This article about hockey great Stan Mitika and his decline into dementia. Many parallels with this family and ours and possibly yours if you are reading this post. Stan and my mom, Judy, were persons with a dynamic personality, successful – working decades to have a happy retirement, and extremely healthy physical body.
Alzheimer’s isn’t about losing your keys, it is about your mind slowly betraying you for years until you finally don’t recognize yourself, your family or personal boundaries with strangers.
It’s the little things that slowly kill your heart, seeing your mom not be able to walk without tripping over a chair because she walked into it, watching her use a fork and tip it upside down so the food falls all over her, that she doesn’t notice the food missed it’s mark, it hurts when she now sucks her toothbrush like a straw instead of brushing with it, and that you tread a thin line in suggesting how to use the brush because that might get her angry.
It’s a hundred little things like this everyday that make you wonder where your mom went, and who is this toddler that has invaded her body and needs an incredible amount of help to just get up, get dressed, do any personal grooming and eat. They are called ADLs, Activities of Daily Living. My most needs help with most and has been assessed to be given the care you would provide to an 18 month old.
So like the Mitika’s, we are left with the shell of a body that at first glance you think is the same Judy, but upon closer inspection – the lights are out in her eyes, she mumbles and doesn’t think to look directly at you (but always at my chin or right shoulder), and her gate is uncertain. But worst of all – the charming, smart and gregarious mom you had – now lives an existence that is weepy and silent with bursts of anger. She’s usually dirty and confused.
Like Jill Mitika says- “The Stan we knew is gone. Completely gone”. I understand that concept and respect the memory of my mom in the functional body her mind has betrayed. I mourn what my mom used to be, and try to support the weepy, angry and silent one I’m with.
If you’re reading this – I’d bet you can relate. Watching my mom just try to navigate her life with a brain that has left her deprived of all the ways she can take care of herself is maddening. After dementia ravishes her brain – Amy and I are left to love what is left of her, and take care of her.
She is a body that used to be our mom. We’re doing our best here. I miss her every day.