From most of my life, I have consciously used my parents as negative models.
In the past three weeks she’s suffered a noticeable, rapid decline. A minor fall in the dining room of her old–age community, causing bleeding from a small scrape on the scalp but no other damage, led to an overnight hospital stay and an intensive series of tests (CT scan, EEG, EKG, etc.) that as usual led to a clean bill of health but traumatized her psychologically.
At some point, we believe, she probably has had a series of transient ischemic attacks – small strokes – that have begun to impair her cognition. My youngest brother, who lives in the same town as my mother, has over the years been patient and responsive to her, and extremely helpful in finding good care for her, in the midst of pursuing a busy life and career. This week, she began calling him approximately fifteen times a day with trivial complaints and questions. As the week went on, these progressed from being silly annoyances to being disturbing warning signs. The other day, sitting on her couch a few feet away from her dinner tray (she is no longer mobile enough to go downstairs to the community dining room), she called him because she was unable to lift herself from the couch to get to her dinner. Later that evening, an aide called him on my mother’s behalf because my mother could no longer remember his phone number – a number she had called approximately fifteen times that same day, and thousands of times over the years.
Although she has no major ailments, she can no longer walk, feed herself, bathe herself, dress herself, or toilet herself. In the past few weeks, she has had episodes of incoherence for the first time. She is still lucid and intelligent when discussing external, objective issues in person, but when discussing her own situation, especially over the phone, she sounds pathetically feeble and digresses relentlessly as if to avoid the fear and humiliation she must be feeling. She is receiving the highest level of care her community offers; the next stop will probably be a 24-hour aide in an apartment outside the community, and after that, a nursing home.