Mom never forgot us on her Alzheimer’s journey

Sep 2nd, 2020 | By | Category: News, Spotlight

Editor’s note: The following article from the Alzheimer’s Association is among the first-person accounts about why people are participating in upcoming Alzheimer’s Walks, the annual fund-raising events for care, support and research programs. Locally, the walks this year are partially virtual and are scheduled for Sept. 20 in Olympia, Sept. 27 in Tacoma, and Oct. 3 in Seattle. Information on how to get involved is available at 1-800-272-3900 and alzwa.org/walk.

Norma Salgado (left) is participating in this year’s Alzheimer’s Walk in memory of her mother (right), who died last year after struggling with Alzheimer’s disease.

My name is Norma Alejandra Salgado, and I live in Puyallup. I am a mother of four (ages 22, 19, 14 and 18 months.) I am married and I work as a medical Spanish interpreter. I started my career because I took my mom to all her medical appointments.

I am 43 years old and from Guadalajara, Mexico. I am the youngest of 11 kids that my mom had — yes, 11! As the youngest of my family, I usually took care of my mom’s needs.

We started to notice some changes in my mom’s behavior around eight years ago. She seemed sadder.  She was usually pretty much an independent woman, strong and happy. She smiled at all people, and was a friendly and nice lady.

My mom enjoyed travel very much. She loved the beach and her city Guadalajara (she lived between Seattle and Guadalajara). Suddenly, she seemed to be unhappy, and kept asking to go back to Mexico and would cry about it. My family thought that she just missed her hometown more than usual, so we thought it was normal.

Time passed and her memory showed more and more signs. For example, one time she got lost outside of her apartment and couldn’t get back into her home. Luckily, someone recognized her and helped her back to her apartment.

When I used to go help her clean her apartment, I would find yogurt in the drawer in her bedroom, sugar in the fridge, and little things like that. We thought that was normal for her age, but I could tell she was worrying, too. She probably felt different. She even asked me a couple of times to take her to see the doctor and asked for medications so she wouldn’t forget things.

We asked the doctor a couple times but got nothing. No one talked to us about Alzheimer’s. One time we got a new doctor, and she prescribed medication for mom’s “depression.” Well, that medication caused a panic attack for my mom and she ended it up at the ER.

When mom felt sad, she asked us to send her back to Mexico. She was excited, but once she traveled it was the same thing–she got sad, angry at everything, and asked to come back to Seattle.

As a big family, we had too many differences in opinion because we didn’t know what was happening with my mother. Sometimes my mom would say that someone stole her earrings or money, and we thought that was true. As a family, we sometimes fought about it.

Time passed and no doctor could explain what was going on or give us a guide to know what to expect. Mom was attending a senior group in the area. It was something she really enjoyed, but then she began having problems like going to the bathroom and getting lost on her way back to the meeting room, or getting angry at other ladies for stealing her purse. The group leaders called to tell me that they decided that my mom was not welcome in the senior center any more. I couldn’t tell my mom that.

Finally, one day she had a simple test at the doctor’s office, and the doctor told me she had dementia. He said she will forget things, but didn’t give me too much information beyond that. I decided to learn more about Alzheimer’s signs and symptoms and how to manage them. I looked into treatment, but there wasn’t much information.

We tried different natural and alternative things, but nothing seemed to work very well. It was harder and harder to deal with my mom’s moods, but we loved her so much. We were trying to get as much help as we could. We were able to get her a caregiver and it helped us out a lot. We were finally able to have a break. You never know what to expect; every day is a challenge.

One of the things I feel so lucky about is that my mom never forgot about us. She couldn’t remember my name, but she knew she loved me and I was special to her.  She became more kind, gave us more hugs and kisses, and she really loved being around her family. She hated being alone or with someone she didn’t know.

The last few months were the hardest part. I always thought Alzheimer’s meant forgetting people, places and things; I never thought the body would forget what it needs, too. So my mom’s body started to forget basic needs like feeling hungry or full. She forgot the urge of going to the bathroom and being thirsty. That’s when the biggest problems showed up. She stopped eating and drinking and her body was growing  weaker and weaker. She passed away on April 18, 2020.

Mom was at home, surrounded by her beloved ones, warm in bed, with medications that helped her have no pain. She wasn’t alone; she couldn’t have been alone in a hospital or nursing home. It was hard, very hard, seeing my mom leave, but I am at peace. I did everything I could to make her feel loved, calm, even happy. She loved flowers and birds, so whenever she felt agitated, I put on bird sounds and she was calm. Music always helped, too. Singing with her and hearing my kids around the house made her happy. She wasn’t alone.

Her nickname was Chelito. I decided to walk for her, in her memory.  I just wish we could have more education about dementia. We need more information, so people don’t think older people with dementia are annoying, crazy, or trying to get on your toes just because they want to. We need to spread awareness that Alzheimer’s is a disease.

We need more awareness and resources so that families know what to expect when their loved one has dementia and can learn how to help their loved ones.

That’s why I am walking. It’s for you, Chelito!

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