Alzheimer's disease · Caregiver · Caregiving · Everyday · Maps

Mom’s mental map / June 28, 2006

“He made such a nice dinner tonight,” my mother said, once we’d finished and were relaxing in the living room.

In the past I would have corrected her: “No, Ma, I made the dinner.” But now it isn’t important. The gender confusion is actually a clue to me that she’s contented. The presence of “him”–usually meaning my father–means that things are in order for her.

She’s been unusually cheerful and agreeable for the past few days. I think no longer facing the prospect of The Wedding has ended that particular anxiety loop in her mind. Her nurse practitioner also increased the Namenda last week, but I don’t know if that would cause such an immediate effect. What I DO know is that it’s so nice to go off for work in the morning without the nauseous knot in my gut. I also know that this consanguinity won’t last for too long, that I can’t be too seduced by it. I think the Alzheimer sufferer’s world is much more porous than average–she can’t compartmentalize as well as most.

I’ve experienced this myself during a period of serious depression when I was younger. I can remember a day when I was at my worst–a neighbor was having a big, beautiful maple tree cut down. As the chainsaw screeched I felt an awful foreboding, as if the tree were connected with my own well-being. It wasn’t a passing feeling, either–I couldn’t shake it for a long time afterwards. The absence of the tree reminded me–for some reason–of my own extreme vulnerability, as if its shade had literally protected me. Sometimes I think that my mother confuses bits of the outside world–events, people, things–with parts of herself, and this makes it harder for me to understand her ups and downs.

In one of my classes of the past year we talked about “mental maps”–which is a fascinating subject. When drawing a map of a particular place, an individual often reveals as much about her self-perception as she does about the layout of the particular place. One’s socio-economic status, for example, will influence her perception of the size and of the components of her own neighborhood. I think I’m going to ask my mother to make a map of our neighborhood–just to see if I can read it. How interesting it would be to ask a group of people with dementia to draw maps of their own locales–this might be a way to understand a bit more about the inner dislocation that results from diseases like Alzheimer’s.

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