AARP Eye Center
By Heather Lee Leap
I may not fit your image of AARP. A year ago, I would've scoffed at the very suggestion that they had anything to offer me. As a 42-year-old mother of three, my days are filled with meal plans, music lessons, soccer games and track meets. But suddenly, I found myself providing a different sort of care; one for which AARP provides tremendous support and resources.
In the spring of 2013 my mother was rather casually diagnosed with “some dementia” by her primary care provider. By the end of that summer we had moved her across the country to live with us, completely unprepared for the reality of her condition.
My mother often made decisions we didn't support, so we simply made excuses for her odd behavior, while she did her best to hide her decline. And in that denial, we let things slide.
My mother came to us confused and malnourished. She could not write a check, prepare a meal, or operate her shower.
It took six weeks for us to get her evaluated by a neuropsychologist who confirmed what my own observations and the internet had already told me: My mom has Alzheimer’s.
“I think she is significantly more impaired than any of you realize,” the doctor said over the phone following his nearly three hour assessment. “She has had this for a long time to be at this level.”
He went on to explain the slow creep of the disease as one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s, differentiating it from other forms of dementia.
My mother lived with me, my husband, and our three daughters, ages 9, 12 and 15. It was six months before we were able to move her to a care facility a few short miles from our home. We were concerned for her safety and our own sanity.
Because of her diagnosis, this will be the first Mother’s Day that I’ll spend with my mom in the fifteen years that I too have been a mother. For nearly twenty years we have lived on opposite coasts, visiting every year or two, or even three. My brothers lived near her and took her to lunch on her special day. From me: A card. An occasional gifts. A phone call. We would chat about what she did with my brothers, and about what my family did for me.
This Mother’s Day, we will share our holiday. I will pick her up early and probably walk her through the steps of taking a shower. I’ll hold in my grief as I help her choose clothing, or turn it right side out, or convince her that she really doesn't need to wear two pairs of slacks. My husband, daughters, and I will take my mom to church, and out to lunch.
This year my mom will not see my brothers, and I expect she will miss them. And to me, her missing them will be a relief. It will mean she remembers them.
Alongside my parenting journey, I’m headed into a new world of caregiving which, like parenting itself, involves more than physical day-to-day needs.
I hope the voices of Real Women Speak will provide support to others thrust unexpectedly into a new role or exploring a new stage in life.
Welcome to Real Women Speak, where you’ll hear the voices of Oregon women who are struggling, soaring, muddling through and motivated to move forward.
Inspired by Decide.Create.Share, this blog chronicles stories from lighthearted happenings to questions of fortitude. From life-altering changes to simple anecdotes, our shared narratives serve to inspire, guide, and connect us.
Every woman has a voice. AARP Oregon seeks to amplify them.
About our lead blogger: Hello, my name is Heather Lee Leap. My experience as a wife, mother, and caregiver of a family member with Alzheimer’s continues to influence my work as a freelance writer. With a passion for health, wellness, and the myriad issues confronting families today, I’m pleased to join AARP Oregon and Real Women Speak to help end the silence that can isolate us as we navigate life’s challenges.