Certain kinds of dementia are linked to active dreaming. In her current stage of dementia, my mom dreams a lot. Sometimes it’s hard to know if she’s truly asleep, or just in some kind of altered state. At night, she’ll wave her hands and utters sounds that give you the impression she’s talking with someone while she dreams. I wish I could know what she’s seeing.
Mom’s sleep behavior makes me very curious. Her original diagnosis did not focus on Lewy Body dementia. But people with this type of dementia dream in motion, something Mom now does all the time. She reaches her hands high in the air as if she’s about to grab something. Her fingers wiggle around like she’s casting a spell or inviting someone to come closer. It’s a mysterious gesture that makes you want to know what’s going on in her mind.
The Alzheimer’s Association says that in “about 50 percent of cases of Dementia with Lewy Bodies, people experience something called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep disorder. ” Most of us experience our dreams while we are in the REM stage of sleep. If we are enjoying normal REM sleep, the movement of our body is blocked and we don’t physically act our our dreams. With Lewy Bodies dementia, however, people act out their dreams with vivid movements that can even turn violent in some cases.
My mom is not violent and has never done anything worse than pinch me — which can happen when she has muscle spasms. But one night last week I saw my mother reaching up from her bed with one hand so she could slap her other wrist which was extended high in the air. She hit herself five or six times and it was loud enough for me to hear it in another room.
I really do wonder what my mom dreams about at this unusual stage of her life. If I asked her to slap one hand with the other when she was awake, she wouldn’t have the coordination to do it. Does that mean she can control her body better while she’s asleep? Do her memories float back to her when her conscious mind sleeps? Do her dreams include wishes like getting married or falling in love — or do they focus on conflicts?
I entertain myself coming up with ideas about what she might be seeing. Perhaps she’s dreaming that one day she’ll grow up and have a daughter. That dream is the one most likely to come true.
It’s rare that my sister and I get time alone together. One, or both of us, is usually preoccupied with care of my mom. But over Memorial Day weekend, I drove with my sister to visit family and see a bunch of our cousins. The trip was great ’til a traffic accident stretched our two-hour drive home to SIX hours!!!
Mother Robin’s pride and joy
When we started our return trip, the weather was gorgeous and we were both happy from sharing good times with people we love. But everything changed as the turnpike came to a stand still because a tractor trailer flipped over just ahead of us. We were only five minutes from our exit but there was no way to get off the highway. While rescue crews raced to free the truck driver, we sat wondering when we’d escape from our car.
As we waited, a vicious rainstorm settled over the highway so we couldn’t even get out to stretch. To entertain ourselves, we started playing “Questions.” One question was: What is your favorite memory of “Old Mom?” When dementia first started changing Mom’s personality, we used the term “old Mom” or “real Mom” to describe the person she was before the disease. These days, we seldom use that phrase because “old Mom” seems kind of irrelevant now. It gave me such pleasure to have the time to remember our mother as she was in the past — a dementia-family version of “Memorial Day.”
My sister shared her memories of things Mom did when we were at the beach on summer vacations. Those were interesting times spent far from our small home town. We all got to live a little larger while relaxing away from home.
I enjoyed thinking about those times — which had not made my top ten list of Mom memories. My favorite snapshots from the past focused on how my mother looked. In the sixties, she had a blonde pixie haircut and wore sparkly earrings when she went out dancing with my dad. I remember being on the couch with the babysitter and watching Mom come down the stairs. In high heels and a black mini-dress, she was ready to cha cha the night away with my father. I always thought I had the prettiest mother in town — maybe everyone sees their mom that way.
These memories made me teary, but those people I remember haven’t existed for a long time. My mirror shows crows feet that couldn’t possibly belong to the little girl on that couch. And for Mom — petite, adorable Mom! — just walking is a struggle now. She hasn’t climbed stairs in years. But oh, she was lovely in her day! Maybe we need to turn Memorial Day into our annual family Memory Day. Trading recollections isn’t just for traffic jams. It’s nourishing to cherish happy snippets of our disappearing past.