Tag Archives: aging parents

Reflections on Loss, Love and Loathing

How do you mourn someone when you don’t grieve? I’ve been grappling with this question since my mother’s death a week ago.

It was a good death by any measure. At age 95, she was frail but still living in her own house, with a fulltime caregiver who found her unresponsive and got her to the hospital. She never regained consciousness and slipped away painlessly and peacefully.

The thing is: my mother was not a particularly nice person. We’d been estranged for some years, and despite my efforts at reconciliation my sister reported that she “cared about [me] but was too stubborn” to acknowledge it. We’ve agreed that our mother taught us a great deal about how to be a good parent… by doing the opposite of what had been modeled for us.

One of my cousins wrote, possibly struggling himself to find something to say, that he had admired her “biting wit.” Maybe it was amusing if you weren’t on the receiving end of it.

Another suggested we all remember happier times rather than more recent events. This one’s a puzzler, too, because although I had a generally happy childhood it was more to do with friends, locations, and activities than specific parental memories. I keep trying to dredge them up, but the more unpleasant ones surge to the foreground. Such as the time my mother, sister and I were chatting on the porch and within the space of about a minute she’d chastised my sister for being a stay-at-home mom and “wasting her education” and me for having a demanding career and presumably neglecting my kids. Lose-lose.

This was a person who wouldn’t come to any of her grandchildren’s birthday parties because she and my dad found them “boring.” Likewise, any sports the kids played. She simply wasn’t interested, and couldn’t fathom why these things might be important to them, or why she should pretend to care.

Another memory comes to mind: When her friend of many years was dying of cancer, I asked my mother if she’d visited or called the woman. The reply: “No, (because) I wouldn’t know what to say.”

It helps a little to understand that she was a victim of her own upbringing: a brilliant, intellectual, and aloof mother who found her silly and frivolous, a sweet but depressive father, and a brother who suffered from extreme bipolar disorder that alternated between mania (such as the time he got arrested on the subway for pushing a young woman into the seat he’d vacated for her, not understanding that her polite refusals were most likely terror at the crazy man who kept insisting she sit down) and catatonia.

The other night my husband and I had dinner with some dear friends who told us that three generations of a family they know had contracted COVID and were not expected to survive.

That’s a tragedy.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Dementia or Alzheimer’s?


A few days ago DH and I watched the lovely and touching movie, The Leisure Seeker, which reminded me to share an interesting article.

My parents’ generation used to refer to this health issue as “losing your marbles”, which sounds more charmingly benign than the sad reality of cognitive decline. Whether you’re concerned for yourself, an aging relative, or a friend, I hope you’ll find it informative.


Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s: Which Is It? How to understand the difference — and why it matters

by Kathleen Fifield, AARP, June 25, 2018 

The terms “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s” have been around for more than a century, which means people have likely been mixing them up for that long, too. But knowing the difference is important. While Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia (accounting for an estimated 60 to 80 percent of cases), there are several other types. The second most common form, vascular dementia, has a very different cause — namely, high blood pressure. Other types of dementia include alcohol-related dementia, Parkinson’s dementia and frontotemporal dementia; each has different causes as well. In addition, certain medical conditions can cause serious memory problems that resemble dementia.

A correct diagnosis means the right medicines, remedies and support. For example, knowing that you have Alzheimer’s instead of another type of dementia might lead to a prescription for a cognition-enhancing drug instead of an antidepressant. Finally, you may be eligible to participate in a clinical trial for Alzheimer’s if you’ve been specifically diagnosed with the disease.

What It Is


In the simplest terms, dementia is a nonreversible decline in mental function.

It is a catchall phrase that encompasses several disorders that cause chronic memory loss, personality changes or impaired reasoning, Alzheimer’s disease being just one of them, says Dan G. Blazer, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center.

To be called dementia, the disorder must be severe enough to interfere with your daily life, says Constantine George Lyketsos, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center in Baltimore.


It is a specific disease that slowly and irreversibly destroys memory and thinking skills.

Eventually, Alzheimer’s disease takes away the ability to carry out even the simplest tasks.

A cure for Alzheimer’s remains elusive, although researchers have identified biological evidence of the disease: amyloid plaques and tangles in the brain. You can see them microscopically, or more recently, using a PET scan that employs a newly discovered tracer that binds to the proteins. You can also detect the presence of these proteins in cerebral spinal fluid, but that method isn’t used often in the U.S.

How It’s Diagnosed


A doctor must find that you have two or three cognitive areas in decline.

These areas include disorientation, disorganization, language impairment and memory loss. To make that diagnosis, a doctor or neurologist typically administers several mental-skill challenges.

In the Hopkins verbal learning test, for example, you try to memorize then recall a list of 12 words — and a few similar words may be thrown in to challenge you. Another test — also used to evaluate driving skills — has you draw lines to connect a series of numbers and letters in a complicated sequence.


There’s no definitive test; doctors mostly rely on observation and ruling out other possibilities.

For decades, diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease has been a guessing game based on looking at a person’s symptoms. A firm diagnosis was not possible until an autopsy was performed.

But that so-called guessing game, which is still used today in diagnosing the disease, is accurate between 85 and 90 percent of the time, Lyketsos says. The new PET scan can get you to 95 percent accuracy, but it’s usually recommended only as a way to identify Alzheimer’s in patients who have atypical symptoms.

(Images from Pixabay.com)