July 15, 2014

More Sundowning

This evening, just before the sundowning hour, I spoke to my mom on the phone. When I asked how she is, I got the usual answer. "Not good. Today was distressing." She went on to explain that she woke up to the news that her cat was dead. I asked how the cat died and she replied that "Bobo" was smothered to death by someone in the house, hinting that either Alice or the visiting speech therapist must be responsible. Yesterday she was distressed about a lost kitten. Today she was remembering a cat that I had as a child, a gray half Siamese with green eyes who was born the night that Nixon was inaugurated. She went on the explain that the cat in the house now, her cat Lulu, is the wrong color because Bobo had blue eyes. Interestingly, Lulu has blue eyes, but whatever.

How do you speak to someone so obviously confused? In the past, I have tried to straighten her out and remind her of what has actually taken place. This evening, I tried a new approach and just went along with her story, agreeing that it was indeed awful and upsetting that Bobo was dead and resting in a little plastic box in her house.

My friend, Katherine, who's mother has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, agrees with this soothing approach. She has been dealing with this for years. She says never correct, never reason, just listen and try to understand. It feels wrong to me, to patronize, especially when my mother is not always confused. It's hard to know when to have a normal conversation, and when to shut up. This is a real learning process…

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