My mother has Alzheimer’s disease. She has been in a locked “memory care” facility for over 6 years now. When I last saw her, this was the dialogue.
Mom: Who are you?
Me: I’m your son, Charles.
Mom: I don’t believe that.
That’s the longest most cogent conversation I have had with her in a few years. Usually it is just a word or two. More on that in moment.
Mom, who is 87, thinks she is about 28. I am 63 and have gray hair. Mom sees me and thinks, “There is no way that guy can be my son. He’s older than I am.”
I understand what it is like to watch a family member begin the long downward mental slide of Alzheimer’s. At first, it is frustrating, and maddening, as they keep repeating questions and forgetting what you just told them. But, you have to guard against getting angry with them. And, testing them with questions is not such a good idea either. “Do you remember my name?” You are hoping for a good answer, but you are making them feel uneasy because they don’t know the right answers.
Later, it is just depressing. They look like your family member, but their brain is gone. It’s very sad.
My Mom could cover up her lack of memory surprisingly well. She would answer a question with a question, such as, “Why do you ask me that?” Or she would change the subject. And, she developed these great generic little sayings. When you would arrive she would say, with apparent delight, “You’re here! How long has it been since last time?!”, hoping for a clue from you. At first I thought she meant it, but once when I had just seen her the day before, I caught on.
Our family figured out a strategy for visiting her. She could not hold up her end of any conversation, and you would get tired of conducting a monologue. So, we will visit in small groups. We will sit down together, with her in the group. Then the rest of us will catch up with each other. Mom can listen, and feel like she is part of the conversation, but does not have to make any input, or answer any questions.
A person with mild Alzheimer’s can appear to be OK mentally for short periods of time. They can fool an attorney and seem to know what they are doing when they sign a new Will. Most attorneys don’t take the time, or have the skills, to really question an older client to see whether they truly understand what they are doing. Many of my Will contest and Trust Contest cases involve a document signed by someone who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.