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Pie…a daughter is a child who grows up to be
a friend. In this story, the daughter
becomes her Mother’s best friend as they
navigate Alzheimer’s disease together
By Gwendolyn de Geest
Gwendolyn de Geest is an educator and author
in dementia care in Vancouver, Canada. She
works with family and professional
caregivers of persons with Alzheimer's
disease and related dementias. As a result
of working in dementia care for over two
decades, she has compiled hundreds of
stories of families who are truly living
through the dementia.
My mother, Shirley is 82 years old; she
lives in Indiana; I live in Los Angeles.
Although Mother remains vibrant and highly
independent, there are moments when she has
episodes of short term memory and confusion.
One rainy Sunday Mother calls me up, "Dear,
I'm baking an apple pie this morning, how
many apples shall I peel?"
Now, I wondered at this, as mother has
always been an expert baker. "Well Mother, I
think perhaps 6 apples should be sufficient.
A few minutes later the phone rings again.
"This is your mother calling, dear. I'm
baking an apple pie, and I am wondering how
long should it remain in the oven?"
I assured Mother of the approximate baking
time. I was hardly surprised when the phone
rang 45 minutes later. "Dear, this is your
mother. Do you think the apple pie is ready
to come out of the oven? It looks golden
"Mother, it smells delicious.” The aroma of
cinnamon is wafting to me over the
"Good", says Mother, “Out it comes from the
oven, and I've set two plates out; I shall
slice us each a piece dear.”
"Lovely!" said I. And Mother & I enjoyed
this special moment over a piece of warm
The above story evokes childhood memories
many of us have shared with our own mother.
The interview with the daughter follows:
Do you worry about your Mother living so far
I try not to attach worry. Mother has lived
in Indiana all her life; her roots are
there. Many of her friends remain living
close by. I would love to have her living
closer by us, but she simply will not leave
her roots. And the other thing. Independence
has always been very important to Mother.
Keeping her as independent for as long as
possible outweighs the worry.
And what suggestions could you make for
other families having loved ones living at a
Keep in touch as best you can and just know
that your loved one is alive and well. I
chat with Mother just about every day.
Somedays, she doesn’t remember that I have
Find out as much as you can about the local
resources where your loved one is living and
remain connected with these resources.
And Mother has a wonderful neighbour, who
keeps me posted of any happenings.
Talk about some of the things you have in
place for your Mother to maintain her safety
As mentioned earlier, Mother’s independence
is very important to her. She always has
been an ‘in charge kind of gal,’ and the
thought of becoming dependent frustrates her
terribly. So what I try to do, is focus on
Mother’s strengths, and what she still does
We have Mother connected to the Life Line as
a safety measure, in case of emergency, or
if Mother should fall, help is just a phone
Mother has always been prone to bladder
infections. Her doctor has told her that she
should drink more cranberry juice to prevent
these infections. The last time I visited
Mother, I assured she had a good supply of
cranberry juice and reminded her to drink
the juice at least twice daily. Naturally,
as soon as I leave, she forgets to drink the
juice. So, what I’ve done is to advise two
of Mother’s good friends of the situation.
They live close by and bring Mother the
cranberry juice when I cannot. It seems a
little thing but it keeps Mother from
becoming ill, and cuts down on my worry.
Your Mother seems to be an expert cook. Were
you surprised by the apple pie questions?
Yes, Mother has always been a great cook.
Ever since the diagnosis, I find that each
day with Mother is an adventure. Each day is
a new experience and I don’t know what to
expect. So, when the telephone rang and
Mother had questions about the apple pie, I
must say I wasn’t really surprised!
How has the onset of Alzheimer’s disease
changed your relationship with your Mother?
It may sound strange, but this diagnosis has
actually brought us closer together. There
is somewhat of a role reversal; I mean, I
have taken over the mothering role and
that’s alright with me. I mean, Shirley has
made so many sacrifices in her life for me.
Now it’s my turn to support her. She will
always be my mother and I love her dearly.
Talk about some of your other childhood
I have a younger brother, Peter. At the
time, I remember, I was about 7 years old
and Peter 5 years old. On Saturdays, Mother
would always let Peter and I take over her
kitchen and bake anything we wanted. We
could make as many messes as we liked. This
particular Saturday, Peter and I decided we
were going to bake an ‘Angel Food cake.’
I was mixing the dry ingredients in the
mixing bowl; Mother was showing Peter how to
separate the eggs, because in this recipe
the egg whites have to be whipped. At the
very moment when Mother turned her back
around to the cupboard to reach something,
Peter turned the mixmaster on highest speed,
the egg whites whipped up out of the bowl,
hitting the ceiling. Peter and I both
screamed. Mother looked up at the egg whites
splattered all over the ceiling, and her
only comment was, “oh, I guess this is a
good time to wash the kitchen ceiling.”
Sounds like your Mother has a good sense of
Yes, and Mother always thought that
childhood should be about building memories
and having fun. She could always make us
children laugh and she always injected fun
into the stuff we were doing. Like the time
Dad brought home the ‘biggest fish.’ Daddy
had it all cleaned and ready for pan-frying.
Mother called us for dinner when this was
all ready and prepared. There in the middle
of Dad’s dinner plate was this teeny, weeny
sardine fish! We laughed so hard.
Even with the Alzheimer’s disease, does she
still retain her sense of humor?
Absolutely!! Alzheimer’s disease has robbed
Mother of her memories, not her heart. Her
sense of humor is alive and well. She can no
longer remember a lot of the things we did
together when I was a child growing up.
Although some of Mother’s brightness is
vanishing, we are making new memories every
day. We still laugh a lot.
Maintaining a safe environment for the
person with dementia, and at the same time,
not compromising the individual’s
independence and dignity, can be one of the
greatest challenges. Because of this,
frustration levels can run high, both on the
part of the person with dementia and their
This daughter truly believes that Shirley’s
independence and sense of control in her
life by far outweighs the safety issues of
moving her Mother close by. Keeping her as
independent for as long as possible
outweighs the worry.
When families face this situation, they need
to first assess what’s going on with their
loved one. Independence is very important
for Shirley. She always has been an ‘in
charge kind of gal.’ Knowing this, the
family has connected her to the Life Line as
a safety measure. In case of emergency, or
if she should fall, help is just a phone
This daughter keeps in touch and chats with
her Mother just about every day. And she has
found out as much as possible about the
local resources where her Mother is living
and remains connected with these resources.
Putting it all Together
Home is a place of comfort. It is a place of
safety and security. Although Shirley’s
independence is very important, her daughter
fears that her Mother may no longer be safe
in her home. Rather than making a transition
at this time, she has found out as much as
possible about the local resources where her
Mother is living and remains connected with
these resources. This daughter focuses on
her Mother’s strengths.
And at this moment, she can still smell the
cinnamon from Mother’s apple pie.
- maintain independence for as long as
- simplify environment
- remain connected with local resources
What Doesn’t Work:
- environment that is unfamiliar
- logical reasoning
- overcompensating for person
Still a Person in There; Michael Castleman,
Dolores Gallagher-Thompson, Matthew Naythons;
Friend’s Approach; Virginia Bell, David
to Speak Alzheimer’s; Joanne Koenig Coste;