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Could Cooking be an Alzheimer’s Memory Test?

2018-09-06T11:09:57+00:00 March 12th, 2018|Alzheimer's|0 Comments

My Mom Made Bad Tagliatelle Pasta… Impossible… Could Cooking be an Alzheimer’s Memory Test? Early manifestations of Alzheimer’s disease may show themselves in everyday, formerly simple things, like making a favorite recipe, putting the silverware in order, or driving to a familiar locationOther early signs of Alzheimer’s can include memory problems that disrupt day-to-day life such as often forgetting things, or having trouble working out the monthly bills, or experiencing new problems with speaking or writing… read more

If you notice some of these signs in your loved one, or are concerned about other signs of memory loss, it may be time to talk to a physician and ask about potential Alzheimer’s test questions he or she would like to perform. You can help and encourage your family member to make an appointment for a check-up during which the doctor can, if appropriate, perform memory loss tests and assessments.

Why plan for an Alzheimer’s memory test and seek early professional advice? Because, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, with early Alzheimer’s detection a patient is more likely to get maximum benefit from available treatments and also more likely to be able to participate in a clinical drug trial to help advance research.

In Our Family, the Alarm Bell was the Tagliatelle.

My mother is Italian. She’s always been a good cook and her specialty has always been Tagliatelle (a traditional type of pasta from Emilia-Romagna and Marche regions of Italy). One day for the first time in her life, my mother’s Tagliatelle turned out horribly.

It may sound strange, but that’s the moment when I ealized that something was wrong with her and I called the neurologist to ask for an appointment.

After some memory loss tests and Alzheimer’s tests (assessments including a medical history, physical exam, neurological exam, mental status test and brain imaging), we were told she was experiencing Alzheimer’s disease in its intermediate stages.

Looking back, the signs seem obvious. How could I have missed them earlier?

Some Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease

When my mother was 75 I helped her move into a new apartment. We chose her new home because it was on the first floor, with a nice garden, and seemed more manageable for a person her age living alone. But my mother’s reaction was unexpected – she couldn’t arrange her silverware and instead of trying to help me, she sat in a chair with her hands in her hair.  She couldn’t tell me why she wasn’t helping as I moved around putting things in order. This seemed very strange because she had always been such a precise woman.

In her new kitchen, my mother had trouble learning how to use the electric stove. I thought it was just because of fatigue. But now I know that wasn’t the reason.

This was long before the disappointing Tagliatelle.

Perhaps I could have considered Alzheimer’s when I realized it was difficult for my mother to handle money. It was not clear to me how she was using her money or why she was taking more of it out of the bank than usual, especially because there was no evidence she was buying more. When I suggested that she count the money in her purse and tell me how much was there, she did not answer me.

I thought she was offended by my intrusion into her accounts and I did not insist, but thinking about it now, I believe that she was not able to count her money anymore. In hindsight, I wish I’d been more careful but I didn’t know these could be symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

Another sign of my mother’s condition was a change in her personality. She was starting to feel insecure and often called the doctor for reassurance and check-ups. I thought she was becoming a hypochondriac but I didn’t really think too much about it, afterall, she could afford the added medical expenses and I felt that if they made her feel better, it was fine. I wish I had spoken to her doctor myself at that point.

Personality Changes and Family Dynamics

At first, I reacted very badly to what was happening with my mother. I was angry with her and had trouble digesting what was going on. My mother was changing and she did not seem like my mother anymore. How could I accept that?

Finally, though, I realized that getting angry wasn’t worth anything. To limit the shock and discomfort I was feeling, I had to learn more about Alzheimer’s disease.

Mom was always repeating the same things, strange things, without  meaning or basis in reality. My initial approach was to try to bringher back to my world. But it didn’t work and I needed another strategy.

I came to understand that, instead of arguing and trying to be logical wit my mother, I had to follow her thoughts in order to break her obsession with them.

For example, when the woman I hired to provide my mother with in-home health care was going home, Mom would say that she would “Not be back anymore.” She could go on for hours talking about how our helper was “Gone forever. ” No matter how much I tried to explain to her that, “No, she’d be back the next day after a good night’s sleep,” my mother’s obession would continue. Often, I would become hysterical while my mom became more emphatic in her repetition.  It was very stressful. Finally, I tried changing my ‘glasses’  and looking at the moment through another filter. Instead of arguing, I joined her in her thoughts and followed them. “You’re right,” I told her, “she will not come back anymore.” And the spiral was broken and we could move on. 

On another occasion, the our in-home health care provider called me to tell me that Mom was very anxious about “the baby” and she absolutely wanted to talk with me. She insisted that she couldn’t find “the baby” and she was really suffering as a result.  It was one of her recurring delusions. I told her that the baby was with safe with her own mother and she soon felt better. Of course there was no baby.

Breaking the cycle, or rather, following her cycle was the right way to get in touch with her in these moments of delirium. In this way I found a way to lead her to tranquility by entering into her reality instead of trying to bring her back to my reality.

Recognizing the changes in our relationship and accepting them has helped me a lot, indeed, for me, it’s been crucial. 

Understanding the Loved One’s Role in Supporting the Alzheimer’s Patient’s Wishes and Needs

Providing for your loved one with Alzheimer’s in-home, even with in-home health care services, can severely test you. On the outside, your family member may seem like the same person, but they may not recognize you anymore. For me this was the most difficult moment, when Mom could not remember my name. She even thought that I was a man.

I still remember the emotion when, in one of the last moments of her life at the hospital, I was asked to leave the room but my mother, in a moment of clarity, called me by my name, my real name. I was so touched and emotional. I hadn’t realized before how much I needed her to know me.

When caring for my mother and adjusting to the changes became overwhelming, I asked for help. My family’s affections and love passed through me and strengthened me. I know now there are other ways to get support and guidance too, like MyHealios family behaviorial therapy and psychoeducation for caregivers. Remember how I talked about how learning about Alzheimer’s Disease helped me cope? MyHealios provides that education as well as techniques to deal with the daily challenges of living with Alzheimer’s.

Since Alzheimer’s first came into my life, I have thought a lot about memory and decided that memory does not make the person; memory is just the part that reminds the person what they did and who they were…  Mom was always herself even though she no longer had her memory.

With this in mind, I tried to enjoy her beauty. She had changed, our relathionship had changed, but she was always her.

Life was easier when I stopped thinking about my mother as a person who was gone and I started thinking about her as my mother in another form.

When I asked her: “Who am I?” She said, “You are here.” And she was right. Names are superstructures; they are a conventions. YOU ARE HERE is what counts.

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