A woman with Alzheimers in an armchair watches tv with a window showing the sunrise behind her while her adult daughter watches her from the doorway drinking coffee

Letting Go of Who My Mom Was

One of the challenges of caregiving is letting go of who my mom has been and making space for who she is now. Alzheimer's disease can change personality, behaviors, and even likes and dislikes. Familiar parts of someone I've known my entire life are now gone.

One thing that has changed about Mom since her diagnosis is her coffee drinking. Every morning in my childhood I'd wander into the kitchen and smell the familiar smells of coffee brewing. My mom drank hers black and my dad put in a splash of milk and two Equal packets. When I was in college, they started using a French press for just the two of them.

Old habits

After Dad passed away, Mom continued making a full carafe of coffee every morning. Like trying to change the course of a well-established river, it's hard to break a habit that runs so deep.

She drank it black in the morning and loved using whatever was left to make an iced coffee with sugar-free syrup for an afternoon pick-me-up.

Symptoms begin to creep in

Then we started noticing Mom was struggling to remember where she parked her car and needed directions to get to stores she had been going to for 20 years. She was also having trouble sleeping and the doctor advised her to cut back on caffeine.

She stopped drinking her afternoon iced coffee but kept her morning cup. And she started telling everyone over and over the same funny story about her dog and the coffee grounds.

Fading habits

When she was getting ready to move out of her home to live with me and my family, I had a moving company go through her house with her and write down everything she wanted to bring with her. I had listed her coffee pot with the kitchen items because I knew she would want her own familiar things.

But she told the movers that she didn't need it. She told them she didn't drink coffee.

Mom lives with us now and she still doesn't drink any coffee. She doesn't have problems sleeping anymore and we have a full pot every morning on the kitchen counter, but the habit has been erased.

It was erased by Alzheimer's disease.

Subtle habit changes in Alzheimer's

Another new trait I don't recognize in Mom is how much she now watches TV. My mom had very strict rules about television growing up, we rarely watched movies or TV shows. My dad loved watching movies after we went to bed, but my mom would always fall asleep in the middle of the film - no matter how exciting or interesting.

If my sister and I tried to sneak the TV on while she was gone and got caught, we were punished. Our grandparents' house was a haven because Grandma let us watch as much TV as we wanted.

A few years after Mom's diagnosis, I couldn’t believe it but she started reporting to me on the phone that she was trying to figure out the TV so she could watch the news.

Soon she watched it every day and then never missed her favorites: "Wheel of Fortune," "Jeopardy," and "The Voice." When she wasn't going to be home, she recorded them and watched them later.

I know TV-watching is common with people living with dementia, but I am still amazed that this is my same Mom, the one who never let us watch TV.

Changes in likes and dislikes with Alzheimer's

My mom is more than just her likes and dislikes, of course. She is still herself in so many ways, but I find myself grieving those parts of her that have changed. I want my old mom back, the one before this disease.

Yet I am trying to let go of the things that I can't change and make room for who she is now. My kids also have a mother who doesn't allow much screen time (old habits die hard!) and they love going to their grandma's room and watching her shows with her.

They don't mind that my mom loves TV and they are making memories with her. I am glad for that connection they can have and I am learning to embrace who my mom is now.

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