Dementia, My Mother's World

Happy New Year!  7:30 am.  Just getting ready to roll out of bed, shower, and prepare for church when.....RING!  The telephone is ringing on New Year's Day at 7:30 am.  On the other end is the nurse where my mother lives in an assisted living community.  "I wanted to let you know that we have sent your mother, by ambulance, to Lexington Medical Center.  We found her in the floor and she could barely tell us what her name was.  She was showing symptoms of a stroke so we felt it best that she go to the emergency room."  I asked a few questions and agreed that they made the right decision. I called our Minister of Music to let him know I would not be at church to play the piano for worship.  Happy New Year.

When I arrived at the hospital, my mom was asleep.  The EKG, blood pressure cuff, and IV had all been attached to her frail little body.  She looked peaceful enough, but I had no idea what was wrong or what the prognosis was.  The nurses were great and the doctor was very thorough.  After a CAT scan, pelvis x-ray, chest x-ray, and a urine analysis, it was determined that she did not have a stroke.  The urine test though showed that she had a severe Urinary Tract Infection (UTI).  She was also running a high fever.  UTIs and other infections can really mess with a person's mind, especially if she has dementia.  Every time my mother gets sick, her dementia worsens, at least for a while. 

Because her short-term memory is completely gone, mom didn't know where she was or why she was at the hospital.  Her speech was still a little slurred and she was still so confused.  But through it all, she was still cooperative, didn't complain, and was her sweet little self.  What a tremendous blessing that my mom's world is still, for the most part, a content and happy one.

She stayed in the hospital for 5 days and then was transferred to the skilled/rehab facility on her campus where she lives.  She has been gaining her strength back and working hard in physical therapy.  Still not knowing where she is, telling the nurses occasionally, "I'm in the wrong room!", and wandering some, she is STILL content and cooperative for the most part.  She has had one anxiety attack which was brief where her oxygen level dropped, but she is going back to "her room" on Tuesday! 

My dad passed away six years ago, shortly after we moved my parents to the assisted living community. Once my dad passed, it was like that chapter in her life came to a close.  She still knows about him and has good memories, but my mom doesn't speak of him often except to say on occasion, "That Mahlon was a good guy.  I really miss him."  Lately, though, she seems to just sleep a lot, eat when it's meal time, and share mine and my sister's adoption story every chance she gets.  If you visit long enough, you could possibly hear it several times.

This morning around 7:30 am, I received a phone call from her nurse saying that she (my mom) was trying to call my dad on the telephone.  The nurse wasn't aware that my dad had passed away 6 years ago, and when I told her that, she said she was so sorry.  She asked me if I wanted to speak to my mom and I said, "Sure."  Mom got on the phone and said, "What is Mahlon's telephone number?"  I told her our old home number and she said, "Seems like I could remember that."  Well, that seemed to satisfy her and the nurse didn't call back. 

I've learned through my experience with my mom and watching her function in this strange world called dementia, that the best way to deal with it is to enter into it with her.  If she thinks she is in the wrong room, then comfort her by telling her she will be in her room soon.  If she wants to call my dad, give her the phone number.  If she thinks she's already had lunch, don't argue, just go with the flow.  The dementia world is one of fear.  They aren't sure where they are, who the people are around them, and what is going on. Arguing with them to get them to understand something that they can't figure out just frustrates them even more.  If they're not comforted immediately, it can also make them angry and push them further into their unknown world.  As a result, the person arguing with them becomes frustrated and even hurt because this person that they love is not behaving like the person they have known for most of their lifetime.  "Why is my mother speaking to me this way?  What have I done to make her so angry?"  NOTHING- absolutely nothing.  They are reacting to the fear inside of them and much of the time they are trying to compensate for their lack of memory and cover up that they are really scared.  Compassion is the key.  Soft voice.  Don't get into an argument with them and whatever you do, don't walk out on them.  They need you even if they think they don't. 

In my mother's case, she can't remember anything once you have spoken about it.  When I say her short term memory is gone, that's exactly what I mean. I explain it this way.  It's like her memory card is full and she can't retain anymore information. It's hard for some people to grasp, but literally 2 seconds after we've discussed something, she doesn't even remember the conversation. She cannot process any more data. My best illustration of this is when we celebrated Christmas a year ago. My brother-in-law told my mom on their way out the door that she must have been good this year to get all of those presents.  My mom said, "Did we open presents?"  We had just completed opening presents 10 minutes earlier and she couldn't remember it.  The bright side was that she could go back to her apartment and experience the joy of each present all over again because she didn't remember.

                                    Me, Mom, and my sister, Michelle on Christmas Day 2010

My mom's dementia world- one where there is no concept of time or a calendar, occasionally fearful, alone, confused, but mostly happy and content. Don't fight their world. Enter into it gently and compassionately. Comfort your loved one the best you can. Remember every moment is just that- a moment where much of the time it is filled with uncertainty and doubt.

This is much like our world even when we live in reality.  Don't we function much of the time in uncertainty and doubt?  It's a scary and lonely place to be.  But as Christians, we don't have to function that way.  We have a Savior, Jesus Christ, that we place our complete hope and trust in.  We never have to doubt.  We just have to trust Him to take care of us and to do what's best for us.  Even when we don't understand why or what is happening in the moment, we can lean on Jesus and not be afraid.  He came into this world and conquered the greatest fear of all- death!  He is full of compassion, love, mercy and grace.  "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths."  Proverb 3:5-6
 My Pleasure,


  1. Melanie, you have captured the essence of memory loss in the end of this post with such good precision. We are dealing with it too, and it's scary for both parties. So hard not to react emotionally. Reassurance and comfort are not our first instinct, but excactly what's needed. What a gift you give your mom in this.


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