Monday, November 07, 2005

The Nightmare of Dementia

"I've been trying to remember the name of my street," my mother says to me, when I arrive at Loretto, the nursing home where she now lives. “And I finally did!”

"Oh," I ask, “and what is it?" I inquire.

"Ellsworth Ave," she says, and I nod. Yep.

I've given up arguing or explaining.

There is no point in telling her that she hasn't lived on Ellsworth Ave for more than sixty years. She won't remember for even 30 seconds.

She wants me to take her there, now that she has finally remembered, again, for the hundredth time. She remembers very few minutes. I try telling her she lives here, at the nursing home. I try telling her I'm busy and have other plans. I try telling her she’ll miss dinner. Nothing works. She insists that I take her to Ellsworth Ave.

Instead, I take her for a walk. Every little while, she tells me she doesn’t know where she left her car. Or that Pa is home waiting for her and she needs to go home and make dinner for him. If I mention he's dead, she's horrified, for 30 seconds, and then forgets.

As I push her wheelchair past trees with lovely autumn color, she carries on a running monologue repeating certain themes. "I don't know where I am, I've lost the car, I need to get home, I need to check on Grandma. I have to see to Aunt Anna." I’ve never even met her Aunt Anna. I've never even heard of her until now, it was that long ago.

I try to assure her that everything is OK, but of course, it's not OK. Everyone she's looking for is dead. And she is unwell. Her confusion makes things worse. She's living a nightmare.

Her life is a living nightmare. Upsetting for her and terrifying to me. I could be following right behind into that well of darkness.

(Some oriental dream work teaches the student to lucid dream for the purpose of acquiring the necessary skill to wake up and become conscious during the hallucinations that accompany dying so that one can move serenely into the land of the dead. But how can one become conscious in the dream-reality of dying if one is not lucid to begin with?)


Anonymous said...

Is dementia the same as Alzheimer's disease?

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

Alsheimer's is one form of dementia, but there are also others. My mother had a brain tumor that affected her abilities (and may also have Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia.


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