My mother has dementia. It’s been an intriguing journey figuring out where her mind is and where it’s going. Most days she’s easy to talk with about what she’s doing and what’s happening in her life in this moment. In the afternoons, she becomes vague, a little more paranoid, a little more unstable.
I first realized Mom was having memory issues six or seven years ago. Her cognitive skills were declining, and she’d describe herself as “getting worse” when she got confused. And then, the next time we talked, she’d say, “I’m getting better.” It’s classic behavior with dementia.
Two years ago, a new behavior began, one I couldn’t find in the books. She’d talk and talk and talk about her past. She worried about old friends, and wondered what happened to them, and I’d have to explain that they had died. She worried if they had known that she cared about them. She told stories to anyone who would listen about her childhood, her parents, her friends, trips she made as a girl, and then worried whether she had resolved issues she had had with these people who were important to her. She relived dances with her friends and dates with boys. She thought about people in her life that she had not thought of for years. And she rarely stopped talking, telling, getting her life out for others to see.
It all stopped last summer when she moved into another stage. If I pull out a photograph album with pictures from her life, she can tell me stories about everyone in it. Without the pictures, she doesn’t remember who we’re talking about. She hallucinates, and sometimes talks in riddles, wandering down pathways that circle forward and back and around in an unknown direction. It takes great patience to ask questions and understand where her mind is.
At those times, I am grateful for the time when she told all, when she told so many stories about herself. I listen for the clues in what she’s saying that will tell me which story she is in. When I figure it out, we have such a playful discussion. We walk her path together for a time. And then she turns, and I lose her again.