By: Amy Nimmer
My mom started showing signs of dementia when she was in her 70s. She lived alone as my father had passed away from cancer years before. She was incredibly independent and strong, so when she started getting confused with the simplest everyday task, we knew something was wrong. We took her to a neurologist who tested her by asking some questions, which she could not answer and confirmed that she was showing signs of dementia. The most frustrating part when I heard the diagnosis was that there was nothing they could prescribe or suggest to improve the situation. It made us feel so hopeless as we saw the disease progress.
We moved my mom to a wonderful care facility where she was able to live independently for a couple of years before she moved to assisted living and then to the healthcare/memory care unit. It was incredibly difficult for my mom to leave the home she had raised her family in, however, with our support and the full support of her family, her transition went smoothly. She ended up knowing some friends in the facility and created new relationships, too.
When she moved to the healthcare/memory care area, I was certain it would be a short stay, however, I was very wrong. This is the place where she thrived. The ratio of healthcare professionals to patients increased. They provide music therapy and other activities she enjoys. She had progressed far enough with the disease that she no longer had anxiety about what was happening. She settled into a very stable environment where she found happiness, comfort and love.
The healthcare facility has become her home and in some ways her family. They got to know my mom before the disease took over. And they take great care in acknowledging and understanding her past life in how they treat her for the future. They genuinely provide loving care for her.
The hardest part of Alzheimer’s disease is the feeling of hopelessness as you watch it progress with someone you love so deeply. The hardest moments for my mom were when she knew her memory was failing, and she felt tremendous anxiety in trying to do the simplest things. I took comfort in being there for her, like holding her hand and having conversations with her that she could understand without feeling ashamed of her memory loss. I worked proactively with my three other siblings to help them understand her struggles with everyday tasks and find the right care for her.
Caregivers need to know when they need help. The facility where my mom lives helps her stay healthy and safe. They allow me to have a better relationship with mom because I don’t have to worry about her anymore or deal with the stresses of what everyday care can bring. I can visit her and just focus on creating special moments with her.
My mom greets everyone in the memory care unit with a hug, and some days she can find the words to say “beautiful,” meaning, “you are beautiful.” She used to say that all the time to me and other people she knew. Residents and workers seek her out when they are having a bad day for that special hug. We are blessed that she is happy and content despite the disease.
Alzheimer’s is truly an insidious and dreadful disease. It strips away the very essence of life and leaves behind a shell of a person, who must find their way through the darkness. For my mom, life comes down to special moments: times when she laughs, hugs, and constantly chatters in her own language. Occasionally, there is a coherent flow of words, which I cherish. She has taught all of us that happiness comes from within. What makes her happy is very simple—being surrounded by people who love her and by living in a safe, comfortable environment. It’s the simple things in life that truly matter.