Today is my blog’s first anniversary. If I look back to what I was writing a year ago, I can almost make believe we are in a holding pattern, that the “near distant future” will be a long time coming. Although it is unclear how much time remains, we are aware each day, each month, each year, that Alzheimer’s will soon claim all of Mom.
It is not always easy to keep my emotions in check. In my darker moments, I cry for the loss of my beloved mother; I achingly accept her replacement, the sweet simple woman who has trouble remembering who I am.
Each week I visit Mom, it is new for her, but for me, there is a pattern to our weekly interactions, almost a routine of where we go and what we do. It doesn’t matter how many times we drink coffee in the same café, or window shop in the same stores. What matters is that we are together. We enjoy ourselves. I love those moments of absolute joy and laughter as much as she does.
What have I learned during this past year? Here are my top five tips on dealing with someone who has Alzheimer’s. They are not easy to achieve.
Live in the now. The power of the present allows Mom to laugh and sing and enjoy life fully without the pressure of having to remember the past or plan for the future.
Change the way you speak. Alzheimer’s sufferers don’t remember things. It is pointless to ask, “do you remember…?” It places needles stress on Mom to try to remember. Instead of, “Do you remember I spilled my coffee last week?” you can say, “Last week I spilled my coffee.”
Throw out your anger. Anger is a counter-productive emotion in the best of times. How much more so when you’re dealing with an Alzheimer’s patient. Mom does not act out of malice; she simply cannot help herself. It makes Mom extra tense and irrational when we are angry with her, which in turn prompts her own angry, venomous reactions.
Shield them as much as possible. Stay away from noisy environments. Keep a watchful eye. Always be where she can find you. Avoid upsetting topics like the death of a loved one (I mean, Mom thinks her father is still alive though he’s been dead for more than 16 years).
Be their active memory. Play games, sing songs, show her photos of her grandchildren, watch old movies, read poetry. Carry within you the precious moments that make up a lifetime of blessings.
If you have gone through this—or are presently going through this—with someone you love, I encourage you to talk and write about it. I have felt truly supported this past year by the readers of this blog, and I thank you. It makes me realize that my family and I are not alone in this experience.
Incidentally, in case any of you were wondering, Terri the doggie, who lives across the hall, has visited Mom several times now. And, of course, she loves it.
In honor of Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish new year for trees, here’s a delicious gluten-free cake that incorporates dates, one of the seven species of fruits and grains specifically described in the Bible as special to the Land of Israel.
Peanut Butter Date Bars
Ask my brother-in-law, Zeev, about the parade of desserts I’ve made him eat in my efforts to find a tasty gluten-free dessert option for him. This one literally takes the cake! This recipe makes enough for a small “loaf.” You may wish to double it.
½ cup natural peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)
½ cup date spread
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp salt
Peanuts for decoration
In a small bowl, mix all ingredients until well blended. Transfer to an oiled baking dish. Decorate the top with a few peanuts. Bake at 350° for 20-30minutes or until the cake sets.
* Some of you will recognize this line as lyrics from Sondheim’s Into the Woods, in which fairy tale characters have three successive midnights to overturn a spell. There is a fatal flaw in this gorgeous movie (which I am happy to discuss privately so as not to give anything away), but on the whole, it does justice to the magic of the musical.