Helping a Loved One with Dementia is Like Doing a Puzzle with Few Clues

Helping a Loved One with Dementia is Like Doing a Puzzle with Few Clues December 6, 2023

My mother is suffering from Dementia, most likely Alzheimer’s, and I am feeling overwhelmed. After suffering from cognitive decline for a while, the decline is happening more quickly. I find myself feeling stupid as I realize I did not pick up on clues as to what is happening when she is alone. I like crossword puzzles, but this puzzle provides fewer clues.

My Mom

My mom is almost 86: she was a Christmas baby. She has lived on the West Coast for ten years. She has been a widow for nine of these years. Mom still walks about two miles a day by herself in her neighborhood which has beautiful views of Puget Sound. (She now wears a medical alert necklace in case of a fall.) She spends time daily with the online New York Times and likes to read Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope.

I live about ten to fifteen minutes away. My brother, his wife, and my sister live forty miles away, and my youngest brother is in another state.

The Pandemic

I think that the beginning of her cognitive decline began during the pandemic. In Spring of 2022, my brother invited us to breakfast and to see Snoqualmie Falls which was raging at that time. (He does not chase tornadoes, but he likes extreme weather.) Mom was going down some steps and fell. It was unusual for her to fall. She was not hurt physically but did not remember falling, however, so we took her to Urgent Care and then the Emergency Room where we had a nine-hour wait and her assessment. They decided to admit her and diagnosed her with congestive heart failure.

A photo of Snoqualmie Falls, WA
I associate Snoqualmie Falls with my mom’s fall. It also captures my sense of being overwhelmed. Photo by Zac Gudakov,


A key aspect of any dementia is forgetting events, people, and what a person did that morning.

Forgetting to Eat?

A woman from a local support program began coming to visit one day a week and my mother was initially hesitant. She likes the woman, however, and looks forward to seeing her.

All of us noticed that she was forgetting what she had or had not done and that she was uncertain about the names of relatives. One morning, Mom would only walk if holding on to a person or wall. She did not want to eat. Later in the day, she finally ate two hamburgers and drank orange juice. The next thing I knew she was walking on her own without realizing it. Her blood sugar had been so low, and she had been so dehydrated that she was dizzy.

Then, on a day I was a lector, mom slumped over on the man next to her in church. Someone called the EMTs and they took her to the emergency room. She was dehydrated. Aha! I felt so slow! I realized that in addition to forgetting names and events, she was forgetting to eat which had caused the dizziness and the slumping.

Forgetting Loved Ones and Key Information

Just before the church incident, she had surprised me by being uncertain where my father had worked all their married life until his retirement as well as where the four of us had attended high school and college. Then she was unsure if a photo showed her deceased brother and sister and their spouses.

I feel like my siblings and I are working on a puzzle in which all the pieces are the same or there are few clues. It just takes us a while to realize what is happening! Additionally, once I do know, I feel like I should have known sooner.

Mom now has people coming four days a week who, in addition to providing company, are making meals, checking her blood pressure, doing laundry, and keeping up the house. My sister-in-law has been researching care facilities and we are touring a few close to Christmas when my youngest brother is in town.

This is Stressful

I feel overwhelmed. I have been stress-eating rather than dealing with the stress in a healthier way. Right now, in our area, we are the recipients of rain from an atmospheric river. Once this deluge slows down, I will have to get out and walk!

My mom has been dealing with the uncertainty better than I have, thus far. I know she feels down because she is unable to do some of the things she could do before, but I think that she is trying to make the best of it. With God’s help, so can I.

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