Hugs, kisses and “I love you, Mom” everyday.

13 Sep 2011By Noorlinah Mohamed, Singapore

“You should come back sooner than you planned. Your mom is not the same.”

What does it mean?
Cranky?
Grumpy?
Old age?

Forgetful.

Oh. Ok. That’s normal right, with old age? Like senility?

Maybe.
She looks confused.
First she gets the days wrong.
Then she confuses twilight for morning.
Yesterday she wanted breakfast. At 7pm. That’s odd.

We note, we observe, we feel, we know.
The doctor says depression.
Can we get tests done?
Memory test.
Blood test.
Behaviour test.
Brain scan.

Diagnosis – the big ‘A’ word.

She doesn’t know what it means.
How do you explain Alzheimer’s to her?

My mother lives with my husband and I for close to 7 years now. She has always been the QUEEN of the kitchen. She is a great cook. Heaps of recipes learnt by memory. A wonderful caregiver: generous, patient and loving. Unconditional. She prides herself with feeding us well. On weekends, she prepares feasts fit for a football team. There are only 4 mouths to feed, Mom. I always remind her. But she is so happy cooking. We eat. We eat and eat and eat. And she, smiles. No, beaming!

A year before the diagnosis, she gently told us she has been feeling tired. A fall in the bathroom came soon after. The accident fractured her wrist but shattered her spirit. She lost her confidence. Then came depression. She would sit by the window for hours. Sometimes she would lie in bed, hardly moving. Then came surges of uncontrollable anger, and sometimes, deep sadness that causes her to cry for days on end. During this time, I had left for the UK for my doctoral research. But it became clear that her condition was worsening and I returned home.

Our months of research – scouring over internet articles, speaking with the Alzheimer’s Association in Singapore, getting help from the New Horizon Day Care Centre and attending talks and courses on dementia – has helped us help her better.

My mother’s routine consists of morning exercises, walks, gentle massages and light meals. In our family, overt expressions of love, verbal or physical, is not a tradition. Now we are making up for lost time with hugs, kisses and saying “I love you, Mom” everyday.

We also add beauty, skincare and day-care fashion tips to the mix. She enjoys the smell and feel of powder on her cheeks and the eyeliner on her lower eyelid. She loves the new exercise pants we got for her (her first pair of pants!). She loves her new potong-jantan (boy-haircut, the first boyish look, ever!). She loves her teatime treats (doctor recommended). She loves her new pot of jasmine flowers (not in bloom) and reminds us everyday of how gorgeous they will be. She loves playing ball games (she has her own green rubber ball with a smiley face).

She laughs more than she ever did before. She is able to rattle off a treasure trove of recipes; her tongue, fingers and sense of smell reminds her of what they are.

Yes, my mother still forgets days and dates, gets confused and emotional, is paranoid and howls at night. There will come a time when she will lose herself to dementia.

But for now, we hold on to these precious moments. When nothing else prevails, there is always, hugs, kisses and “I love you, Mom”, everyday.

Noorlinah Mohamed is a Doctoral Researcher (Arts Education) at the University of Warwick.