Monday, September 17, 2012

The Blessing of Alzheimer's

Right about now, you're saying 'what'? How could any sane person find a blessing in a disease that takes a once-capable mind and turns it into mush? Well, I am sane (at least I think so, the kids in my life may have other opinions). But I'd discovered that when my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease our whole relationship changed. For the better.

How, you wonder? Well, to be brutally, painfully honest, my mother and I always had a difficult relationship. Towards the end of her 'aware' years, our relationship had deteriorated to such a pitiful state, I felt we were on the brink of termination. That's precisely when the signs of Alzheimer's began to appear. Mom would leave the stove on, she'd lose her keys, she'd forget what she'd been talking about. The right words would just not come out no matter how hard she tried to deliver them. Once, we had to call paramedics, her thoughts and speech were so choppy and disconnected, we'd thought she had had a stroke.

When it became clear that she couldn't live safely on her own anymore, my sister and brother and I made that painful decision to move her into an assisted living apartment. It was a beautiful facility and an even more beautiful apartment, but Mom hated it and us for putting her there. That first year in her new apartment was the worse year of my life. Yet as her memory faded and the disease took more and more control of her mind, a strange thing happened. Mom mellowed! Her doctor explained to me that Alzheimer's bring out the patient's 'true' personality. If a person has always been mean and angry, then they'll become even more canterous. If a patient is sweet and quiet, then the outcome is blissfully childlike and easy to manage. So, what was happening to my difficult mother? Why was she softening and not growing mean-spirited and troublesome to handle? Her doctor did not have an answer for me. Mom's sitution was unusual--even for this seasoned professional.

But I was not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. I believed then as I believe now that her disease was a gift from God. A special blessing that could heal our torn and tattered mother/daughter relationship and bring us around to a better place. If Mom had not gotten Alzheimer's, then we might not be speaking to each other now. And that would be a terrible shame.

But do not get me wrong, dear reader. Our relationship is still difficult, but in new and different ways. Now I'm the parent and Mom's the dependent child. I worry about her constantly and I'm on call 24/7 for any emergency that might pop up. I have to put other family members in place before I can go out of town. But now, Mom appreciates my visits. She's always happy to see me and sometimes cries when I have to leave. The woman who had once criticized and scolded and bossed, now simply says, 'Thank you' and offers a kiss. It's a gesture that never fails to surprise and thrill me, and one that I'll never take for granted. I know the high price Mom has had to pay for this stunning change of heart. She sacrificed her mind, but gained a loving heart. And a loving daughter who is eternally grateful for the blessing of Alzheimer's.


- 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's.
- One in eight older Americans has the disease.
- Alzheimer's is the 6th-leading cause of death in the U.S. and the only cause of death among
  the top 10 in the country that can't be prevented, cured, or even slowed.
- Based on mortality data from 2000-2008, death rates have declined for most major diseases
   while death from Alzheimer's Disease have risen 66% during that same period.

For more information, contact the Alzheimer's Association
Step-daughter Amber Cheatham and I at the 2012 Walk to End Alzheimer



Nic said...

And it's a blessing for your Mum to have some peace. Maybe it was life that gave her her harsh edges and now her real heart can reach out to you.

BTW: Lookin' good ladies!

Heather said...

Glad you both have such a good new relationship, it is indeed a blessing. As Nic said, you and Amber are both looking fab. All the best, x

MiMi said...

Nic, you are so sweet,and so right. I agree that life seemed difficult for her and that probably made the edges harsh. Now that life is simple and organized for her, she is more relaxed and happy. Hope all is well in the Shorten household. Miss ya!

MiMi said...

Heather, it's always so wonderful to hear from you. Thanks for tuning in. Miss ya so much!