South Charlotte

I embraced my Mom's Alzheimer's

Mom had exhibited subtle symptoms of Alzheimer's disease for years, but they were mixed with periods of perfect lucidity, so my siblings and I didn't make the connection.

We were all in various stages of denial for quite some time, but the dire reality set in when people told us Mom couldn't remember her way home from a store blocks away from her house.

Taking the keys away was agonizing for us because Mom, at 84, was still fiercely independent. Her anger toward us was hard to endure, and we felt awful that this dreaded time had come.

Not long after, Mom had a mini-stroke and began declining rapidly. Her mobility decreased and she had difficulty dressing and feeding herself. We hired a caregiver to stay with her during the day at her home in South Carolina, and she stayed with my sister at night. But this arrangement was short-lived.

Mom would wake up at night and try to get out of the house, exhausting my sister, who worked full time. And she became abusive to the caregiver, yelling and cursing at her and hitting her. This was not our sweet, good-natured mother.

Mom's doctor prescribed some antipsychotic medication to defuse her anger and combativeness. This behavior is common for Alzheimer's patients, but it was tough for us to witness. The doctor suggested we find a facility to place Mom in. We were devastated.

Mom had always said she never wanted to be put in a "home," that she'd rather die. But we knew we had no choice. We began searching for a facility, and within a couple of weeks, we were able to place her in a memory care facility blocks from my home in Ballantyne.

Leaving Mom at the center was one of the hardest days of our lives. We felt like we had betrayed her wishes. Was she cognizant enough to realize what we had done?

It was hard for me to visit Mom. I had never been around people with dementia, and the residents displayed a wide array of mental and physical functionality. Some folks talked nonsensically while others made guttural noises. A few seemed perfectly normal. People slept in wheelchairs, many cruised around with walkers, and one woman even crawled.

My daughter, Jazlyn, 16, never seemed to be fazed. Her childlike curiosity made it easy for her to empathetically tune into the world of Alzheimer's. She became a great support system for me.

Mom walked around the facility all day trying to find a way out. She constantly asked everyone where her kids were, and she couldn't remember where her room was - all normal behavior when making the adjustment to new surroundings.

Mom wept a lot, lost her appetite and became depressed.

So did I.

I couldn't sleep at night, wondering if Mom was being well cared for, if she was scared, if she was she in pain. Some days I couldn't face visiting her, and other days I was too busy, entrenched in the responsibilities of work and raising Jazlyn. Guilt consumed me. How would I ever be able to enjoy life again?

When Mom moved into her facility two years ago, I honestly didn't think she would live much longer. She was weak, confused and deteriorating. Her gerontologist said she had the cognitive ability of a 4-year-old. I couldn't imagine Mom's condition improving, so I braced for the worst.

But there were two things I didn't consider: her resilient spirit and the power of love as a healing force.

I had to find the strength to care for Mom as she always had for me. I decided to embrace this new version of my mother and her situation whole-heartedly.

And once I did, she began to rally and revive in ways I never would have believed.

Editor's note: In Lisa Moore's new column, "Generations," she will write about the challenges and healing she experiences as a member of the Sandwich Generation - those caring for a parent and a child.