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Finding Out if Mom's Memory Loss is More Than Forgetfulness

08/25/2015 05:14 EDT | Updated 08/25/2016 05:59 EDT
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By: Elayne Forgie

It's not easy to sit down with your mom to have the talk.

No, not the talk she had with you when you were young and horribly embarrassed because she insisted on having a chat about sex! Nope. I'm talking about the talk you need to have with her because you're frightened.

You're frightened because you've noticed her memory isn't what it used to be and because you watch way too much TV and have learned much more than you've ever wanted to know about Alzheimer's disease.

The big "A." The elephant in the room. The dreaded disease you've been forced to think about thanks to Dear Alice and Glen Campbell and so many others whose stories have raised awareness and brought Alzheimer's right into your living room -- and now, maybe right into your life.

You wonder if your mom's memory lapses are serious. Why hasn't she mentioned them? Is there anything else she isn't telling you? OMG! Could she have Alzheimer's? She may. Or she may not. But before you can help her find out, you'll have to have the first of what might be many, meaningful conversations. These are the conversations that as adult children we hope we don't have to have with our mom; but the ones we know deep in our heart we need to have.

They are the conversations you might have difficulty starting, but the ones that will provide you with a depth of understanding and opportunity to make a connection, which should this indeed be Alzheimer's, will help to put you both on the right course as you begin to navigate the long journey ahead.

You know your mom best so I won't talk about the different things you can say or do to get her to the couch. Instead, let me share some things the women I've coached over the years have shared with me:

  • It won't be easy. Most moms aren't ready to open up to their daughters about their own fears. They're the mom. They're the one whose job has always been to protect you. Remember, no matter how old you are, in her mind, you're still the little girl whose diaper she changed.
  • So go easy. Recognize that sometimes the most meaningful conversations don't occur in just one sitting. Instead of thinking of your upcoming talk as an event, think of it as a process. You might have to have a number of conversations with your mom before you're both comfortable talking about the tough stuff.
  • Make it Meaningful. She's probably scared too. If her memory loss is obvious to you, it's a pretty good bet she's gotten good at compensating, covering up and hiding it. She knows something is wrong, make no mistake about it. She just may not be ready to admit it. Making it meaningful means respecting the fact that today might not be the day she's willing to tell you much of anything. You might only get a few curt responses or one of those looks she's so famous for. But by respecting her inability or her unwillingness to share too much too soon, you're sending her a message and teaching her that you can be patient, and that she can trust you. This is huge and will help build the foundation you'll both need moving forward.
  • Acknowledge and reassure. Try to acknowledge her feelings. For example, you might acknowledge how difficult you know this must be for her or that you can see how upset she is. Acknowledging her feelings is so important. Equally important is to provide her with reassurance. Reassure your mom by telling her it's OK if she's not ready to talk about it right now. Reassure her and let her know that you're not going anywhere. That whenever she is ready, you'll be here to listen. That you'll be ready to stand beside her to face whatever lies ahead. Reassure her and tell her that you love her. After all, she's the one who changed your diapers.

This story was published on Alzlive.com, a website for caregivers of people with Alzheimer's and dementia. For more tips and support, visit the site here.

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