Written by Richard Yusim
Mom died on February 25th, 2021. This wasn’t a total surprise and she did not contract COVID 19. She had suffered a heart attack three days prior to passing. Thankfully, she did not suffer any major pain. Mom left me and lost herself a little at a time. Mom started showing signs of dementia while living alone in 2016. Her dementia began to progress to the point where she first lost her independence. The skills that required her executive functioning and short term memory were the first to be recognized. Tasks such as planning, paying bills and daily procedural tasks became too much. Then her ability to drive went and this was a signal to my family that she would now need to live in an assisted living home.
As these signs of dementia progress, it’s important to first let go of the need for continuity and structure that we may have in our relationships. We have certain basic expectations in our close relationships that rely on communication skills but now new ways of communicating will be required. A loved one’s short term memory loss can easily frustrate family members or others they interact with. It’s natural to remind the person with dementia to a certain point in the beginning stages. Once it’s recognized that the person has dementia, it’s necessary to let go of the need for progression and continuity. The first mistake I made with my own mom is correcting her memory. Not only did I correct her, I was slightly irritated and I perceived forgetting a fact about my life as not caring. This can be difficult when you still want or need your mother to care about you. I now had to stop needing her as her youngest son. I had to learn to care for her on the phone every week when I spoke to her in Texas from California. At first, she gave me her voice and she knew it was me she was speaking to and this was enough for me. But gradually, with some patience and a little creativity, I learned how to communicate without actually having a recognizable dialogue with any content except our imagination.
Patience, however, is not a virtue that everyone has in large supply and even fewer people have the skills and understanding to communicate in new ways with their loved one. This is reasonable because dementia is really difficult for most to adjust to. In part 2 of this blog, I would like to offer some suggestions for how to maintain a meaningful relationship with your loved one as they seem to slip further and further from you because of the progressive nature of dementia.