An angry man with dementia jabs his finger at a woman, the woman appears as a shadow but the mirror behind them shows her looking sad.

Unrecognizable: Who Are You?

Alzheimer's is a very sad disease. It is sad for the person with it and all the loss that accompanies it. It is even sadder for the spouse.

My mom endured the pain of Dad not recognizing her, slowly at first; later, not at all.

In the beginning

I'm not really sure when it began until Mom started disclosing to me what was really going on in their home. Dad would look at Mom and not know who she was.

As the disease progressed, Dad thought Mom was his sister. His sister had been dead for a number of years. When Mom would explain that his sister was gone, he was shocked and saddened but he believed her. After a while, he didn't. It was like he was thinking, "Who is this woman that is telling me my sister is dead?"

Furthermore, Dad began living so much in the past that he thought his mother was still alive. She passed away when I was 4 or 5 years old.

Serious issues began to crop up

As time went on and Dad wasn't able to recognize Mom, that's when the serious issues began to happen. Dad didn’t know who this woman was in his house. He would repeatedly tell her to leave.

At first, Mom didn't. She would go off to another room. Out of sight, out of mind. That worked for a while. As the disease moved forward, that stopped working.

Dad would kick Mom out of the house. He would angrily insist that she leave; he didn't know who she was. She would go for a walk or a drive. After a while, Dad would not allow this "stranger" to take his car.

Can't stay at the house, can't take the car

Mom had her own set of keys, but she wouldn't take the car if he said no. He would stand by the car so she couldn't "steal" it. Mom is a pacifist and probably wasn't up for opposing Dad over this... Or perhaps it was easier to just not engage in Dad's behavior because it would pass.

On at least one occasion, Mom called me from the emergency department at the nearby hospital to say she had been sitting there for a number of hours waiting to go home, crying. Not one professional at the hospital reached out to find out why this elderly lady was there in the first place.

That's a story for another time. Dad would recognize Mom when she returned, but only for a short time.

Married to 2 women?

As Dad continued to lose touch with reality, he would wake in the night to find he was in bed with someone he didn't know. He would kick Mom out of bed.

My 80-plus year old mother with osteoporosis was now sleeping on the couch every night. They had another bedroom but it was upstairs and Mom was afraid Dad might wander off in the middle of the night, so she stayed where the doors could be monitored.

Mom got very little sleep for a long time. Dad pulled me aside one time during his progression in the disease and told me he needed a lawyer. Why? I ask confused. Because he was married to 2 women. I said to him, "No, you're just married to Mom."

This may also explain why he was kicking mom out of bed. As he was sundowning or waking in the night, he didn’t recognize her. I cannot imagine the fear and confusion Dad must have felt. And the pain this caused Mom. She must have felt helpless and so alone.

Read part 2 here.

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