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.