Helping Caregiver Mom Remember: Coping with Dementia

“Am I 90 Yet? Mom asked. I heard those words many times the last year of mother’s life. My mother’s memory was fading. Nevertheless, she was still sharp in certain areas, for example; remembering her standing Saturday morning hair appointment, biweekly manicure or that I was too slow in picking up her dry cleaning.

On our weekly luncheon outings, I would choose restaurants that she had always enjoyed and that were familiar to her. One of her favorites was a cozy Chinese restaurant nestled inside a strip shopping center. Before dementia set in, it was typical for her to look over the extensive menu and then choose her favorite item which was always chicken with steamed vegetables and white rice and hot tea. On one particular day peering over the large menu I said, “Mom, are you going to order your favorite meal and she stared blankly back at me and said, “ What do I like?” Through my distress, I was able to quickly reply, “You always order chicken and steamed vegetables, that’s your favorite.”

My heart was growing heavy during those days with the realization that I was losing the strong, vibrant mother I had always known. Her glow was replaced with confusion and emptiness in her beautiful blue eyes. The further along her dementia progressed the more difficult it became to keep smiling but I had to learn to come to a place of acceptance and stay strong for her. Mom was also coming to the realization that she was losing her memory and a sense of fear and aggravation started to permeate her. Love gave me the strength to hide my tears when we were together.

I continued to take her into situations to try and help regain a sense of dignity and rekindle her memory, if even for a short period of time. I searched my mind for additional ways to help her remember. A CD player was purchased and songs that she enjoyed in years past were played in her room and in my car. Joy would fill my heart when she would smile and comment, “Oh, I love that song, I remember that from years ago.”

As time went on it became abundantly clear that her lucid moments were becoming far and few between, however, I became more determined to conduct what I refer to as her memory therapy.

There is one very special day in particular that I will always cherish and consider to be one of the most successful therapy sessions so to speak. The Sound of Music was playing at a local dinner theatre and it was her favorite musical as I recall from my childhood. Wanting to make everything perfect for her on that day, I had called ahead and reserved a table on the floor level closest to the theatre actors as her eyesight was poor and she walked with a cane. The lights were lowered and the play commenced. One song after another was a sheer delight and I turned to look into my mother’s eyes and tears started to roll down her milky fair-skinned cheeks. I put my arm around her and said mom, “You remember, don’t you?” She smiled and shook her head yes.

On the day of her surprise birthday party, she would finally hear the answer she had longed for and I came to realize that it would be the turning point in her life. The family rented the top floor of her favorite restaurant. As she and I were waiting for the elevator she would comment how this person or that one would look kind of familiar like someone she once knew. The people she thought looked familiar from years past, were actually close family members quickly making their way up the stairs to get to her party before she did. Upon entering the banquet room, everyone hugged and gave her happy birthday wishes. I turned to mom and said, “Today, You are Now 90.” She smiled at me and I felt a sense of calm come over her as if she were holding out for those words to reach her delicate ears. I knew somewhere inside she resigned on that day and started preparing for her next journey, the journey home. Mom passed 6 months later.

Living and losing a loved one to dementia is a difficult road to travel for the person affected by the loss of memory and also loving family members and friends. Through my experience, I gained strength, and compassion and patience. I learned that “Love takes time, and Love Makes Time.”