Picks Disease

I went to visit my mother last week.  My daughter drove me there because, I suspect, she was reluctant to let me borrow her car to go by myself.  (See entry titled “Cars and Girls” for some insight as to why she might be reluctant to lend me her car hehe.)

My mother was diagnosed with Picks disease about two years ago but we should have known much earlier that something was wrong.  She had changed but the changes were good in that she was no longer so rigid or critical of us.  We thought she was mellowing.

About two years ago she fell over and broke her kneecap so she was taken to hospital and they kept her there to give her physiotherapy after the knee had healed.  When they found her wandering around the hospital, unable to find her room despite having been there long enough to have learned her way around, they suspected something was wrong and discovered the Picks disease.

Picks disease is a type of dementia that progresses faster than other forms of dementia, such as Alzheimers, and three to ten years is the survival time frame most websites cite.

They say it could be hereditary but they also say it’s rare.  None of my Mother’s family had it that I know of and the writings about it seem vague enough to suggest they really don’t have a clue how, or why, people get it.

For many years it was my custom to remember my mother only on her birthday and special occasions such as Christmas.  I preferred to have as little to do with her as I could manage.  She made me feel bad about myself and I cut her out of my life to a large degree so I could avoid her judgments and criticisms.

I never felt guilty about discarding her.  As far as I was concerned she was lucky I was willing to play dutiful daughter and remember her on her birthday and special occasions.  She did her duty by me as a child but that was all.  I felt it was quite acceptable to give her the same.

It took a long time, therefore, to realise she had changed.  The first thing I noticed was she no longer held a grudge when I forgot her birthday which I occasionally did.  Then I noticed she was more willing to say nice things to me.  One day she even told me she was proud of me and I almost fell over in shock.

She seemed more forgetful and absent minded and had more trouble holding her train of thought but that didn’t matter to me.  She had always tended to leave her sentences unfinished so the change in her conversational abilities didn’t seem like anything to worry about.

One of the symptoms of Picks disease is the sufferer becomes less conscious of social niceties.  My mother had always, in my opinion, worried far too much about what other people thought.  Now she was not concerned about them it simply made her seem more relaxed and nicer to be around.

When I was moving to live at my current location I stopped off to visit my brother on my way through his town.  My mother was already visiting him so she came with my brother’s partner to pick me up at the train station.

She was wearing her pyjama’s under her coat!

My brother’s partner joked that my mother had intended to come to the train station wearing a pair of her knickers on her head and my mother just laughed and said she couldn’t find her hat.  She was not concerned about what anyone thought of her headgear, she said, she was concerned about keeping her head warm so she would not catch a cold.

We made excuses for her.  I’m a trained psychologist and it should have been clear to me that such a huge change in someone was not the result of normal aging processes but I am also a human being and, like all human beings, I’m prone to seeing what I want to see.

If she had been someone else’s mother I would have known something was very wrong.

When she was diagnosed they told us she could not live on her own any more.  They said she would need constant supervision and would deteriorate rapidly.  They said the best thing for her was to put her into care now so she could become familiar with her surroundings before she got too bad.  They said this would make things easier for her in the long run.

My mother raised her children to be obedient to authority figures and we obeyed the medical authorities.  We put her in a home.  She didn’t like it and asked to move to a different one so we moved her to the one she preferred.

Now she doesn’t like that place either.  Her main complaint is the other residents.  She doesn’t like the way they behave.  She thinks there is something really wrong with them and she feels she can’t have a decent conversation with any of them.

When she first went into the home I continued to stick to just doing my duty.  I called her on birthdays and special occasions only but I noticed she seemed to go downhill very fast.

One day she said she felt she must have been a bad mother because none of her children ever call or come to visit her.  One of my brothers had visited her just days before.  He stopped in to say goodbye before setting off on his long journey home only to find she had forgotten he was coming and gone out.  When I told her about this she just snapped that they could have waited.

I decided to call her every week and see if that would help her.  I made her write down the day and time I would be calling each week in the hope routine would impress it in her memory.

Each week when I call her we have the same conversation about how she thinks she might move out of that place because it is not the same any more.  Each week she complains that she can’t find anyone to have a decent conversation with.  Each week she says the same few sentences over and over and over again.  Each week she tells me with poignant but unrecognized irony how sad it is for her to see the women she lives with go downhill and change so much.

When we arrived last week we took her out shopping.  She wanted lots of stuffed teddies so we bought her those and some other things then we stopped for lunch.

A woman came over and embraced my mother.  The woman looked sad and my mother looked startled.  It was clear from the expression on my mother’s face that she had no idea who the woman was but she did her best to pretend she did know her.

The woman turned to me and asked who I was.  I told her and she said her name was Eileen.  I was watching my mother’s face as the woman said her name and I saw her struggle with her faulty memory.  For a few seconds she looked confused but then she lost the battle and her face went back to polite blankness.

I was dismayed.  I knew this woman and I knew she had been a very important part of my mother’s life.  This was once her best friend and now she didn’t know her.  Some part of her must have known how important this woman used to be, however, because after she left my mother said how nice it was to have seen Eileen B again.  From some place she had called up the woman’s surname and the fact they had gone to the same church but she couldn’t remember anything else.

Within seconds Eileen was gone from her mind again and she was back to the same few sentences about how she was thinking about leaving the home.  How the staff were nice but the place wasn’t the same any more and the people were losing the plot in her opinion.

“There’s just, I don’t know,” she said, “you can’t.. oh.. I can’t.. I don’t know.. there’s nobody to talk to because none of them make any sense and it’s just so sad.”

I nodded with full understanding.  Yes, I thought, yes it is sad.  I didn’t like my mother much before she developed Picks disease but the disease made her more likable.

Now it is taking her away from me and I can’t help wondering if, one day, it will take me too.

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