Mom is running a fever and has a cold. Pretty common in winter. In fact, I’m nursing a bad cold, too. It seems that not even the flu shots she got could have prevented this. If Mom were a healthy person, getting over a virus would be relatively easy, but she isn’t a healthy person. She can’t seem to recognize what’s happening to her body, let alone request help. She lay awake in bed one night shivering and shaking, and it was only by chance that my dad woke up to find her suffering. It’s worrying because her cognitive skills seem to be in free-fall. Mom is suddenly uttering nonsensical statements, searching for things that don’t exist, walking at a snail’s pace and sleeping practically the whole day.
If we’re lucky, Mom’s situation will improve when the virus leaves her system. A 2009 study in Neurology,* however, suggests that common colds and other infections may increase the rate of neurological decline in Alzheimer’s patients. As the article explains, our bodies fight disease by producing pro-inflammatory cytokine tumor necrosis factor a (TNF-a) that plays a role in “immune to brain communication. [R]esearch shows that acute systemic inflammation contributes to an exacerbation of neurodegeneration.” Meaning, the very inflammation that our bodies produce to fight infection could be a catalyst for brain degeneration in Alzheimer’s patients.
As children, Mom would nurse my brother and me back to health with special meals, TV watching in bed, and gloriously warmth-inducing hot water bottles. My favorite meal, perhaps still to this day, was the banana mashed into sugary milk. It didn’t matter if it was for fever or great big scrapes on my knees, Mom’s care made all the difference.
I vividly recall the deep concern I once had that my two-year-old would never recover from his high fever, listlessness and loss of appetite. I remember holding him in my lap and trying to feed him his favorite creamy puddings only to be rebuffed by small cries and head shaking. What if he stayed this way, I worried. I was so thankful when he began to eat again and to play. I learned from that experience that children do bounce back, sometimes so quickly it’s as if they’d never been sick. (My son is in his 20s now, and doing quite well.)
Although Alzheimer’s is a progressive degenerative disease, there seems to be a wide individual rate of decline unconnected to internal or external factors. As early as 1994, The Journals of Gerontology** published a study on a “Longitudinal Investigation of Risk Factors for Accelerated Decline” in Alzheimer’s. The study followed 156 patients annually for up to five years. Their results: “The average rate of decline in cognitive function, as measured by the MMSE (mini-mental state evaluation) and DRS (dementia rating scale), becomes more rapid as the disease progresses. Higher education, younger age, and agitation at intake were also significantly related to increased rates of cognitive decline.”
We can’t win this one. As Mom’s disease progresses, I go through enormous emotional loss. She is already lost to me in so many ways. She is not there for motherly counsel, or even for good retail therapy. And yet, though our roles are reversed, we still communicate our love for one another. I crave that fun-loving laughter we share, the hugs she bestows on me. At this point I will take what I can get.
The best thing I can do for myself these days is to make soups to keep away the winter chill. They are comforting and healthy, and "warm the cockles," as Mom would say in her best British accent. I hate missing her like this when she’s still here.
Cauliflower Leek Soup with Jerusalem Artichoke
The Jerusalem artichoke is actually a sunflower species native to North America. It is similar to a potato in its texture but it has the smoky taste of an artichoke. It makes this soup rich in flavor.
1 onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
1-2 heads cauliflower (depending on size), in florets
2-3 Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and sliced
2 leeks, chopped
6-8 cups water
2 bay leaves
1 tsp basil (or ¼ cup fresh)
¼ cup fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Sauté garlic and onion in oil until they begin to brown. Add cauliflower, leeks and artichoke and sauté for another five minutes. Measure water until all vegetables are covered. Add spices. Bring to boil then simmer on low heat for at least an hour. Remove bay leaves. Using a hand-held blender, blend soup right in the pot.