I first heard the uh-oh bell ring about six years ago. My mother called one summer afternoon from their summer home on Lake Michigan, and said she was making a pie crust and couldn’t remember one of the ingredients. Uh…what?! My mother had made thousands of pies over the years, and her crust was delicious and SIMPLE. Very simple. Flour, Crisco, butter, salt and water, and she hadn’t looked at the recipe since, oh, 1951 or so. “Well,” I said cautiously, “what have you put in?” She had everything but the water, and I told her what was missing. She laughed at herself for her foolishness, thanked me, and we hung up. I was left with a sense of foreboding; my grandmother had slowly disappeared as her brain deteriorated, and we had so hoped Mom could avoid dementia.
Mom was 81, and her mother had started down hill at 79–I had convinced myself that Mom had dodged the bullet. After all, she’d done everything right: she ate healthy food, exercised her whole life every day, used her mind in Bible study, clarinet playing, reading, and crossword puzzles.
I asked my sister, who also lived in Midland, what she thought. She pointed out, rightly, that Mom was still taking hydrocodone for the severe nerve pain in her leg. I was relieved; that HAD to be it. We laughed, and I put it out of my mind. And another year went by with little evidence of any problems. By the next summer, though, we had to give her age more consideration. Her dry macular degeneration was making her driving iffy, as reported by my granddaughter. She’d had to tell my mother to stop the car because there were road workers and Mom had not seen them. Change was on its way, change that I knew would blow apart her world, and I was loathe to light the fuse.
Meanwhile, my uneasiness about her mental state was growing. She was forgetting things, sounding vague, and she was starting to comment that her brain wasn’t working right. I expressed my concern to others, who tended to downplay Mom’s forgetfulness by telling about a word they couldn’t think of the other day. Finally, I asked Mom if she would be interested in asking the doctor about a memory pill I’d heard of (Aricept), and she said yes. After the short memory test, and Mom had gotten every question right with great effort and courage, the doctor said she thought that Mom had passed because she was a very smart woman. She recommended that she have further testing, and gave us the information to set up an appointment with a psychologist. My heart sank. My mother would worry, and be miserable, and feel like a failure, and for what? We would, I was sure, find out that she was failing, and the result would be that she would go on medication. I asked if it would be possible just to give the medication a try without putting Mom through the testing ordeal, since the outcome of medication would be the same with or without the test. To my relief, the doctor agreed, and the medication did help for a while.