by Lois Cooper
I don’t remember the exact time or date in 2008 that mom’s diagnosis of Dementia /Alzheimer’s became a reality for me. As a family, we spent a lot of time trying to justify the signs and symptoms since mom was almost 90. It wasn’t so much her forgetfulness but the decline in her ability to cook and prepare meals, which was the real signal.
Mom had eight children and sometimes she would go through the list of our names before she got to the right one. So that part was not unusual; we used to giggle about that growing up. Mom was a great vibration cooker, (cooking without recipes) and she took great pride in that. In fact, that was the way mom did everything, from cooking to sewing and pattern making, keeping the family healthy to creatively inventing or repairing the things our family needed. So when mom started over-seasoning dishes with large amounts of pepper, salt, garlic and other spices, we knew something was wrong. Once she started burning food we convinced her that the stove was broken and that she could no longer use it to cook. I think that revelation dimmed the light in her eyes a little.
I am not a medical doctor but when Mom began to spend more time alone I believe it gave the disease an opportunity to manifest. Mom used to call me every morning and at night, dialing my number from memory, and later using a little hand-written phone book that I recently found. My mom was a widow with eight children who had lots of neighborhood friends so the house was always lively. I often worried that people were taking advantage of mom at her golden age by leaving their children with her. Now that I look back I see that being around people helped to keep her company, using her mind to get things done. My brothers were there with mom during the early stages and they looked after and protected her.
Later my daughters and I moved in, and now my sister lives there. Against my brother’s protest to having an outsider help with mom, my sisters and I found an organization and got a companion to come and assist mom for four hours during the day.
Mom, who is 98 years old now, worked for over 10 years in the DC Senior Companion Program. She was recognized throughout the city for her commitment to the program and patients. I remember one patient she was fond of and became really close with was a woman with Alzheimer’s. Who knew that one day her role would be reversed?
We have had a series of health care providers from a local agency to help support mom and our family over the years. I must say we have been blessed to have had several great teams. There is a morning and evening shift, with the family overseeing and providing additional care. Mom is also a part of a geriatric house call program with a DC hospital and she receives doctor visits at home. She suffered a major bout with pneumonia at the same time Hillary Clinton did, but I am happy to report mom is at home doing well. She does not walk because of a hip fracture and a partial replacement she never adjusted to. She is not bedridden but requires assistance eating and using the bathroom, but all things considered, she is a real trooper. Mom doesn’t communicate verbally anymore but sometimes when I’m trying to engage her she gets annoyed and muffles "What?"
Mom is still my source for inspiration. Whenever I have a problem or something is troubling me I go to her for counsel and we pray. She lets me know that even though she doesn’t speak she’s still there. The touch of her hand, a nod of her head and on the rare occasions a sound or a subtle smile is enough to keep everyone going. I try to spend all major holidays at her house with the family around. It's the same house I grew up in when I attending Roosevelt Sr. High School. The love my children see being bestowed upon their grandmother helps to foster conversation about the love, tenderness, and compassion that they will one day share with me as I age gracefully in time.