For months now, I’ve been waiting for a doctor to say the word, “dementia.” My siblings and I have known that is what is causing our mom to forget so many things and causing her to repeat herself time and time again. We knew dementia was the only explanation for why there were so many incidents with Mom over the past few years. But no one could or would confirm our beliefs.
But have you ever expected an answer to a question, and when you received that expected answer it gave you no relief? It just confirmed your nightmare?
Yeah. That’s how this feels, too.
When the doctor used the words “vascular dementia,” it was a bit of a relief, only because we finally had a diagnosis and it confirmed that my siblings and I were not insane (well…not for this reason, anyway). It’s also a slight comfort to be able to say to someone, “Look, my mom has dementia so she might not remember you after today.” It gives us a word to use to explain our mom’s behavior, a word we can use with certainty.
But today, after using the word a few times and having it flit around in my brain, it just makes me so fucking sad. This diagnosis means that my mother will never, ever get better. She will never, ever remember more than she does at this moment. If you were to meet her today and again tomorrow and again next month, she would be meeting you for the first time.
Our only hope is that between medication and exercising the hell out of her brain, she will slow down the progression of this disease. But it’s all up to her now. This medication is not a magic pill by any means. If Mom doesn’t work her brain by doing jigsaw puzzles and reading and word jumbles, then even that pill can’t slow things down much. But there are physical issues, too. If she stopped smoking, she could slow the disease down. If she can control her diabetes better through nutrition, she can slow this down. If she can keep her blood pressure and cholesterol at good levels, she can maintain her memory as it is now. It’s completely doable….but must feel daunting.
And then the neurologist used the word “Alzheimer’s.” The only way to truly know if someone has Alzheimer’s disease, is to place a slice of their brain under a microscope. Obviously that isn’t going to happen, but with Mom’s family history of dementia and Alzheimer’s, the doctor felt fairly confident that her memory loss was also a part of Alzheimer’s disease.
You know, that word felt like a slap in the face. I don’t think I fully expected to hear the word, and although it didn’t change the diagnosis at all, it still stung. My mother’s initial reaction was, “Well…at least I have life insurance.” I reassured her that this wasn’t a death sentence (yet), but now after thinking about it for a day, I completely understand her reaction. It *does* feel like a death sentence. We watched one of my grandmothers die from Alzheimer’s and it was absolutely horrific. She could no longer talk by the end and was literally a shell of the woman she once was. And maybe that was what Mom was thinking about.
But the doctor said to my mother, “Don’t just give up on life because what I told you.” The doctor often sees patients just shrug and say, “Well, that’s that. I’m doomed,” which is basically what Mom’s initial reaction said, too. The doctor said that if she works hard and kicks and screams, she can at least maintain her cognitive health as it is now.
Mom’s posture changed when the doctor said this last bit to her. Mom said that she could do this. She’ll work hard. And if there is one thing just about anyone who knows my mother will tell you, is that she is a damn hard worker. But…usually that hard work has been for other people. I can only hope that through our efforts to encourage her by playing card games and doing puzzles with her, Mom will step up and fight for the memories she has left.
I’ll be honest and say that I don’t have much hope. I know my mother and I know she won’t quit smoking. I think she’ll take her medication and I think she will try to do some mental exercising, but I think part of her has given up.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope Mom’s mind stays on an even keel for a while and I get to have her for a while longer. I hope she works her brain so much she kicks my butt at UNO. She’s been known to surprise all of us a time or two, particularly when it comes to her health. And now I’m hoping for at least one more surprise from her.
Here’s to hoping.
And hard work.
And a cure.