Of all the things that happened today, Mom remembers that I spilled my coffee. Yep. All over my bag, on the chair, table and floor. We helped clean it up, and the waitress kindly made me a new one.
Why do Alzheimer’s patients remember some things and not others? What was significant about my spilling coffee that made Mom remember?
Spilling coffee isn’t a traumatic event, but it does have a lot of drama. “Oh, no!” “Are you hurt?” “Did you get burned?” Mom went into "mom mode." She wanted to protect me, make sure I was ok. In that instant, she was sure of who we were, and what our respective roles were. It was the drama that stayed with her.
Emotional events are memory triggers. I still recall the time my parents bought me an easy-bake kids’ oven for getting a good report card in elementary school; or when Mom cut her finger deeply on a pull-top can lid. (Perhaps these events had a significant impact on me. Here I am writing a cooking blog. And I am always cautious opening cans.)
If you are living in a fog where remembering is difficult, these emotional triggers are so powerful they rise to the surface. With Alzheimer’s, recent memories go first. In fact, the loss of recent events may be the first sign of Alzheimer’s. The past, in contrast, is deeply encoded in our brains. We’ve had practiced recall of past events that make those memory pathways easier to access. Some studies suggest that even if you don’t consciously remember your 4th grade teacher, your mind rehearses those memories. They are always with you.
Mom has moderate memory loss. Today, I was her beloved sister Barbara. “You’re my best sister,” she told me. Miriam is a young child, not the 50-year old (gulp) woman standing next to her. I did my best to accept that my past is often missing from her present; I’ve learned not to contradict her because that only makes her flustered.
As I was leaving, Mom asked when she would see me again. “It’s been ages since I saw you last,” she cried. “I hope you can visit again in the near distant future.”
That’s where Mom lives now. The near distant future. She is aware of having memory loss, aware of the confusion which seems to penetrate her present, but she cannot contextualize it.
Eventually, Alzheimer’s will rob her of even her long-term memories. I don’t want to contemplate that. But I do know I will be right there with her wherever she goes.
This recipe may bring back memories of midnight snacks, or perhaps it will merely satisfy your taste-buds. Here in Israel, it is difficult to find salsa on the shelves. There are plenty of tomato-based products, like matbucha, a Moroccan cooked tomato salad, for example. There are tons of tomato pastes and sauces on the market, too. I get tired of looking for the occasional sightings of salsa, so I make my own.
When we eat tacos, tortillas or just want to snack on corn chips, we use this homemade salsa as an accompaniment.
2 cups crushed canned tomatoes
1 green pepper chopped finely
½ cup onion chopped finely
¼ cup fresh parsley chopped
1½ Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp red pepper flakes (or more for a hotter sauce)
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp salt (or more to taste)
½ tsp black pepper
In a large bowl combine ingredients. Let refrigerate for at least an hour for flavors to mix.