Dear Carol: My mother lives with dementia and has been in memory care for two years. She was already somewhat spotty about remembering who I was when I visited, which was nearly every day. The good part though is that often she would remember the next time when I saw her and that gave me something to look forward to.
Now, because of the visitor ban which is still in effect in our area, we’ve gone eight weeks without seeing her in person. The staff puts Mom on video for our chats, but she seems confused about who we are and what is happening. Will she recall who we are after we can see her again or are those memories going to be gone forever? — GT.
Dear GT: Letters like yours remind me daily of the heartbreak that caregivers and the people they love are facing now because of COVID-19. Sadly, it could still take some time before all facilities can safely allow people from the outside.
Perhaps I can offer you some comfort. Even though your mom doesn’t respond as you’d like when she sees you on video chats, she is seeing your face and hearing your voice.
Most of us who have helped care for people with dementia know that even visiting in person during later stages is no guarantee that our loved one will show recognition of our presence. Did they hear our voice? Feel our touch? Recognize our face? Remember our visit? We often don’t know. Yet we still visit because we know that our presence matters.
Connecting electronically is far from perfect, but it’s still a connection, so keep it up. I’ve always felt that people with dementia know on some level that we are there for them, so don’t count out the fact that your mom is registering your virtual presence even if she doesn’t respond.
As far as what she’ll remember when you finally see her, I would offer this hope. People with dementia, particularly of the Alzheimer’s type, generally hold onto memories of the past even when recent memory has faded. That means that her chance of recognizing you for who you are will still likely vary day by day, but she may occasionally still be able to tap into who you are. Hang onto the fact that you reside in your mom’s heart and always will.
Yes, it’s awful to think that our parent or spouse can’t recognize us as family, yet that’s the reality of the disease, and caregivers learn to live with it. Your mom may remember you as a little girl or a teenager, or when you got married, so you could try to show her pictures of that time during your chats.
Other than that, keep doing what you’re doing. This separation has changed the dynamic for caregivers and those they care for, but you’re being a wonderful caregiver in the only way that you can be right now.
Let’s hope that you are allowed to visit in person very soon.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.