Mom has been having strange hallucinations of late. Each afternoon at about 5:00 p.m., she insists she must go out to work or to meet a friend. My dad realizes the futility in arguing with her, so he readily takes her out for a short walk.
The other day she made herself some tea by pouring water into three cups and said that one of them was for someone else. Then she refused to drink any of them. And, only last night she told my dad that something needed her help. When Daddy inquired as to what it might be, Mom described half an animal on the ground near her bed, possibly a dog. Trying to find humor in the situation, Daddy asked which half needed her help.
To say that Alzheimer’s brains don’t function normally is a gross understatement. In mid- to late-stages of the disease, memory loss and cognitive problems lead to confusion and contribute to false perceptions. As Alzheimer’s sufferers struggle to make sense of their surroundings—to remember objects or recognize faces—their minds construct fabrications to fill in the gaps they are experiencing.
These hallucinations can be positive or even whimsical especially if they are memory-related. One afternoon, as she was brushing her hair, Mom vividly recalled brushing her grandmother’s long hair as a child. We had a whole conversation in which she told me details about her grandmother (for whom I’m named) and how they lived in the same house until her grandmother’s death.
Hallucinations are generally described as a sensory experience of something that does not exist outside the mind. Mom often says her young children are in the next room, and when she can’t find them, she tells me that they must have gone out to play. Hallucinations can take the form of audio or visual events. They can involve smell and taste and even physical sensations. Medicines, including anti-anxiety meds that are often prescribed for Alzheimer’s patients, can sometimes trigger hallucinations.
Alzheimer’s can also induce delusions in its sufferers. Mom has said on any number of occasions that someone in the street is watching her or following us. Her mind cannot hold onto rational thought. She becomes suspicious even of those most close to her, often for no seeming reason or because there’s been a break in her routine.
It must be a lonely and isolating experience to navigate a constantly changing world where your perception of reality is faulty. Established, unambiguous principles and objects that we take for granted have no consistency for someone with Alzheimer’s. Each day brings new and often frightening challenges.
What we can do for our loved ones is to gently enter their reality to calm them as best we can. It is an exhausting experience to find the right strategy that will work to soothe them and bring them back to themselves. Usually, no amount of rational explanation on our part works, though I often find myself trying to explain things to Mom. Humor is a fantastic tool as is distraction. My go-to rule: when in doubt, sing.
As I didn’t visit my parents this week, I’ve been calling to say hello at least once a day. The conversations with Mom are short. I assume that she knows who she’s talking to, though I can’t say for certain. I tell her what I’ve been doing and she tells me I should be careful or make sure I’m not alone or don’t let the animals bite or make sure you do the dishes or some other strange pronouncement. Yesterday, when I said goodbye to Mom, she answered by saying, “I love you a thousand kisses.”
The poetry of Alzheimer’s. That’s something I can hold on to.
Now that Passover is over, we’ve put away our special Passover dishes and reclaimed the food that was prohibited, chief among them flour. As my son was still on vacation from school, I had the great satisfaction of making pancakes for him and his friends. A touch of butter, a lick of real maple syrup…the perfect breakfast.
I often add chocolate chips or chocolate sprinkles to this batter, though if I’m making them for my daughter, I only add colored sprinkles because she doesn’t like chocolate. Go figure.
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3-4 Tbsp brown sugar
1 cup milk
Combine dry ingredients in a small bowl. Make a well in the flour mixture and add milk and egg. Mix well. Batter should be thick but not stiff. Butter a flat pan and spoon batter onto the hot surface. If you are adding chocolate chips to individual pancakes, do this now. Flip pancakes when bubbles start to form around the edges. Remove from heat when cooked through.