Alzheimer's disease · Behavior · Brain · Caregiving · Language

Deja vu / September 6, 2006

I called my mother from work at the usual time this morning, and she was having the speech difficulties she often has when she’s upset by something. But she managed to say to me, “I have company today.”

Using my best powers of interpretation, I guessed that she meant Eva, the homemaker.

“No,” she said. “It’s a man. Dustin.”

“Mom, that’s Lily.”

“No, Lily’s over here,” she said. “But there’s a man over there. Dustin’s over there.”

This seemed to be more than the usual doggie-name-confusion, and I had to restrain myself from interrogating her sharply. Her tone of voice was somewhat wary and distracted, and all I could think of were her pre-diagnostic hallucinations.

“Where are you?” I asked.

“I’m in the kitchen. He’s lying on the couch in the living room,” she said, and in the background I could hear my sister’s voice: “Mom, who are you talking to?”

I realized then that the “man” she was referring to was my sister, and my mother had given her the name of the last “man” to live in the house, my dog. My sister will often lie down on the loveseat in the living room when she’s visiting my mother–sometimes she dozes off there. This habit of Liz’s has lately been agitating my mother–when I had come home from work the day before, my mother had been extremely confused and agitated, and we managed to boil it down to the fact that “they” had been sleeping on the couch.

(I was able to calm her down the previous day through a creative interpretation of her anxious words. “We” usually means “I” and “they” means “he” or “she.” Talk of “going out” (which she does only with me) usually means that something out of the ordinary happened, something she didn’t expect which might have rattled her. So instead of asking, “Now who do you mean by ‘we’?” I know enough to let that detail go and home in on whether she thinks she’s left the house or not.)

But back to today: it wasn’t until much later in the day that I had my “Aha!” moment. I remembered her hallucination of November, 2004, where she was going down to the basement one night and saw the man sleeping on the couch. And my sister was re-enacting that memory.

I suppose–if my suspicion is true–this is a small insight into the type of connection that is still being made in my mother’s mind. Although increasingly less able to discern details, she is still able to see the gesture, the shadow, and hold it up to what still resides in her memory. In this case, the result was anxiety (and I will probably have to talk to Liz about sleeping on the couch). But there is still the possibility of reassurance, I think. I’ve said it before, but I’ll repeat myself–it’s like trying to interpret an especially difficult poem, where the sounds and the rhythm are just as significant as the meaning.

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