My mother Avis is 85 years old this year. She has had signs of memory loss for a couple of years now but only minor. She was diagnosed with mild dementia in 2006, but none of us knew enough to know what was coming or recognize it when it began progressing.
She lived with my brother for the last two years, and I visited her in March for her birthday; she seemed fine. In May she began obsessing on some things in her past and getting herself worked up over them. By June, she had become paranoid and afraid. She thought her life was in danger, and her behavior became very suspicious and odd.
She started imagining things, mixing up facts, hiding her possessions and closing the drapes in her room. One morning my brother woke up, and she had called 911 and told them that he was trying to kill her. She was truly terrified. My brother did not know how to react.
He called the doctor’s office and took her into emergency. She spent the next three weeks in a senior psych ward getting medication and treatment. She is stabilized now and doesn’t have the paranoia and fear thanks to medication. She is in middle stages of Alzheimer’s, and we are learning as a family how to cope with the loss of this bright woman. Losing her mind was the one thing she feared most.
Mom and I used to write poems together when we were worried, waiting or just had something emotional to say. I wrote this poem the day after hearing about all of this happening while I waited to board a plane to go be by her side.
Her Mind Went Traveling
Her mind went traveling today,
It packed its bags and slipped away.
It wanders old paths and memory’s lanes
and her dementia holds the reins.
It travels down roads that were not taken
and desires things long since forsaken.
It dwells on what she should have done
and fights old battles lost and won.
It relives talks that once she had
and remembers happy times and sad.
It replays her life again, again.
Her dementia adds what might have been.
It plays games and tricks her senses.
It concocts lies and it convinces.
It exaggerates her greatest fears
And gives her reasons for her tears
It jumbles memories all together
and forgets the truths that she would never.
It confuses facts, people, and places.
Yet remembers forgotten names and faces.
It makes her doubt the ones she loves.
It makes her question all she does.
It shows her things that are not there
and makes her think that we don’t care.
Her mind tries constantly to deceive her
She worries why we don’t believe her.
She says things that anger and annoy us.
Her mind’s filled up with paranoia.
So, is her dementia friend or foe?
That answer we may never know.
It’s stolen her from us, that’s true.
But protects her from her future too.
And why the anger and mistrust?
Why does it make her turn on us?
Her life was grand in so many a way,
What purpose does this deception play?
Does it create these stories to help her cope?
Does it ‘make believe’ to give her hope?
Does it shield her from her own lost mind?
That, in itself, is not so unkind.
Does it help us do what we must do?
Does it lessen the guilt we feel too?
Is deception dementia’s deceiving way,
to get us ALL through this difficult day?
Whatever the reason, we may never know.
But let's travel this together, here we go!
Cause her mind went traveling today.
(It won’t be back. At least not to stay.)