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Zoom calls when your mom has Alzheimer’s: how a son makes it work

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Evelyn MorrisEighty-eight-year-old Evelyn Morris moved to Baycrest in late January with what her son Anthony describes as “mid-stage Alzheimer’s.” Almost immediately, Anthony and his sister and brother noticed a very positive change which he suspects was due to greater stimulation than she had at her apartment.

“The staff has all been tremendous,” he said, describing the initial period of adjustment. “The doctors have been great – totally proactive. This isn’t about just a mother. They basically embrace the whole family.”

Evelyn’s husband, kids and four grandchildren were regular visitors until the pandemic turned the world upside down, and they are grateful the staff continued to reach out. “With the virus situation, it just took on a new dimension, the level of updates and phone calls and reassurance,” Anthony said.

In-person visits were replaced with eVisits facilitated by Baycrest staff and equipment, WiFi upgrades and data plans funded by donors.

Anthony says his brother and sister are “really thrilled” with the eVisits but he personally finds them challenging at times, in part because his mother does not hear well.

“She can’t really hear through the iPad and the social worker is there and keeps repeating everything, and we get through it. We do the best that we can,” he said, adding that the staff has greatly reduced his stress and anxiety.

Evelyn moved to Toronto from the prairies in the 1950s, met her husband, had three kids and was very involved with her shul. She is the family matriarch who “glues everyone together,” her son said.

Because of his mother’s diagnosis, Anthony has educated himself and developed techniques to communicate with her and make her laugh.

“I know the tricks that will resonate with her and that still spark the right reaction,” Anthony said. “I always hone in on those. With Alzheimer’s you can re-use it 10 seconds later and get a response. Even though I’m having the same conversation with her 40 times, it’s new to her every time, so I run with it.”

Family members take delight in the occasions when their mother cracks a joke, rolls her eyes and they see “part of her old sarcastic personality,” he said. “We keep getting a little bit of that. The ways things used to be. I just go with the flow.”

The term “living in the moment” takes on a whole new meaning when you have a family member who is living with Alzheimer’s, Anthony said. “It’s incredible to keep the connection alive.”
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