Mom, Alzheimer’s and the Prom

I’ve mentioned previously that my mother is an Alzheimer’s patient. She — and our entire family — have suffered from this horrible disease for eight years or so. If you have a loved one who suffers from Alzheimer’s, you understand how heartbreaking it is. The mother I have loved all my life is no longer with us. My dad is exhausted from trying to maintain as much normalcy as he can in their lives. That exhaustion takes its own toll on Dad’s health.

Mom, who will turn 80 this summer, lives in a “memory center.” That is, a facility that was developed specially for older patients with dementias. It is a wonderful place where the professionals are highly conscientious and respectful of the patients in their care. I hear stories from many of you about your elderly loved ones who end up in horrible situations, so it makes me that much more appreciative of Mom’s situation. Dad is only minutes away and sees her almost every day.

I’ve blogged before about the positive effects music has on Alzheimer’s patients. It seems to reconnect some of those broken pathways in the brain, even if only temporarily. Music brings memories and smiles to those who otherwise seem to have little joy in their lives.

My mother is especially uplifted by music because music has always been a focus of her life. She was a vocal music major in college, directed various choirs, including those at our church while I was growing up, and has always loved to listen to music, whether it was a Broadway musical, the symphony, a record or CD or even attending a child’s or grandchild’s school concert. A case in point — every Saturday night Dad visits Mom, they put Lawrence Welk on TV, and they sing and dance to the music. They are adorable together!

And despite the ravages of her dementia, somehow Mom has retained the quality of her beautiful singing voice, and she remembers the words to all those old songs. Go figure.

But last evening’s activities at the Memory Center are notable. Last night, Mom and Dad went to a prom! Not to be outdone — or out dressed — by young people who are just a fraction of their ages, the residents in the memory center, and their ‘dates’, enjoyed an evening of dining and dancing and singing… a good time was had by all!

Why do I share this with you? Because despite the debilitation, despite the frustrations of the disease (or any disease or condition), despite the sadness at the loss of the spirit of my mother, despite my dad’s, sisters’ and my collective longing for who she was, the fact that Mom and Dad could still enjoy an evening of fun and music together highlights two important aspects of what hasn’t been completely lost: joy and dignity.

Joy? The Prom was an opportunity to remember the aspects of Mom’s life that are still positive — the quality that still exists. As they have so many times in the past, my parents enjoyed an evening out together, doing things they’ve always enjoyed doing.

Dignity? The Prom was an opportunity to recognize that the residents of the Memory Center are truly treated with dignity — which is so often lost in other facilities, and so easily subtracted from the elderly in our culture. Kudos and appreciation go out every day to the wonderful people who work there. They certainly give new meaning to the “prom committee” !!

If you or a loved one suffers from any disease or condition, then my wish for you would be the same. Look for opportunities to maintain or reclaim the quality and dignity of life. It can make all the difference in how the rest of your life is lived.

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1 thought on “Mom, Alzheimer’s and the Prom”

  1. Follow up — Questions asked since this post:

    A few people wrote to me to ask me these questions:

    First — did Mom and Dad make it home in time for curfew? (!)
    Yes — they did — early in fact! They called me around 9 PM to say they had a marvelous time.

    Second — did Dad get lucky? (!!!!!!)
    Hmmm…. that’s not exactly a question a daughter asks her father — but — I’m guessing that if I asked Dad that question, he would tell me that, in fact, he is the luckiest man in the world.


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Trisha Torrey
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