What happens to you when I am no longer your daughter in your mind? When you don’t seem to know me anymore? Does it mean I no longer exist to you? Does it mean you no longer exist as my mother? Do I become, in essence, mother-less? How do I carry on then? How does ANYONE move forward when the cornerstone has been removed from the building they have depended on for shelter for all of their years? When YOU collapse…don’t we? When I subtract constant support in my life from the instability of my own spontaneity, what does that equal to? How is that even possible…unless it equals pain?
I watch as pieces of you fall away from my grasp. I hear how you struggle to make sense out of your life now when not all the pieces are there anymore and those that are don’t quite fit. The people and the places remain, but you don’t register them as before. Initially you fought the memory loss with anger, frustration and sadness. It was very difficult to witness. You got so impatient with yourself, going absolutely blank-faced when attempting to do something as you’d done without a thought hundreds of times before. Now, more often than not, I see you lay down with it. Almost as if you are giving in to the enemy – a new fragility of your mind. I don’t know which is worse. Watching as you fight an invisible and mighty force that ends up flooding your brain with anxiety and fear, or seeing you letting go of your faculties as if you didn’t know you had them to begin with.
I’ve just been mourning my father’s death from not even a year ago. Now I feel as if I need to mourn you, my dear, sweet saving grace. My mother. As you are not the mother who was a parent to me all of my years. It’s of no fault of your own. We are changing places slowly, but definitely. This is no surprise as I’d always assumed it would come to this; but not yet, Mom. You are the one who fought Goliath for your children. You endured the pain and suffering of Job trying to maneuver your girls to safety from the man I have yet to understand myself. You lost everything. Then survived to live another day with strength and courage.
If God were to bless you with long term memory loss I might actually be happy for you. I would see it as a gift, as it was in those earlier years that you were victimized – tortured beyond words…beyond even my horrible childhood memories. Is it irony that puts both you and my father in the same box? Both of you done-in by your minds, through no fault or intention of your own. Seems the very thing that brought you together as kids in high school had torn you apart differently but with the same consequence, into your geriatric years. That punishment exacted on you both as well as for my sister and I, who didn’t get to know our father well because of his disease of Bipolar Disorder and through trying to understand our mother, afflicted with yet another devastating brain disease, dementia.
Nothing tells me more clearly that these diseases, both medical, yet one called a “mental illness” and the other an illness of “old age”, are family diseases. We are all affected whether we love the persons or not, whether we’ve been born to the person’s or not, whether we’ve appreciated the individuals or not, whether we understand the diseases or not, whether we call them mental or medical. Families are affected. Families are in pain everywhere and need to be open about this. One illness doesn’t get to trump another, they are all devastating and potentially scarring to the one with the disease as well as those left in the background.
It’s my turn to be caretaker. To show compassion and respect to my mother. To put aside anger, sadness and painful potential for her loss…so young, so beautiful, loving and giving to us. I go forth and take my place among the remaining generations able to care, maybe even blessed to be able to give of myself to such an amazing woman – once an extremely strong woman, who has done the same for me over and over. I put on my brave face and move forward. She deserves a better me for the here and now, as that is what is left on her worse days.
Be ever present. Take in all of your moments, minutes, seconds. They are the last of their kind.
What is Dementia?
As many as 7% of adults aged 60 and older suffer from dementia—a decline in memory and other mental abilities that make daily living difficult.
Dementia takes a toll on those who suffer from it as well as on their caregivers. Along with problems with memory, language and decision-making abilities, dementia can cause other symptoms. These include changes in mood, such as increased irritability, depression and anxiety. They also include changes in personality and behavior.
Forgetting someone’s name, having trouble “finding” the word you want to use, or feeling irritable, however, does not necessarily mean you have dementia. It’s not unusual for people older than 60 to have mild, occasional, short-term memory loss. And a variety of health problems can cause some of the same symptoms as dementia. Depression, for example, can cause temporary confusion and memory problems. (healthinaging.org)
What causes age-related memory loss?
- The hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in the formation and retrieval of memories, often deteriorates with age.
- Hormones and proteins that protect and repair brain cells and stimulate neural growth also decline with age.
- Older people often experience decreased blood flow to the brain, which can impair memory and lead to changes in cognitive skills.
- Older people are less efficient at absorbing brain-enhancing nutrients.
Your executive function controls decision-making, planning, and organization. To combat potential confusion, simplify your choices and get rid of clutter. Clear out your closet to limit your clothing choices, pare down the number of cooking utensils and pots and pans in your kitchen. Label doors, cabinets, and boxes if you can’t remember what’s inside.
MCI often impairs your ability to interact with your visual world, which may include finding your way home and judging distances when you’re driving. For early MCI, you can use GPS in your car and avoid driving during high-traffic times and in unfavorable weather conditions. For more advanced MCI, an on-the-road driving evaluation with a driver rehabilitation specialist can help determine if you have the skills to continue driving.
Your ability to recall words and use them properly may become impaired. But continuing to chat with family and friends is the best way to keep language skills fresh. When you can’t think of a word figure out another way to get the meaning across—or just say that you’re having trouble finding the precise word. Getting anxious will only inhibit recall, so pause to allow for the possibility that the word may or may not come back to you, then move on in your conversation.
More effort may be required to recall someone’s name, remember shared experiences, or hold up your end of a conversation. However, it’s vital to regularly stay in touch with friends and family, beyond the telephone. Maintaining social interaction is beneficial for preserving cognition, and many of the most pleasurable experiences are those you share with others. Regularly schedule any activity you enjoy—dancing, a visit
Harvard Health Letter: November 2013, a special health report published by Harvard Health Publications.
The same proactive regimen that contribute to healthy aging and physical vitality also contribute to a healthy memory.
- Exercise. Regular exercise boosts brain growth factors and encourages the development of new brain cells. Exercise also reduces the risk for disorders that lead to memory loss, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Exercise also makes a huge difference in managing stress and alleviating anxiety and depression—all of which leads to a healthier brain.
- Socialize. People who don’t have social contact with family and friends are at higher risk for memory problems than people who have strong social ties. Social interaction helps brain function in several ways: it often involves activities that challenge the mind, and it helps ward off stress and depression. So join a book club, reconnect with old friends, or visit the local senior center. Being with other people will help keep you sharp.
- Eat healthy foods. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and drink green tea as these foods contain antioxidants in abundance, which can keep your brain cells from “rusting.” Foods rich in omega-3 fats (such as salmon, tuna, trout, walnuts, and flaxseed) are particularly good for your brain and memory. Eating too many calories, though, can increase your risk of developing memory loss or cognitive impairment.
- Manage stress. Cortisol, the stress hormone, damages the brain over time and can lead to memory problems. But even before that happens, stress or anxiety can cause memory difficulties in the moment. When you’re stressed out or anxious, you’re more likely to suffer memory lapses and have trouble learning or concentrating.
- Get a good nights sleep every night. Sleep is necessary for memory consolidation, the process of forming and storing new memories so you can retrieve them later. Sleep deprivation reduces the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus and causes problems with memory, concentration, and decision-making. It can even lead to depression—another memory killer.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking heightens the risk of vascular degeneration, which leads to memory loss due to constricted vessels. This can mimic alzheimer’s disease.
Resources about memory loss and aging:
Confusion, Memory Loss and Altered Alertness – Q & A about memory loss, what to do if you’re worried about losing your memory, and what to expect as you grow older. (University of Michigan Health System)
Understanding Memory Loss – Uses case-study examples to show different degrees and causes of forgetfulness and other lapses in cognition, with advice for diagnosis and ways to compensate for memory loss. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: National Institute on Aging)
Forgetfulness: Knowing When to Ask for Help – Discusses the distinction between memory lapses and dementia. (National Institute on Aging)
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s – Lists the ten warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease and differentiates them from normal, occasional forgetfulness. (Alzheimer’s Association)