Mum has five questions. We talk about them a lot. This is how they go:
1. What’s the matter with me?
“You’ve got a problem with your short-term memory,” I say. Sometimes Mum asks me if it’s dementia. So I explain it’s Alzheimer's - a type of dementia. “I hate the D word,” says Mum. “It makes me sound demented - mad and stupid.”
I tell Mum she’s none of these things. That she’s still perfectly intelligent, that everything she says is completely reasonable. Which is true.
Sometimes we talk about intelligent, reasonable people who have also been diagnosed with Alzheimer's - Alison Holst, Iris Murdoch, Margaret Thatcher. “Margaret Thatcher!” says Mum. “I’m not too sure about her.”
2. What’s happened to my house?
“We sold it. All of us decided together, us kids and you.” I tell her it was too hard to keep it going, a big old house in the country. With a huge garden to look after. Then I explain it’s been more than six years since she moved out. “Amazing, isn't it?”
“Yes,” says Mum. “It certainly is.”
Sometimes Mum asks what’s happened to her things. I tell her we went through everything that was precious and made sure someone in the family would look after it. “You young people can’t imagine what that’s like,” says Mum. “It’s a very strange feeling.”
3. What can I do to get better?
“I don't think the memory problem is curable,” I say. “But I’m pretty sure you can feel a lot better than you do right at this moment.”
Then Mum asks me what’s needed for her to get better. We talk about staying active, saying yes to everything - walks, trips out with other residents, knitting projects, doing the crossword and being social. About keeping body and mind active to improve her mood. “Right,” says Mum. “I really need to lift my game.”
4. Do I have a future?
“What exactly do you mean?” I ask. Mum knows I’m stalling. She tells me she needs hope. So we talk about what she’s looking forward to - next Wednesday’s drive with Rachel, grandchildren coming to stay, Louise coming over from Australia ...
5. What’s the matter with me?
“You have a problem with your short-term memory …” Then Mum and I talk a bit more. After a while I say, “Shall we go out?”
“Can we?” says Mum.
She never turns me down.