I tried to sit in silence, but it was painful to listen to Mom attempting to answer the doctor’s questions. Mom knew she was having trouble finding the right words. She knew she didn’t know where she lived or what day it was. And she was becoming upset.
“Why are you testing her like this?” I asked. “Can’t you see she doesn’t know the answers? What’s the point?”
Dr. Avshalom had been sent by the insurance company for a home visit to examine Mom’s surroundings and to test her mental acuity in relation to previous tests. He needed to ask these questions—30 in all—to compare her responses to earlier tests. In 2011, she’d answered 24 out of 30 questions. In 2014, there was a decline, but she was still able to answer more than half. Sometime in 2017, she’d answered 8 questions out of 30.
Fair enough, he had a job to do. Daddy and I did our best to hold our tongues, despite our instinctive drive to soothe her hurt feelings, to answer in her stead.
The questions were designed to test Mom’s awareness and understanding of the here and now. What city do you live in? What season is it now? What year is it? What year were you born?
When he asked her father’s name was, we chuckled when she answered “Jack.” We politely explained to the doctor that this was her husband’s name. When the doctor asked who her husband was—a bonus question—she stated that she didn’t have a husband.
The doctor then proceeded to give Mom a series of hypothetical scenarios that would have been humorous if they weren’t so sad.
Q: If you received a telephone call asking you to travel to a meeting in the city right now, what would you do?
A: Mom mumbled a few words, but could shape no coherent answer.
Q: If the public siren sounded to enter a safe room, what would you do?
A: Unfortunately, this is the reality in Israel….Mom had utterly no idea what the doctor was referring to.
Q: If there was a fire in the house, what would you do?
A: “I would run outside and call the police.” Very sensible. Fire must be a word that still conjures danger in Mom’s memory. However, the phone is inside the house, and Mom would never be able to make a call let alone remember to run outside. She’d probably look for the non-existent stairs to the non-existent 2nd floor.
It was terribly sad and frustrating. If only the insurance company doctor could take our word about her decline.
When he held up a pen for her to identify, Mom blustered angrily that she couldn’t be expected to know what that pen was. Finally, one right answer. Sort of. However, the word for “glasses” eluded her.
When the doctor asked her to write her name, she wrote: “write your name.” When he asked her to “copy this” specific figure (a square), she wrote: “copy this.” Literal and practical, although her writing was almost illegible.
I concede that it was remarkable to compare her current acuity to that in earlier tests. We were right about her decline, though it upsets me to see it laid so bare. And it was hard to have to sit there as she was being grilled by the doctor. If we are indeed her protectors, couldn’t we have protected her from this indignity?
My one consolation is that this episode is now gone from Mom’s memory. Her helplessness in the face of understanding reality is unfortunately engrained in mine.
On a brighter note, I am pleased to report that Passover was great! We managed to take a few family photos before the start of the holiday. And Mom did attend part of the Seder. She was confused by the large number of people talking and singing around the table, but those tunes that are ingrained in us bubbled up from her effortlessly. She sang all of the Four Questions, though sadly, she looked at me blankly when I started to sing her lovely haunting tune to Ha Lachma Anya. I would not have predicted that the following day, she would recall the song in its entirety. That is the strange, volatile nature of Alzheimer’s.
By far the best new dish I made on Passover was the sweet and sour chicken with quinoa stuffing. For those Ashkenazi Jews who don’t eat quinoa during Passover, try this dish during the year.
Sweet and Sour Chicken with Quinoa Stuffing
I made this meal for a shared family lunch with my sister- and brother-in-law, their three daughters and nine grandkids, plus my own family of nine, including my sweet grandson, my parents, and Mom’s caregiver. Talk about a wonderful balagan! That is to say that the amounts in the recipe can be halved for less people.
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
8 stalks celery, chopped
1 apple, green or red, chopped
2 cups quinoa
4 cups water
2 tsp cumin
½ cup fresh parsley
½ cup craisins
Salt and pepper to taste
Chicken and Sauce*
10 deboned chicken thighs with skin on
10 chicken legs
½ cup date honey
½ cup ketchup
½ cup apricot jam
2 Tbsp oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp ginger
1 onion, sliced into rings
To prepare the quinoa, fry onions and garlic in oil with celery and spices. Add quinoa and fry for another few minutes. Add water. Bring to a boil then simmer until water is absorbed. Mix in apples, parsley and craisins. In a small bowl, mix sauce ingredients. Place cooked quinoa on bottom of large baking pan. Layer with onion rings. Place chicken parts on top of quinoa. Pour sauce over chicken. Bake at 375° for 45 minutes to an hour.
*This sauce is based on “Tangy Chicken Wings” in Pesach: Anything’s Possible!, by Tamar Ansh, (Targum Press, 2009)