I noted to myself yet again the other day how much I enjoy talking to the other residents in my mother’s wing. I’ve mentioned this before and I don’t mean it to sound crass, but I never expected this. What did I expect?
Thinking about it now, I wonder if I just didn’t expect the social life that persists in spite of the fractured cognition. I can tell that not all of my mother’s neighbors have Alzheimer’s Disease–some may have vascular dementia or Parkinson’s–but all seem to have some shortcomings in terms of reasoning or emotional control, if not spatial and temporal confusion. A couple of them rarely speak. There is much repetition and short-term memory loss, and something akin to what we called “suspension of disbelief” back in my college literature classes. This occurs when we accept a different set of rules in certain situations, such as watching a movie or attending a play. We expect that there is a method to the temporal and spatial shortcuts, for example, and accept them on good faith.
Maybe that’s what dementia is, essentially–a suspension of disbelief. I don’t want to torture this metaphor but I can imagine that the outside world becomes increasingly like a weird movie to someone who is losing their ability to reason. I wonder if their delusions are efforts to organize things from the inside out. My mother believes that she is once again a schoolteacher and the people around her are her “kids”–although I don’t think her delusion is altogether neat and stable. I think it becomes “stronger” the more vulnerable she feels.
I’ve been realizing that, as far as visiting goes, longer is not necessarily better. A short visit or outing is best, and if I overstay or if I keep her out too long, she starts to worry about what the “kids” are doing without her around. Today we took a slightly longer drive than usual, and when we returned I noticed that my mother looked tired. “Are you going to take a nap?” I asked, and she sighed. “I’ve got to check on the kids,” she said.
Liz and I are getting better at responding. “It’s Sunday,” we’ll say, “so most of the kids are off today. You’ll be able to take a nap if you want to.”
“That’s right,” she finally says. “I think I will take a nap.”