When Your Mom Has Moderately Severe Memory Loss

We won’t be going to a Mother’s Day brunch this year.  She no longer does sit down meals.

We won’t be having a conversation on the cozy couch. Her hearing is so bad that you have to yell to be heard. After two sentences you are so spent that you can’t muster up the energy to shout one more word.

Besides, she really doesn’t engage in a conversation. It’s more a group of go-to statements that she says over and over and over again.

“Boy it sure is windy out there.”

“Did I ever tell you that human beings are the cruelest animal?”

We won’t be taking a stroll around the block. Even when the temperature is in the 70’s she’s freezing and dressed in winter garb complete with gloves.

We won’t be watching a movie on Netflix. She rarely turns the TV on and when she does it’s for 60- second ear piercing spurts on  Fox News. I have to leave the room.

We won’t be listening to music. I had read that music is very therapeutic for people with memory loss so I created an opera playlist on Spotify and started playing some of her favorites. After 30 seconds she asked me to turn it off. She says she doesn’t like music anymore.

Last week I took my mother to a new doctor. The good news- depending on your perspective of living with dementia- is that she is an extraordinarily healthy 89- year- old. Her blood pressure was slightly elevated, she has some edema in her legs but other than that- 85 years of regular exercise is paying off.

In the past year she’s lost 50 pounds. She stopped eating because of an esophageal blockage. Her throat was so constricted that the doctor was 90% certain she had cancer. She did not.

Yet, even after multiple throat stretching procedures and some meds, she continued to follow a diet of milk, grapes, watermelon and some extra sharp cheddar cheese. Not sharp, not regular, only extra sharp.

At one point I bought Chocolate Ensure, thinking that she would at least get all her nutrients. She said it was delicious and then stopped drinking it, returning to plain milk.

And so it goes when your mother is 89 and has moderately severe memory loss. What does moderately severe memory loss look like?

When the doctor named three things and then asked her to repeat them back to him, she couldn’t.

Anyi Lu Daisy. my size 11's were the last pair available on Zappos.

Anyi Lu Daisy. my size 11’s were the last pair available on Zappos.

When they asked her the date of her birthday, she got the right month, but couldn’t remember the date.

When they asked her what language she preferred to speak, she said Hebrew. Granted Hebrew is her native language but she has spoken English almost exclusively for 65 years.

Over the past few months she’s started speaking to herself out loud in Hebrew.  I have no idea what she’s saying except she does say be’seder all day long which loosely translated means okay.

When the doctor asked if she would like to get a hearing aid so she could hear better, she said thanks, but no thanks.  Of course, who knows if she heard what he said – she’s pretty deaf.

Nevertheless, the physician doesn’t think she would use the hearing aid. So what’s the point?

One thing with memory loss is that things are constantly changing.

For the past couple of weeks my mother has started to hum constantly. According to my good friend Google, constant humming is very common with people who have lost “the gift of gab” due to memory loss.  It evidently provides the hummer with a great deal of  comfort.  Can I say it’s providing me with a great deal of discomfort.

Oh, and  that thing about my mom not eating? She’s started eating again with a vengeance.  Last week I returned from a business trip and put a Costco size bag of Famous Amos bite size Chocolate Chip Cookies in the pantry.The cookies were refreshments for a group I was training. My plan was to use them for an  upcoming training.

Within two days, my mother had plowed through the entire bag. She still wasn’t eating anything else so I thought I’d get her another bag of cookies. This time I got some Biscoff wafers. She went through that bag in two days.

Next thing I know she’s destroyed the roasted chicken that I had gotten from the grocery store.

Then yesterday I had tucked some grocery store sushi in the refrigerator bin – thinking I would have it after my TRX class. As I’m walking in the door at 8:00 pm there is my mother, chowing down on my sushi.

Instead of being delighted that she was eating nutritious food, I responded like a recalcitrant teenager, ” What are you doing?That’s my sushi!”

Not sure what is responsible for this renewed enthusiasm for food but now I’m thinking I need to stop getting her cookies and focus more on nutritional food.

This morning I said to her, “I notice that you’re eating again. You haven’t really eaten for the past year and so I haven’t been buying you food except your milk, grapes, watermelon and extra sharp cheddar cheese.  Since it looks like you are eating now, what can I buy you?”

She wasn’t able to come up with anything. So I said, “You seemed to be enjoying the sushi last night, would you like me to get you some sushi?” Thinking it might be a nice once a week treat.

“Yes.” she said.

“Okay, what else? How bought some roasted chicken?

“Just sushi. I just want to eat sushi.”

Mother’s Day is bittersweet when your mom’s body is still around, but her mind isn’t. When you are in the thick of it, it’s hard to see the humor and yet humor is there.

A friend shared a conversation she had with her mother who is also suffering from severe memory loss.

” You know,” said the mom, ” your dad forgets too. ”

“Yes,” said the daughter. “Everyone does forget stuff.”

“Yes, said the mom.”I think he has the same disease I have. I don’t remember what it’s called.”


She wished she had cancer instead. She’d trade Alzheimer’s for cancer in a heartbeat. She felt ashamed for wishing this, and it was certainly a pointless bargaining, but she permitted herself the fantasy anyway. With cancer, she’d have something to fight”

Still Alice, Lisa Genova

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