How much of my mom is still my mom?

My mom got a battery of tests with the psychologist and he asked that my sister and I meet with him to go over the results. He tested my dad last month, and now he has the results for my mom. While my sister and I have a host of questions, the one that seems to follow me around day and night is wondering how much of my mom is really my mom. Once someone shows signs of dementia, how much of the person you know still remains … 10 percent … 50 percent … 80 percent?

I ask the doctor this question because I’m really struggling with how to navigate our relationship. I explain to him that my mom seems to lie a lot which is very uncharacteristic of the woman I grew up with. He tells us confabulation is very common in people with dementia. While I’m a bit distracted that a doctor has confirmed dementia, I’m not very familiar with the term “confabulation.”

According to a listing on Memory Loss & the Brain, confabulation is a memory disorder that may occur in patients who have sustained damage to both the basal forebrain and the frontal lobes, which is likely the result of one of mom’s strokes. Confabulation is the spontaneous production of false memories: either memories for events which never occurred, or memories of actual events which are displaced in space or time. These memories may be elaborate and detailed. Some may be obviously bizarre, as a memory of a ride in an alien spaceship; others are quite mundane, as a memory of having eggs for breakfast, so that only a close family member can confirm that the memory is in fact false.

The article goes on to say that “it is important to stress that confabulators are not lying: they are not deliberately trying to mislead.” In fact, the patients are generally quite unaware that their memories are inaccurate, and they may argue strenuously that they have been telling the truth. Confabulation is a clinical syndrome resulting from injury to the brain.

While knowing that doesn’t make dealing with my mom easier, it does help me accept the personality of the woman I still call mom. Comforted.




11 thoughts on “How much of my mom is still my mom?

  1. Yep, my mom confabulates, too!! And it is comforting, to know that ots part of the disease, and not something they’re doing outright!
    And I’m so glad I found your blog! For the past year or so, I’ve been the solo in-home caregiver for my mom, and didn’t realize so many others (especially daughters) are experiencing the same emotions. That’s comforting, too. So a big hug & Thank You for sharing your story. I’ll post more too. Today is a tough one already..

  2. I remember when my mom’s neurologist asked me to provide him with an example of her confabulations. She was in the room, along with her sister who had also realized that my mom had problems.

    I answered that within hours of my father’s death, she told all her friends that while he was dying, she was holding his hand, singing hymns and praying but the truth was that she was miles away and that I was alone with my father. At that point, my mom turned to me and calmy said: “why, Jeanne, you know I was there”.

    So her false memories had become her reality and mine as well. What was the point in trying to correct her if it gave her comfort and peace? I had to let it because it was a such a little thing that harmed no one, and real battles involving her safety were on the horizon.

  3. Thank you Kay! This information is very helpful in understanding we not being lied to (per se’). It helps to have perspective on what is happening to keep me from lashing out or trying to challenge and/or correct my mother or father when they come up with stories/memories I know to be false.


  4. Mom fell in her bathroom in June, 2012, and she tells the story of falling in the mall while trying on clothes that Dad (who died 7 years ago) took her to buy. Confabulation. She believes it for sure.

    1. I’m amazed by a new tale on almost every visit. Some of them actually change over time which is even more interesting. They sure believe the stories they tell me!

      Thanks for sharing.

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