Alzheimer's disease · Caregiver · Caregiving · Role reversal

The two of us / July 24, 2006

Today was a good day, and I had forgotten what it feels like to go the whole day without the knot in my gut. The weather was lovely–-bright and warm and dry, perfectly summer-like. When I made the first call to my mother at 9:30 AM she was alert and in a good mood. (Oddly enough, though, I discovered that she hadn’t taken her pills this morning…) I called her again shortly after noon, when Eva was there, and she seemed downright cheerful. They were playing a little Scrabble before lunch.

I hung up and left the library for my lunch break, treating myself to an iced mocha latte and a short walk. I spotted a mimosa tree in bloom, which is always a pleasure, and the perfect absence of any film crews on campus made my day.

At about 2:30 PM my mother called me at work, still very cheerful. “I lost one of the dogs,” she said. “I’d like to lie down and take a nap, but I’ve been looking everywhere and I can only find three of them.”

“How many are you looking for?” I asked. I have only two dogs.

“Four,” she said.

I’ve mentioned this in previous posts and I’m surprised that I haven’t read too much about it in the Alzheimer literature, but my mother’s mind frequently multiplies people (and dogs) in their absence. I don’t really think she sees multiple beings, but they seem to leave multiple nagging afterimages.

I now asked her to tell me which dogs she could actually account for. “Is there a black dog?” I asked.

“Yes, right here and in the other room, I think.”

“And what about the brown dog–is he there?”

“Yes,” she said, “he’s right here but I can’t find the other one and I’m getting tired.”

I fell back on my standard response. “Well, don’t worry about it now. He couldn’t have gone far. I’ll be home soon to find him–you can lie down now.”

These words did indeed reassure her. I thought about it afterwards and recalled that my mother very often confuses the names and genders of the dogs. I wonder if each misreading leaves an afterimage, and that afterimage takes on a life of its own in her mind. By the same token, she sometimes confuses me in my absence with my father or her mother, and often speaks to me as if I were her sister. Each one of those roles might add to the population of her imagined household. Lately she’s been asking me before going to bed if anyone else was expected home and if I say no, she’s puzzled. “Just the two of us?” she says.

Just the two of us, I reply.

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