For Kelly Gunderson, her mother’s inability to recognize her is the most heart-breaking aspect of the Alzheimer’s disease that has become a part of their relationship. Her mother’s confusion and memory loss have become a familiar story, but Kelly always holds out hope that she will hear her mother speak her name. And, one day, completely unexpectedly her mother did. To Kelly’s utter dismay, during a most intimate moment while lying down with her mother, she heard her mother say her name. And not only her name, but Kelly also heard her mother say “I love you.”
Captured on video, it is a scene sure to stir even the most impassionate person. For Kelly, it was a breakthrough moment, a short glimpse into the mind of her mother that escaped ever so briefly from the prison of her Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, Kelly asks her mother about this sudden recognition, especially on the heels of earlier statements that she had no idea who she was talking to. Kelly’s mother, like so many Alzheimer’s patients, tried to explain that her thoughts get confused, especially when she feels some fear. She reveals to Kelly that most of the time, she is asking herself, “Lord, what am I thinking about?”
Alzheimer’s is a neurological disease that slowly and progressively destroys brain cells, resulting in memory loss and cognitive failure. Cognitive skills include: thinking and reasoning, and even some basic behavioral controls. At its worse, Alzheimer’s robs a person of the ability to complete even the simplest of tasks and many patients end up, like Kelly’s mother, in a long-term care facility. According to a 2013 report from the Alzheimer’s Association, a little more than one-tenth of Americans—five million—over the age of 65 are suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Significant research dollars and effort is going into developing earlier detection techniques and treatment methodologies for Alzheimer’s disease. Hopefully, one day soon, mothers with Alzheimer’s will still call out their daughters’ names. In the meantime, Kelly is happy with rare moments of recognition and memory, and of course, her mother’s eternal love.