At 89, she died at home. I remember a nurse telling us that her heart did not want to stop beating, even when everything else was shutting down. It was strong; about three years earlier she had undergone successful surgery that helped make it so.
Last week, I wrote an article that ran in The Sun News about an educational conference focusing on Alzheimer ’s disease and dementia to be held at Horry-Georgetown Technical College’s Grand Strand campus on May 31. Talking with people at Senior Helpers and the Alzheimer’s Association of South Carolina who are presenting the conference, and reading materials, I regretted once more that I did not do more research on dementia before it killed my mother. I could not have stopped it, but I could have understood her actions better.
The first session for the conference is for professionals and caregivers, but the 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. session is free to the public, and there is no doubt that when someone leaves there, they will come away with information I wish I had acquired years ago.
I was not surprised to learn that more Americans fear getting Alzheimer’s and dementia than any other disease, and why wouldn’t we? We know that it is probably going to take our minds long before it takes our lives, and we know that someone, possibly the people we love the most, will be faced with taking care of us.
My mother and I lived in the same house for 21 years after my father died. She was the strongest, and one of the hardest working people I have ever known, and that was true until she fell and broke her hip about a year and a half before she died.
It was about eight years before her fall that I first noticed her memory was failing. At the grocery store, she asked, “What is that red stuff that we put on our food?” Ketchup.
Another day, she pointed to a bottle of Listerine and asked, “What do we use that for?” Since she had used Listerine every day for as long as I could remember; that was another red flag.
For years, it was small things such as not wanting to use a new television remote or attempt anything new, but after her fall, everything changed.
When she came home from the hospital and rehab, she didn’t recognize the house she had lived in for almost 60 years. I was fortunate to have a big family with the means to hire help when it was needed, but still I was alone with her through a lot of what followed.
There were times when she was very aware, almost her old self. And there were nights when blood-curdling screams sent me running to find her terrified because she was seeing strangers in her room.
“Can I go to where you are?” she asked one night.
“Of course,” I said.
“How do I get there?” she asked.
I led her through her doorway, down her hall, through her dining room and kitchen and into her den where we sat together and talked for one of the last times.
If you are interested in attending the conference, call 979-3273.