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Holding on to Stage Six of Alzheimer's
By Laura Shewalter

I pull up the web page again. I don't know why exactly. The stages of Alzheimers Disease have not changed since the last time I read the descriptions. My mother is currently a solid stage six. There are seven stages.

Once I get past the sense of panic I feel every time I confirm this, I reread the passage that says stage six can last for many years and feel myself start to relax somewhat.

Several years...we may have several years before we are dealing with stage seven.

Now, my mother knows that she knows us. She may not know our exact name at every moment, but she knows that we belong to her. With her children, especially in the morning, she is full of humor and playfulness. She will make the occasional off-color reference, which she never used to do. Then she will laugh and say she just couldn't help herself.

She will chat about everything she sees; the neighbors' cars, the people walking by on the trail, the yappy dogs. She teases my father about his blue eyes and is quick to chastise him when she thinks he is being bossy.

We go outside for a walk. It is slow and I hold on to a belt especially made for people who are unsteady on their feet. She becomes chilled more easily than most, so she is bundled up extensively. Once we are on our way, we discuss the weather, the golfers, the walkers, and runners on our path. If a baby crosses our path she is thrilled! She is struck by the inordinate amount of red trucks on the road.

As she says, we are "walkin and talkin". It is fall now and I know there is no guarantee that we will be able "walk and talk" in the spring. I want to take full advantage of the opportunity to enjoy this fall with her.

When we return to the house we turn on some music and she stands in the kitchen and sings along. Her singing voice seems to taunt the disease by keeping its beautiful tone. She converses between songs. My father suggests that she sit down. In my head, I scream, "No! Do not tell her to sit down. Don't you know that seven is after six? Don't you know what is coming at any time?"

Stage seven means she will not be conversing with us, or even engaging with her environment. She may or may not recognize us, she may think we are imposters. There will be no more walks. She will sit and sit and sit until she can no longer sit and then she will lay down, unable to hold herself up any longer.

I can feel stage seven waiting around the corner. I want her to stand in the kitchen and sing as long as she is able.

When I leave, I can't help but wonder if she will have changed at all before I see her again in a week. Will we be able to "walk and talk?" Will she know me as one of "the girls"?

I repeat over and over again to myself…"Stage six can last for several years..." and I drive away.

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