Last weekend I went to visit my 94 year old mother at her retirement home in Peterborough Ontario. After wandering around her floor and greeting the various residents that I have come to know over the last few years, I found her sitting alone in a chair peering out of a window at the activity in the parking lot and street below her. I approached her with some trepidation wondering if this will be the day that she doesn’t recognize me.
Once again I was overcome with relief and immediately sat down beside her after hearing my name and greeting me with her warm comforting smile and embracing hug.
In her usual fashion, she began to inspect what I was wearing and complimented me on my appearance and my new handbag. I pulled out my Ipad and with great curiousity she leaned forward to look at the scrolling screen and collection of my most recent photos.
I have learned over the years to keep our conversations simple. Asking too many questions seems to be stressful and only reminds her of her inablility to recollect facts or events. Periodically she would gaze at me and ask me “Why am I here?”. I would remind her that this was her new home and then she would nod in agreement and tell me “It was a good home”. I somehow sensed that she knew she is unable to live alone and appreciated the security and comfort of her new surroundings.
We turned our attention back to the photos and remained “in the moment”. She continued to quiz me about various individuals in the pictures and would nod with pleasure at my explanations. My mother now has few “stories” or recollections of her own. Only observations of what is going on at that moment in time. While we were chatting, I felt that we were enveloped by a veil of peace and contentment.
Over the years I have come to accept my mothers transition and have moved through the grief and loss of “who she was”. I have come to accept her as she is now, at this moment in time. I have to admit that this has been a difficult journey for me, as I still have memories of “who she was” and vivid mental images of special occasions we shared together.
We are a creation of our thoughts. They portray our internal dialogues. The stories we live by tell what our lives are about. We develop connections to those around us and live by the story lines we have developed over the years.
So it is no surprise that when we lose our memories, there is a sense of loss of who the person is and what they have created in their lives. It affects every day tasks and how individuals connect to loved ones. It can mean, as in my mothers case, losing independence and the ability to live alone.
Many of these changes occur with aging and are not always associated with dementia. They can be a result of hormonal imbalances, improper diets and lack of exercise.
Understanding age related memory changes reminds us of how important it is to keep our brains healthy and our bodies active. Staying physically fit and active is important to ensure a healthy brain and intact memory.
Simple preventative measures include participation in daily exercise, maintaining healthy diets and getting enough sleep. Forget the stories and excuses. Live in the moment and go and do it!