"My mom has dementia, and I've tried and tried to help her remember the password and her secret question answer, but it's no use. She can't," I said, hearing the defeat in my voice.
This AT&T rep was the third I'd spoken to in 5 days, and they'd all robotically asked me the same questions to "unlock" my mom's account so I could delete the internet service some salesperson signed her up to get for a computer she doesn't have. That is absurd, right? $47 a month for internet service, when she doesn't have a computer? I just discovered the charge last week, after taking over paying her bills.
The first customer service rep I spoke to relayed in a cheery voice that she just needed to go in person to any local AT&T location, and they'd help her update her account right away... completely ignoring that I'd just told her she was 83, in a health center recovering from a broken arm after yet another fall and was 130 miles away from me. The next rep told me he was very sorry, but couldn't make changes to her account without the security questions answered correctly. So when that third rep asked me those same questions, I just broke down and admitted to him what's been so hard for me to face: my mom has dementia, and it's getting worse. She isn't going to remember. Ever. And she's going to remember less and less with each passing day, and there's nothing I can do to stop it.
"Hang on a minute, I'll be right back," I heard him say across the line as he put me on hold. When he came back, he asked me to verify her address, the account number and then he just canceled the internet service. No arguing, no "I'm so sorry, but I can't help you," no hassle. I was so relieved.
As I thanked him and started to say goodbye I heard him say, "Wait. If you don't mind, I need some help. I need to talk to someone who knows more about this than I do."
I paused for a second, confused by what he wanted from me, before asking, "Yes?"
He began in a rush, "I'm worried my stepmom has Alzheimer's or dementia and everyone just keeps telling me I'm wrong. My dad passed away 5 weeks ago--he was sick for about a year before he passed--and everyone around the family is saying she's being forgetful because she's just stressed out. I don't think so. They haven't seen what I've seen when I've stayed there over the past year. Her behavior is strange. I was there one weekend about a month ago, we'd gone to bed, but then I found her in the bathroom at midnight; she'd been in there for an hour. She said she couldn't find her tweezers. That's not normal, right? And she keeps asking me for my cell number...over and over...I've written it down so many times when I've been there. I put it on her fridge and by her bed, but she doesn't remember that and keeps asking me as if it's the first time. And there are so many more things that aren't right. She fell but has no memory of how. My dad told me months before he passed away that he was worried she had it. I need to get her help, but I live 6 hours away. Do you know what I can do?"
It just poured out of him--his concern, his fear and his confusion about what to do. It all felt so familiar. I'd had the same fears for years before my mom finally got diagnosed early this year and removed all doubt.
It made sense why he'd been so nice about canceling the service. He understood what I was going through, and he didn't want to make it any harder for me than it already was. Is.
I talked to him--this AT&T customer service rep who'd answered my call at seeming random. Or was it random? It felt like the Universe conspired for us to 'meet.' I tried my best to help him and make him feel validated and capable of getting her help. I asked him a bunch of questions about who lived close to her and who he could get to be an ally in her care. I told him that I hoped he was wrong and his family and her friends were right: it was all just stress brought on by his father's illness and recent passing. No one wants someone they love to have this tragic and incurable disease. It's scary and sad.
"Thanks so much. I haven't had anyone to talk to about this, and I've felt so helpless about what to do. I feel responsible for her. I think I can get her childhood friend to help me," he said after several minutes of back and forth between us.
"Sure, Sam. I hope you're wrong, but if you're not at least you'll be able to plan for her care." With that, I said goodbye to the AT&T customer service man. And then I hung up and cried. For him. For my mom. For me.
Say a prayer for Sam and his stepmom. It's not an easy road ahead for either of them. As my mom slips away a little more each day and I hear her struggle across the phone line to make sense of my words, I feel pretty helpless to do anything other than make sure she's safe and getting the care she needs.
If you're going through this with someone you love now or have already lost someone to dementia/Alzheimer's, you understand how hard it is. I send each one of you a hug from my heart to yours. This is the sort of thing that makes you have to dig deep to find gratitude and remember life is a gift, even through the struggle. Believe me, I know.
If you want to make a donation to the Alzheimer's Association to help find a cure, go here: https://www.alz.org/ You can also find a lot of helpful information and resources on this site.