Working Hard to Remember

It would be easy to imagine that a person who is as far along in her journey as Kate would simply let go and drift away into her own world. That is what I imagined my mother did. What I realize now is that a spouse or other caregiver who lives with the person with dementia sees far more than anyone outside the home. As it has become more difficult (impossible) for Kate to remember things, she seems to work harder than she did earlier. If not, harder, she is more open with me about her efforts to recall the names of people and places.

It is common for her to rehearse names of family and friends before each visit. A typical situation would involve my telling her about our upcoming visit during lunch or dinner. She will ask me to tell her the names of the people we will see. That usually means one or two names, sometimes as many as four or five when we are visiting our childrens’ families. The pattern is always the same. She asks for a name. I tell her. She repeats it. Then she asks for the name again. This sequence repeats itself several times. Then we move on until we are in the car or plane to see someone. Sometimes she is able recall the first name but can’t get the last.

There are other times that she is trying to recall names when the two of us are not “in rehearsal.” For example, as we are driving someplace, she will just speak someone’s name. I may be reading too much into these occasions, but it sounds like she is pleased with herself when this happens.

There are also times when I initiate the conversation with, “Here’s a test for you. What is the name of your only granddaughter?” Yesterday on the way to lunch, she surprised me by saying, “I’m going to test you. What is my mother’s first name?” When I told her, she said, “Right” and asked, “What is her middle name?” Then she asked me to tell her her father’s name. I can’t know for sure, but I believe she was not asking to test me at all. Indirectly, she was asking me to remind her of her parents’ names. In a sense, this is a way of covering for not being able to remember. On the other hand, it is also possible that she might really have been playing a game with me. If that is so, I would have another interpretation. I would think she has passed into another stage at which she is not able to grasp my own capability to remember. While that may be, I haven’t noticed any other signs that would suggest this is so.

Last night at dinner, my dad’s former writing teacher was sitting in the booth behind us. She was with another woman who had been in the writing class. The third woman had been in his Sunday school class. We chatted a few minutes with them before taking our seats. Immediately, she whispered, “Who is she?” I knew she meant the writing teacher. I told her. We went through this several times. Then she did the same thing with the restaurant. She never got them, but she was trying so hard.

This experience also makes me think about her decision not to tell others, even our children, about her diagnosis. She has never wanted to be treated like someone with Alzheimer’s. She wanted, and still wants, to be treated just like anyone else. It’s just so hard when you can’t remember who people are or even where you are.

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