I have seen Alzheimer's take three members of my family: my aunt, my uncle and my mom. You have to experience the disease in order to understand what exactly happens.
Alzheimer's not only makes a person forget, it changes their personality. We didn't realize that mom had Alzheimer's until my dad passed away in December 2002. About a week before he passed away, he told me that he's worried about mom, “she's forgetting.”
My dad compensated for a lot. He never mentioned exactly what was happening. It wasn't until my family and I were with mom more and more that we realized what was going on. It was hard to admit that we couldn't tell whether mom was telling the truth or making something up. Since I lived the closest, I was the one that noticed first hand how Alzheimer's was progressing.
It was hard watching the decline. It started out with mom not knowing how to use the telephone and progressed from there. We finally had to hire a caregiver 24/7 when mom let someone in the house and was robbed. Mom did not want anyone in her house, which was another battle.
I had to start counseling, because between trying to cope with my dad's passing, I was also dealing with my mom's diagnosis with Alzheimer's. I even joined a support group, which was very helpful. I eventually quit my job so that I could be around if mom needed anything. The three of us, mom, the caregiver and myself, would go shopping (when mom felt like going) or go to the park. Or I would just spend time with mom, watching TV or just visiting with her during her quiet time in the afternoon when she would watch TV or listen to her Slovak music.
The music was great therapy. During the last year, mom was in and out of the hospital with uti’s and blood clots in her legs. It was during these hospital visits that I would take the tape player and play her music. I would spend the afternoon watching mom fold a towel over and over again and be in her own world. She was happy and content. As the disease progressed, I feel that she did know who her children were. A few weeks before she passed, she was in one of her lucid moments. She told my sister that she was tired, she didn't want any tubes, and that she wanted to see the boss (my dad).
Later on that day I was with mom alone, and I gave her permission to go home and see dad. I couldn't bear to watch her in her wheel chair not being able walk and move without any problems. Towards the end, mom reverted back to her childhood language. It was a good thing that our caregiver was able to understand Slovak, because mom didn't speak English, just her native language.
On October 11, 2006, mom passed away in her own home, just the way she wanted to. The whole ordeal was the hardest thing that I ever had to deal with. It was a long road, with ongoing grieving. I was sad that she was gone, but I realized that she was free and that she didn't have Alzheimer's anymore.
It's been almost two years since mom has been gone, and I often say to myself, “After Alzheimer's, now what?”