My mother sits in her recliner by the front window with the morning sun washing over her. She’s had her shower and is dressed in comfortable clothes — roomy pants with an elastic waist, a flowered shirt in her favorite shade of blue, and one of my father’s old sweaters. I have to laugh because I am also wearing one of my father’s old sweaters.

I watch her. The contents of her pocketbook are strewn across her lap and she is picking through small stacks of plastic cards. One by one she picks up a card and examines it closely, turns it over, puts it down, and picks it up again. Finally, she winds elastic bands around the stacks and puts them back in her purse. She roots around some more and pulls out an old car insurance card. “I think there is something I’m supposed to do about my car,” she calls to me.  “Do you remember what it is?” It’s a question she has asked many times before and will likely repeat in a few minutes. She then tells me she has to go to the store and asks if I know where her keys are. I do and must explain again why it is no longer safe for her to be behind the wheel.

Her doctor told us my mother has mild cognitive impairment. He asked her a host of questions — the date, where she lived, who the president was. She aced the test. But when he engaged her in conversation, she clearly became confused.  I am confused. How she can be clear-headed one minute, fuzzy the next?

I did some research.

Mild Cognitive Impairment Symptoms

  • Forgetting recent events or conversations
  • Difficulty performing more than one task at a time
  • Difficulty solving problems
  • Taking longer to perform more difficult mental activities

My mother has all the symptoms.  From what I gather, if you’ve got mild cognitive impairment you are at an increased risk of developing dementia.  It’s not a given though, which sounds somewhat hopeful but now my own mind is spinning with questions. Can we do something to prevent dementia? What signs should we look for? By dementia, are we talking about Alzheimer’s Disease, or are there other kinds of dementia? I inherited my mother’s eyes, her hair, her crooked little finger. Will I also inherit her memory loss? I swear, sometimes I think I already have. Okay Diane, time for a deep breath and then another.

I turned to the Alzheimer’s Association, Maine Chapter, and found a wealth of information. This chart, for instance, which explains the difference between Alzheimer’s and typical age-related changes, puts my mind at ease about my own memory issues.

Signs of Alzheimer’s

Typical age-related changes

Poor judgment and decision makingMaking a bad decision once in a while
Inability to manage a budgetMissing a monthly payment
Losing track of the date or the seasonForgetting which day it is and remembering later
Difficulty having a conversationSometimes forgetting which word to use
Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find themLosing things from time to time

I also found these 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease

  1. memory changes that disrupt daily life
  2. challenges in planning or solving problems
  3. difficulty completing family tasks
  4. confusion with time or place
  5. trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  6. new problems with words in speaking or writing
  7. misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  8. decreased or poor judgment
  9. withdrawal from work or social activities
  10. changes in mood and personality

The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, so I know my family is not alone. If you’re struggling with some of the same questions I am and would like more information contact your local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.


I wrote this blog post in 2011. At the time, my mother was still living at home but spent the last two years of her life at Avita of Stroudwater, a top-notch memory care facility in Westbrook, Maine. She passed away in 2016 a few weeks after her 90th birthday. We were blessed in that to the end she remembered the names of all eight of her children, her grandchildren, and most of her great-grandchildren.