After watching Still Alice with my husband recently, I began looking through photos of my mom in old blog posts–photos of her living with the enemy, early onset Alzheimer’s disease. I pieced together the pictures in chronological order, trying to create a visual timeline of her decline.
People who stopped visiting her during her illness told me they didn’t want to remember her this way or that she didn’t interact with them anymore. Well, I didn’t have a choice. She was my mom, and I was responsible for her care and safety.
I remember her like this. I remember the heartache. I remember losing her in slow motion.
And I want people to see the reality of this disease–how a brilliant and creative teacher and nurturer (yes, I remember her that way, too) becomes like an infant, completely dependent on others for care, completely unable to communicate with the words she held so dear.
It may seem, in looking at the following photos, that my mother declined very quickly, and there were certainly time periods of rapid decline. Yet, the decline seems less rapid when you consider that she was already in the moderate stages of the disease by the time she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2006, immediately after I graduated from college.
Progression of my mother’s Early Onset Alzheimer’s disease in photos
6 months after my mother’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease
A year later on my mom’s last vacation
My wedding festivities (the end of her really knowing who I was)
Placement in a secure wing in a longterm care facility
*I couldn’t find any pictures from 2009, which probably means I didn’t take any. I frequently took my black Lab with me, and we spent a lot of time in the fenced courtyard during our visits. She always thought he was her black Lab mix, Rocket, and she consistently called me “Linda” (not sure if she was thinking of her cousin, Linda, or her childhood friend, Linda) that year.*
Constant, frantic motion, falling all the time (see scar on forehead)
Only saying simple words like “thank you” and “yes” and no longer getting out of bed without assistance (except for rolling out of it in the middle of the night)
Placement on hospice care with trouble swallowing (and using a special, high-backed wheelchair)
Asleep more often than awake in end stages (and using a geriatric chair because of severe leaning and muscle stiffness)
3 months before she died
And she was beautiful to the end.