I can still remember the day. An experience that told me: you are not alone; it’s all about the disease. An experience that let me know I could learn from the experience of others that came before me. That it would be possible for me to get ahead of the curve and get “mentally” prepared.
In the beginning one of the things that drove me crazy was my mother’s constant eating. My mother would just eat and eat and eat. Even though she was overeating she would tell her friends on the telephone that she had not eaten a thing all day. And, this was at 4:30 in the afternoon. It seemed that the more she ate the more she denied eating. And it only continued to get crazier and crazier. My mother who was a good 30 pounds overweight told her friends I was trying to starve her. The friends believed her. They called me in the background to ask me why I wasn’t feeding my mother. They couldn’t accept she was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease so they believed her. When I asked them if it looked like she was being starved they just did not know how to respond. They just got confused. They knew then it wasn’t true.
It might not be easy to envision this but my mother could eat a five course meal and then turn around and eat again in 30 minutes. This happened for the first time on Easter Sunday. We went to a buffet style brunch at the Delray Country Club. My mother had everything that day ranging from a ham and cheese omelet, to a slice of prime rib, turkey, potatoes, and even a couple of desserts. When we arrived home she changed her cloths and ate a large bowl of cereal with a banana. I had been thinking to myself that I was going to be unable to eat anything for the rest of the day. Seeing her eating the cereal drove me crazy, literally up the wall. This was becoming a common experience for me. It left me angry, confused and completely out of sorts. I just wanted to scream, Stop!
I am not talking about a gigantic woman. Before the Alzheimer’s really started taking hold, I doubt her weight fluctuated more than five to seven pounds over the previous 15 years. She wore a size 6-8 all those years.
Now, it was not unusual for my mother to eat at 11:30 at night, to get up out of bed and eat at 1:30 in the morning and 4.27 AM. She would eat breakfast at 7 AM and again at 9. She would eat lunch, several snacks, and everyday at 4:30 in the afternoon shortly after I reminded her that we would be eating dinner in half an hour--a sandwich. You could set your clock to the time of day. I could go out into the kitchen and just wait for her or better yet just perk my ears up at 4:30 and listen for the refrigerator to start beeping. Later she would have dinner and begin the cycle all over again beginning around 9 o’clock at night.
This pattern of eating was driving me crazier and crazier. My tiny 5 foot tall mother had ballooned to 152 pounds. I knew this was dangerous to her health (she was developing visceral fat and this can be life threatening). She could barely walk to the mailbox and back. It was causing her to become more and more sedentary. It was a vicious cycle. I didn’t know what to do or where to turn.
Finally, I decided to get us into the gym for some exercise (my own weight had ballooned all the way up to 206). As I was thinking about how I might accomplish this mission we received a flyer in the mail from my mother’s healthcare provider (Humana). It was almost as if I was receiving an answer to a prayer: the Silver Sneakers Program. The flyer announced that on January 1, 2005 all Humana Gold Plus members would be eligible for a free membership to a gym and enrollment into a exercise program specifically designed for Senior citizens. I enrolled my mother into the Silver Sneakers Program (SSP) and bought myself a two year membership to Gold’s Gym in Delray Beach. Since the SSP was offered at Gold’s this allowed us to go to the gym and to work out at the same time. And this is where it happened.
Next time Part 2. Some startling realizations, the end of denial, the beginning of an understanding of the behavior around the disease, and my own mental construct of how to deal emotionally with the behavior.
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