By Sarah Jane
Mum is full of stories. We all are, of course. But the story part of E’s brain works in very particular ways. These days, it’s programmed to go off to specific stimuli the exact same way, every time.
We drive past A, and Mum tells me about B. I make Y for afternoon tea, Mum recalls Z. The only thing that doesn't prompt her is smells. Like most people with Alzheimer's, Mum’s sense of smell is muted—she can't notice anything but the strongest odor. Put one of her beloved roses to her nose, and amazingly, she can always name the variety, but she fails to pick up even the faintest scent.
“It’s very subtle, dear.” That's code for, “I can't smell a thing.”
It makes me wonder how she can enjoy her food. But she does. Without a sense of smell, her taste must be seriously compromised. When you think about the power of smell in triggering memories, all those prompts must be gone.
But the stories, the stories, the stories. My mother gives me the first five words and I already know exactly what's coming. The words, the emphasis, even the inflection. Together, Mum and I could write an index of first lines.
The repetition could make me crazy, and sometimes it does. On good days, I find ways to cope. On bad days, I’m rubbish.
The trick is to keep the conversation fresh. Like tennis, you hit the ball and your opposite number whacks it back. So I amuse myself, and make Mum happy, by priming her shots.
As we approach A, I ask her about B. Of course, she’s delighted to fill me in, often with details I’ve not heard before.
At afternoon tea, I offer Y, simultaneously inquiring about Z. It’s a dance and it makes both partners very happy. Instead of dreading the inevitable stories, I’m deliberately eliciting them and the conversation takes off.
“You know dear, when I was brought up we were all taught the art of conversation...”
Stories, we’re full of them.