Changes in my Mom

As many of you know, my mother is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. She was diagnosed about 6 years ago, but we believe she has had it for nearly 8 years.

About three months ago, we were informed that her pacemaker, which she had put in 9 years ago, needed to be replaced. This was a huge ethical issue for our family. Do we put our 86 year old mother through the pain and risk of surgery to implant the new pacemaker? Or do we just let the pacemaker battery naturally die and take the risk of what would follow with my mother.

Given the cruel things that happen with Alzheimer’s in the late stages, we envisioned we may be adding years to my mother’s life by keeping her heart beating. But given what Alzheimer’s does to a person’s body in the late stages, is this a good thing or a bad thing? The Cardiologist asked me, “Wouldn’t it be kinder if your mother just went to sleep as opposed to being destroyed by Alzheimer’s?” I wasn’t sure how a son was supposed to answer this question. I’m not sure if there is a right answer.

My sisters and I met and decided we were going ahead with the surgery, it is what my mother would have wanted.

On Monday my mother was transported from her Aegis community to the local hospital. She was met bright and early at 6am by the surgery nurse. We explained that she had Alzheimer’s and could not really communicate for herself. Mom looked confused and a little bit scared. My sisters and I tried to calm her down and make her feel at ease. For the last few months, mom has not been able to connect full sentences. She is able to get a word or two out and but that is about it.

The surgery nurse decided it was time to give the IV. Elderly have bad veins and getting an IV in them is a major event and often a painful one. The nurse decided to put the IV in her hand, painful because there is very little fat. The nurse gave the poke and my mom screamed and said, “Take that G— D— thing out of my hand or I am going to slap your face.” My initial reaction was to calm my mother down. Then I turned to my sister and said, “Did she just say what I think she said.” The fact that she realized she had just had pain in a specific area was remarkable, the fact that she could articulate it was epic.

Mom did fine during the surgery and was kept in the hospital for a night of observation. While in the hospital she had a blood pressure cuff that would fill and then release. Once during the filling of the cuff, mom turned to me and said, “This thing is much too tight, can you take if off my arm?” She spoke in long sentences throughout the day. I was fascinated by what happened to get her to have her verbal skills back to some extent.

Yesterday, we took her back to her Aegis home where the Executive Director, who is also a nurse, remarked that it was as if she had gone back to where she was a year ago.

I was intrigued by this and immediately started calling researchers and physicians that I knew to ask what could have possibly happened. Most said it was the new pacemaker that made blood flow more robust causing her brain to get more blood and oxygen, which improved verbal capacity. But then I reminded them the first event took place before the new pacemaker was put in. Another theory came out that when you have an influx of pain it shoots adrenaline throughout your body and that some how the adrenaline was jumping over the block receptors and enabling the mind to have transmission again. Our UW Longevity Doctor was so impressed; she said it was going to be the topic for the research team today.

I am fascinated by this. I am not sure if this is episodic or not. I am not sure if it will last a day or a year. But I am happy I got my mom back for that day and that she was telling us we did the right thing by her.

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