One day, about three years after that initial brain scan, our mom took a fall. Oh, and not just any fall, but a terrible fall. The kind of fall that changes everything.
Our cousin was over visiting with my brother and mom one day. They were at the kitchen table just sitting and talking together. I am not sure if mom was already up from her chair moving around the kitchen or just got up from her chair to throw something away, but as she leaned slightly forward to throw what she had in her hand in the garbage, she lost her balance.
At that point, both of her legs actually left the floor swinging wildly up and backwards as she feverishly tried to regain some kinesthetic sense of where she was at; however, it was too late as her head and face moved quickly toward the floor. It was as if she intended to do a flip, only without the height or rotation to make it around. Her forehead slammed into the floor with great force as her legs went over her head crashing into the sliding glass patio doors. Her body bent in half like a piece of paper with her head on the floor, feet in the air bouncing off the glass, and her lower back creasing as if it were made of Play-Doh.
My brother, a chiropractor by profession, quickly moved to her checking all her vitals and running basic neurological tests to see how bad it was. All vitals seemed normal, no unequal pupils, no headache, no nausea, etc., and she insisted that she was fine indicating no other issues. We, however, weren’t so sure so my brother decided to keep a close eye on her with the idea that any complaint would warrant a trip to the hospital.
As it turned out, within a couple days, her back stiffened up and she started complaining of lower back pain. This, plus the dark yellowish bruse appearing on her forhead above her eyebrow, and traveling all the way around the top of her head to the back of her skull, prompted that hospital trip.
There they administered x-rays and a brain scan, along with other neurological tests, finding only a compression fracture in her back (upon second opinion). There didn't seem to be any indication of brain trauma.
It was certainly upsetting to learn of her fracture, however, we were much relieved that the doctors found no hemorrhaging in her brain nor evidence of a stroke. Rest and pain killers were prescribed as time would heal this wound, the only consequence of her fall, or so we thought.
In the coming weeks, my brother started noticing significant changes in our mom’s demeanor, and some strange behavior. She started to have much more trouble remembering simple things that did not seem to be much of an issue before her fall. Oh sure, there were some little tasks she was having trouble with before, but not to the extent that we now started to notice.
She also started to become very confused, not being able to distinguish certain items. At times, she couldn’t recognize her lighter (she was a smoker). I mean she did not even know what it was. She had trouble figuring out the correct side of her cigarette to light, or even how to light it at all. She would ask for something to light it with not knowing what to ask for, one time even lighting up a paper towel on the stove in order to get her cigarette lit. Several lighters could be right in front of her and she would not recognize what they were. Picking up one of the lighters and showing her did not help either.
At times, conversations with her did not seem to make any sense, yet, other times she was fine. Cooking, cleaning, and general household chores pretty much stopped. She did still bathe and take care of other bodily functions just fine, but her eating decreased rapidly as she did not seem to want to eat or have interest in food. Her weight loss increased dramatically.
One very strange thing she did that we will never forget was her attempt at making her significant other a sandwich for dinner late one afternoon. She took two pieces of bread, placed a good number of used cigarette butts on the bread as if it were some kind of meat, spread mayonnaise over the other slice of bread placing it on top of the cigarette butts, and then wrapped it all up in plastic wrap. And when she was shown the sandwich she made, she asked “who would do such a thing?” declaring that she knows better than to do something like this.
As time passed, her behavior continued downhill quickly as she started to demonstrate paranoid type behavior stating things like she had no money left and was about to lose the house, complained of breathing issues that had no real basis, and started relentless and panicky phone calls to my brother, sister and myself. Sometimes as many as 30, 40, or more phone calls in one day leaving messages that she needed my brother (or one of us) to come over to help her, that she could not breathe, that the police were coming for her, and countless other paranoid type statements just in order to have someone come home. She even called her granddaughters, my kids, to try and get a hold of us if she left a message and did not get a call back right away.
We had been in communication with her GP over the last couple of months and our most recent call encompassed discussing all that was currently going on with mom. At this point, he recommended we take her to an Alzheimer specialist he knew in the area. We promptly made an appointment.
Mom’s initial appointment included a battery of tests that took around 3 hours, give or take. At the end of the appointment, I was told that mom’s short term memory was pretty much non-existent and her ability to hold her balance was also gone. One of us was to bring her back for the results of the rest of her tests in a couple of weeks.
Don’t miss Part III: Facing Dementia, The Sad Tale of Finding a Home For Mom coming Monday.