A woman holds an index card in front of a "guess who" game board with a football post, a tv with two football players is behind her

Coping with Early Symptoms of Alzheimer's: Who's on First?

My mom has been a sports fan her whole life. She played basketball when girls' offense and defense just played on half the court. If they keep score, she watches, except for golf.

She has been a huge Saints fan ever since living in New Orleans. She would squeal and scream for every score! She doesn't get to watch the Saints play as much since we live on Long Island. Recently, there was a big match-up between the legendary Tom Brady, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback, and another legend, Bill Belichick, the head coach of the New England Patriots.

Brady was returning to New England to face his former coach and teammates for the first time since leaving. My mom, the big sports fan, couldn't tell you any of this anymore. Alzheimer's disease really does a number on memory.

Getting people confused

She could barely remember who was who of the 2 men. She kind of knew but kept getting the 2 head coaches confused, and they looked nothing alike. One man had a jacket, hat, glasses, and grey goatee. The other was clean-shaven, had dark hair, no glasses, and wore a cut-off sweatshirt. And neither of them was Tom Brady.

I rewound that game so often, so she could catch up. I paused so she could see whose shirt said Patriots and whose had a red pirate flag. She was so confused as to who was whom.

I finally took out a 3x5 card and wrote down the names of each team, the colors that represent them, her favorite players, and their numbers. Still, she was confused and felt dumb that she couldn't get them straight. I assured her it was fine and just to enjoy the game.

But she had so many questions. So. Many.

Red team vs blue team

She would ask who different people were. She would get the red team confused with the blue team. I would show her the blue team shirt and ask what it said. If you can't remember, it's ok. Read it. That used to be her go-to strategy to tackle the elusiveness of memories with this disease.

The red team says, Buccaneers. What team is it? The Patriots! No. That's the blue shirts. See? It was like the old Bud Abbot and Lou Costello comedy routine! Who's on First? What's on Second? I don't know: Third base! Wrong sport!

Mom's cheat sheet

I would refer to the index card, her cheat sheet. It helped. The game was about over when I realized she had gotten Brady and Belichick mixed up.

I think somewhere in her brain fog, she knew they had been on the same team, so she combined the 2. Luckily, they showed a side-by-side photo of them. She could see that they were not the same person.

Coping with early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease

I'm not really sure what was going on in mom's mind, but she had a good time. That's all that mattered. I was exhausted, but she was happy. I want to preserve the things she used to find pleasure doing, so they can stay fun for as long as possible.

The chains and down marker in football clearly mark the distance you have to go and where you start the play. The chains keep moving with Alzheimer's disease! I find I need to manage my expectations.

What is my goal? If she enjoyed the game, I'd take the win, even if it's ugly.

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