Alzheimer’s to English Dictionary

by Julie Frayn on September 7, 2014 in  Mama Bird

OR: How to get through a conversation with Mother

My mother has Alzheimer’s Disease. Or, as I like to call it, dementia on crack. It is a horrible thing to watch, the slow leeching of her memories, the ebb of her wit and wisdom. Everything is falling into Alzheimer’s holes. Some of it pops out again to make an appearance, however brief. But most of it, well, when it goes, it’s gone.

Like with every situation that is sad, depressing, scary as hell, I cope in the only way I know how. In the way my Mother taught me. I make jokes! Inappropriate humour is my mental life preserver in the deep end of the Alzheimer pool. So here are a few translations of Alzheimerese into English.

Those girls – cousin Jane and Judy whose names (and in Judy’s case, entire existence) have disappeared from Mom’s memory. “Jane’s the only girl, the rest are all boys.” Nope. Six boys, two girls. Two….

That place over there with all the snow things going on – Sochi. Winter Olympics. Related: That snow place – Russia

My truck – her truck. The one she isn’t allowed to drive because they took her license away. She never forgets her truck. She loves that damn truck.

I don’t have Alzheimer’s – I refuse to acknowledge I have Alzheimer’s because I’m afraid that I will lose my life the way I’ve lost my truck and my independence.

That mean guy who was part of Hitler’s regime – Vladimir Putin

Our young fellow who’s in charge of us – Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada. Mom was convinced Putin was going to kill him.

Hundreds and hundreds – 24

Worst weather in history, you can’t go to work, they’re telling everyone not to leave their homes – it snowed a bit. This applies to days when the wind picks up, when, somewhere in Canada or the world, there is rain, hail, anything other than perfect sunshine. When it is sunny and it will be the hottest day ever and we aren’t to leave our houses. Translation? She doesn’t want to leave her house.

My TV is broken – She turned it off. Or unplugged it. Or pressed VOD and can’t understand why the television is demanding she pay to continue watching. Or when she turns it on, big lips appear on the screen and mock her choice of electronics (no, seriously, that’s what she told me). So she unplugs it (or someone does, she doesn’t know who, but maybe the creatures that live inside the walls). And then it is broken.

The birds with the bushy tails that live in the tree – Squirrels

The yellow water in the toilet – uh, yeah….

How do you cope with the tough stuff? For me, I have to find the humour, or I’ll just sit down and cry. Of course, wine is always an option.

My and my Mom

Me and my Mom

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Yvonne Hertzberger September 7, 2014 at 11:21 am

So sad, Julie. My mother died of Alzheimers so i have some inkling of what you are going through. My mother was an “angry Alzheimers” who turned on her family.

The real reason I am commenting, however, is to pass something on that you may find helpful. I heard it on a radio interview. I think you already do some of this but there is more.

Sonce the sufferers of Alzheimers lose memories it makes no sense to prod them to remember. It only frustrates them and causes anxiety and conflict – for both parties. The woman in the interview was an actor. Her solution was tyo allow the sufferer to lead the conversation and to try to find things to try that fit that lead. No corrections, no prods, just follow. She found that it led to happier conversations. They made no sense, but her mother loved them and so both ended up content. For example, if her mother said something about the lips on the TV she’d ask her what she thought those lips were saying to her, or agree that they look funny. If she refers to something from the past, like that you may be her sister, ask her something that indicates you are her sister, something pleasant, of course. The key was to never contradict, to always agree and follow.

I hope this helps. It certainly made sense to me when I heard it. I wish I had known it earlier.


Julie Frayn September 7, 2014 at 11:44 am

Sorry about your mother, Yvonne. We’ve been to the senior’s health clinic and my sister and I spoke with a counselor. They gave us a whole raft of info on how to listen without correcting. The only time I correct her is when it’s going to impact her safety (like when she was obsessed with her gas stove and kept turning on all the gas burners before lighting one). It makes for some bizarre and repetitive conversations (the deer that ring her doorbell, the birds that come into the front door and track in the birdseed then fly away when she sees them). But when you correct her, it deflates her and she realizes just how far gone she is. That’s hard to watch. I think it’s a balancing act, a mental tightrope. Hopefully none of us will fall off :)

Laurie Boris September 7, 2014 at 12:38 pm

So sad. But I admire your resilience and your humor. Or humour, depending.


Julie Frayn September 7, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Thanks Laurie. Not too sure of resilience. Maybe forced oblivion at times… but always humour. With a U. 😀

mary September 7, 2014 at 12:59 pm

Hi Julie, Thanks for sharing this. It’s tough, I know but humour does help – at least it stops us from crying. Conversation with my dad now is becoming inclreasingly one-sided as he can’t find the words he needs. Hang in there.


Julie Frayn September 7, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Oh, sorry Mary. Mom isn’t at a loss for all words yet, but many. Thus the odd definitions. We’re all beginning to understand, which is kind of scary. I forgot one up there – I’m going to add it.

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