What in the World is She Thinking?!

Last updated: August 2022

My mom has been living with her diagnoses of dementia and probable Alzheimer's Disease for a few years now. I have become more acutely aware, even hyper-aware, of changes in her behavior and mostly in her speech.

She has trouble word-finding. She calls my son and husband each other's names pretty much every time. Scott and Sawyer are way too similar in her mind. When she is right, she even corrects herself back wrong again she is so used to it!

My name and my daughter's names also trip her up. The A's and two syllables in Kathy and Avie make them interchangeable as far as mom is concerned.

Naming our kids

I'm sorry. Had I known dementia was going to zap our family, I would have planned our kids' names better!

When picking names, I thought of what they rhymed with and mispronunciations, southern versus northern accents. I thought of family heritage. My daughter's middle name is a combination of her two grandmothers' names. My son's name is taken from my husband's favorite book as a child, which we read while long-distance dating since we couldn't enjoy a movie together. Our romance predates Zoom.

What is she thinking?

I never considered the mental gymnastics our family members might endure due to the ravages of this disease. I say gymnastics, but it's really the opposite, as the brain is less and less able to flex and adapt to people, not even new people, and contextual clues.

My mom tries, with increasing frustration, to hold a conversation. It's more her frustration, which makes me sad for her. My frustration is that I'm not able to help her communicate.

What is she thinking? What's going on in her head? Some diseases seem more of the body. The person can be sharp as a tack and be bedridden. Others seem to strike the mind. The person seems fine until they start to talk, and you can tell something is off. Alzheimer's disease seems to pick up the split and take symptoms from both ends of the spectrum.

Findings from my over-analysis

In my over-analysis, I wonder what my mom is capable of. How far gone is she? How much is here? How much time do we have left? I look at the stages of the disease progression. Some break it down into three. Some seven. Either way, it's not a clean and clear distinction.

Mom can make breakfast - the same thing every day. She can bathe and dress. But she can't balance a checkbook. No way is she going to drive. She knows what day it is, what year.

But mom doesn't know her right from her left all the time. "No, the other left," is what we say humorously. Mom had a mammogram recently. She was asked to raise her right hand over her head. She raised her left, so the tech tapped her other arm. "Oh, yeah! I knew I brought it with me!"

She can be funny in a situation that takes some wit and cleverness and self-awareness, which Alzheimer's disease is determined to wipe out. I'm so glad it hasn't succeeded yet.

How many days are between today and tomorrow?

I don't know how her mind is working these days or how she's processing. Can she figure out how to call me if I go out? Can she answer the phone if I call her? I know how this disease ends. I don't know how fast she'll get there. My daughter said, through tears once, "I don't want to move away, and grandma disappears while I'm gone."

I think I'm afraid that the light that seems to flicker will just go out. Just like that. Today she can talk. Tomorrow she won't. How many days are between today and tomorrow? Can someone tell me that?

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