement for my job to oversee her care. It was a frustrating and confusing experience but thankfully my mom was happy and safe. We gave her constant attention and love and found ways to keep her in the moment using music, humor and a gentle touch on the hand.
I called her on Thanksgiving, 2007. She was down saying no one was there and she was alone. When in fact many friends and family had spent the day with her. When I called her two days later, she did not remember any of Thanksgiving day or that I was coming to see her in a few days.
In late 2008, she did not recognize me or my brother. She had no memories of her childhood or those of her husband of 60 years. She could not recognize herself in a picture. She needed help getting dressed. The only blessing was that she did not understand what was happening to her and that she would probably die a horrible death when her brain 'forgets' how to swallow. Sadly,my mom's sister Christine Lane passed away on Feb. 21, 2008 from Alzheimer's complications. You see, Alzheimer's disease is not about just losing your memory, it is about dying. And it can happen to anyone at any age - it is not just a disease of the elderly
By 2009, her disease had progressed to the final stage where her basic daily functions are no longer under her control. She needed assistance with all aspects of life. She went on a hospice service to make her final time as comfortable as possible and to let her go on her own time.
She passed away on August 16, 2009.