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The poignancy of the "loss" of a mother to Alzheimers

Mike Carlton writes a weekly column in The Sydney Morning Herald and is also a broadcaster.    The week before last he wrote, poignantly, about his mother turning 90 - but her "loss" to him because of her Alzheimer's.

"My mother turns 90 today, but she probably won't know it. Alzheimer's disease and the onset of nameless fears have hollowed out what was a lively and humorous mind. My brother tells me that when I go to see her in the nursing home near Brisbane this weekend there is every chance she will not recognise me, her firstborn child. If she does, she will not remember the visit five minutes after I have left.

Her life has no quality to it. She has no knowledge of her five grandchildren and one great grandson. Once she was a voracious reader and a keen gardener and knitter, but all that is beyond her now and she is too frightened and confused even to turn on the TV. We had to take her telephone away because she was running up huge bills making the same call to say the same anxious thing to the same person, every half hour. Her days and nights are spent lying on a bed in a small, beige room, staring at the walls and waiting to die.

I owe her a lot over a long life. My father died when I was five and she never remarried, which left her raising two boys on the small wage of a doctors' secretary. But, honestly, I shrink from seeing her again. I will find it hard, even surreal, to reconcile today's frail wraith with the vigorous young woman who changed my nappies, tended my grazed knees, bought my first long pants, corrected my table manners and my English, and pulled every string she knew to find me a job when I left school.

But I will bring her the red roses she has always liked, kiss her on a feathery cheek and tell her that I love her, and hope that there is a miraculous spark of the mum I once knew, even for a second.

There must be hundreds of thousands of Australian families in a similar frame. If only there could be a better way to go when your time is up."


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