In some ways, it is the cruelest of diseases.
Mom looks much like she has always looked. She has the same personality in most ways, too. Mom was always stubborn; now she can be downright petulant (especially with matters of health care). She still seems to recognize her loved ones, although if we aren't standing in front of her, she doesn't know how old we are. It's a conundrum: in her mind's eye, her sister is still as she was back in the 1950s, and yet she knows I am a grown woman and I was born in the 60s. Time is no longer a linear thing for Mom. I suspect it is also true that Mom doesn't always know us as well as she pretends, but she's a hella-good faker.
She can't attend to her personal needs anymore. She can't cook, or remember her hygiene or to take her medicine. She doesn't remember anything for more than a few minutes and even those long-ago memories are becoming jumbled: one story melds with another, making new stories. One of the most stubborn and independent people have ever known , now Mom needs to be told to rinse the shampoo from her hair, or to flush. She repeats herself about every 15 minutes, all day, every day. All day, every day. All day, every day.
But then she will say or do something for a brief shining moment, She's MOM again. For that moment, all the decisions we've made of late are called into question. "Is she really so bad off? Does she really need to be moved to a facility? Maybe she's OK..." The moment never lasts, though. The little window closes, and we are shut out again.
We stand by, her children and her family, and watch her slowly slipping behind a great wall of confusion and watching her dignity dwindle. We're watching Alzheimer's disease take our Mom from us.