The Great Depression

Watching the snowball of daily changes roll into an Alzheimer’s avalanche has rocketed me into depression, a place I never wanted to visit.

Although I didn’t need a quiz to confirm it, I took the depression assessment recently released by Google/National Alliance on Mental Illness. I passed with flying colors, like the alcoholism questionnaire I nervously took twenty years ago. Today, I face the same emotions: able to admit, difficult to accept.

Joining the ranks of Prozac Nation terrifies me almost more than the rapid-fire progression of Alzheimer’s and Mom’s upcoming move to a dementia care home.

I’ve chosen a different solution: counseling. My counselor runs a holistic dementia care home, based on the Eden Alternative. She’s energetic and compassionate. Outdoorsy and nurturing. She helps heal my soul.

Depression continues. Yet joy — often more elusive than accessible – returns, if only for an hour.


My mother is an artist. She may no longer wield a paintbrush, but even through the haze of dementia, she still sees things through an artist’s eyes. The backyard tiger lilies in their marmalade-hued splendor. How the sun glitters on the cove. The texture of the acorn along the wooded path where we walk. Her observation skills are finely honed in certain areas but frustratingly elusive in others.

In her narrow tunnel of Alzheimer’s World, things disappear. Memories. Objects. Motor skills. Words. Time. And, most maddeningly of all, herself.

Ever concerned with appearance, she tries to portray herself to the outside world in picture perfect form. “She’s so sharp,” a neighbor commented after a brief visit. Afterward, she fell apart, the exhaustion of denial overloading the tangled brain wires.

And as I watch her slip away, part of me disappears.

Sketch by my mother, c. 1975

School Daze

“There’s that yellow box on wheels!” mom said delightedly, as the island schoolbus drove past.

I was instantly transported to the early mornings forty-five years ago when I waited to be picked up for school at the end of the driveway.

My mother sketched me waiting for the bus over the span of the seasons, in various outfits and poses. The tiny island school of my youth –there were four others in my grade – represented both excitement and trepidation.

Now, when Alzheimer’s World feels as isolated as our island, that trepidation resurfaces. The woman who taught me how to read and lovingly packed school lunches is often unable to tell time or remember words.

Yet with dementia’s incongruent acuity, there are moments when her intellect shines bright. And I am as proud as she was with my straight-A report card.

Learn more about why people with dementia struggle with telling time