The (Short) Story of my Mama

mama in her element


My beautiful mama was diagnosed with dementia when she was sixty years old. They called it Mild Cognitive Impairment to start with, but we were told that it would most likely progress into Alzheimer’s Disease. In fact, it was Early Onset Alzheimer’s as she was diagnosed under the age of sixty-five. It has been a slow progression for mom. Initially, she was able to do most things as usual. But then she lost her driver’s license, and with that lost her independence. Soon after, she was unable to cook on her own. Navigating the kitchen with all the cupboards and drawers became difficult. And I will never forget the day she realized she couldn’t type anymore. How sad and frustrated she was, sitting at the computer and her fingers just couldn’t find the right keys. She had been a very good typist and completed her masters in Counselling Psychology only a decade earlier. Those first few years when she was aware of what she could no longer do were so hard.

Mom had always been very active and healthy. She loved the outdoors and was an avid hiker, runner, and skier. She also meditated daily and did yoga long before Lululemon made it cool. But over the years, her Alzheimer’s affected her ability to do what she loved. Running was ok for awhile, but then we worried she would get lost on her own. Hiking became hard because she lost her depth perception and the roots and rocks became hard to navigate. And skiing, well you can imagine how hard that would be! We would stop to wait for her and she would ski right on past us without knowing. Not to mention her inability to navigate the terrain and all the other skiers. Yoga was one thing she kept up for awhile. Although early on, she needed extra help getting into poses. Following verbal directions just wasn’t easy for her. Thankfully, she was able to walk for many years — on easy trails or pavement. Even today, we get her up and about for short walks.

The hardest time we’ve had was this past year. Last fall, our family came to the conclusion it was time to move mom into a care facility. She needed 24 hour care and it had become too much for my dad and a full-time caregiver. It was a really tough decision, but we needed more help. It also seemed as though she wasn’t aware of her surroundings anymore. She constantly asked to go home, even when she was at home. So last October, we moved her into a nice, new facility close to home. We knew the transition would be hard, but we had no idea just how hard. It quickly became apparent that she was aware enough of her surroundings to realize everything was completely different. Her room, her bed, the food, the smells, the sounds and the people that were trying to care for her – it was all different. Mom became super agitated and angry. She got upset very easily and it was hard to calm her down. Getting her to do anything, whether it was eating a meal or changing her clothes was met with extreme frustration. It was honestly heart wrenching to see, and leaving her at the end of every visit was awful. I can’t tell you how many times I walked out of that place only to sit in my car and cry.

Thankfully since then, things have gotten much better. We had a roller coaster of a winter, adjusting her medications and seeing caregivers come and go. But by the spring we saw signs of improvement. Mom started to calm down and slowly adjust to her new “home.” Now she is familiar with her caregivers and really seems to connect with a few of them. Her days are very calm, quiet and routine, which seems to work well for her. And our family can rest easy knowing she is well cared for.

One thing that has never changed, is her love of music. It may have even grown. Every time I visit her, we sit together and play old songs that I know she loves. Her face lights up and she smiles and laughs. She taps her toes and sometimes starts clapping. And often she even remembers the lyrics and sings along. Music is the key to her old self. It is the connection to my real mama. The one who snuggled me and stroked my hair when I was upset. The one who listened to all my ups and downs. The one who made everything ok. Oh man, do I ever miss her.

Alzheimer’s is a shitty disease. Definitely awful for the person who has it, but also so difficult for family, close friends and caregivers. As Jann Arden described it, “Losing someone an inch at a time is extremely hard.” It is like tearing a band aid off really slowly. There is an underlying pain that is easy to ignore, but once in awhile you rip a few hairs out and the grief is enough to bowl you over.

This Sunday, I will be doing the Climb for Alzheimer’s in honour of my mama and to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society of BC. The Society does great work; giving grants for research into the causes and possible cure for Alzheimer’s, as well as promoting public awareness and offering support for caregivers and patients. Obviously, this is very personal for me, but I am sure everyone out there knows someone who has suffered from Alzheimer’s. And it’s important to remember that it’s not just on old person’s disease. John Mann, lead singer of the Spirit of the West, was diagnosed when he was fifty years old. Fifty. That’s not old.

Any amount of support of my Climb for Alzheimer’s is much appreciated.


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Any amount of support of my Climb for Alzheimer’s is much appreciated.