How my mother became my child

How my mother became my child: It’s the challenge every adult fears… having to care for a parent with dementia

By Marianne Talbot
Last updated at 11:22 PM on 25th March 2011

When her mother Lesley was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2003, Marianne Talbot, then 47, agreed to become her main carer, giving up her independent life, while continuing to teach philosophy at Oxford University. This is the deeply moving story of their laughter and their pain . . . and the terrible dilemmas that more and more families have to confront in our ageing society.

Role reversal: Marianne Talbot as a baby with her mother, Lesley

Role reversal: Marianne Talbot as a baby with her mother, Lesley

Winter 2006

Of all our little rituals, getting Mum up in the morning is the one I enjoy most. I go into her room at about 8.40am, draw the curtains and sing: ‘Wakey, wakey, rise and shine!’ Mum mutters something and pulls the duvet closer. I lean over, kiss her and say: ‘Ten minutes, then I’m going to tip you out.’

When I go back in, I yank the duvet off her feet and start to pull off her bedsocks. She resists, but I have her feet and can tickle them. Once her socks are off, I pull off the duvet.

At this outrage she splutters in mock indignation: ‘What a nasty girl you are!’ or ‘You’re a bully, you are.’

I joke that I learned my bullying skills from her. (It’s true. I still have the mental scars from the way she used to plait my hair.)

Once she’s getting dressed, the conversation is identical every day:

‘I haven’t got a handkerchief.’

‘Yes, you have, it’s in your sleeve. Time to do your teeth.’

‘Do I have to?’

‘Yes, of course.’

‘What do I do now?’

‘Go downstairs and eat your cereal.’

Routines help her feel safe. And I feel mighty proud of myself as I usher a clean, breakfasted and cheerful Mum out to the bus which takes her to daycare for five hours a day, four days a week. Bliss!

She’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s around four years previously, but was living on her own and just about coping. But when she set fire to her microwave — putting a potato on ‘high’ for an hour — I knew the time had come for her to move in with me.

I won’t pretend there haven’t been tears since then, both for Mum and me, but overall it has worked brilliantly. She’s a lovely old bat, my Mum. She’s endlessly cheerful and she loves everyone and everything.

I sometimes remember with a shock that our story won’t have a happy ending. And when that happens, I will mourn her twice — once as the delightful, charming and completely dotty old dear she now is, and once for the clever, feisty, inspirational woman she once was.

Spring 2007

Off to the ophthalmologist’s with Mum today. How I wish it didn’t involve a hospital visit — a major logistical operation for both of us.

Mum’s short-term memory span is now three seconds. On the ten-minute walk to the bus we have the same conversation 20 times:

‘Where are we going?’

‘To the ophthalmologist.’


‘To have your eyes checked,’

‘But there’s nothing wrong with my eyes.’

‘That’s what we’re hoping to confirm.’

Strangely, all this repetition can be quite relaxing: once I’ve said whatever I’m going to say, I just keep saying it. This allows me to continue my own train of thought, while Mum feels that I am companionably responding to her.

If I am stressed, however, it’s an entirely different story — especially if I’m trying to rush her. Mum does not do fast. If I speak quickly, she doesn’t hear. If I move quickly she gets confused. And that isn’t good for either of us.

Read more:–having-care-parent-dementia.html#ixzz1HnmborO8

4 Responses to How my mother became my child

  1. annie says:

    Thankyou, what a lovely sensitive story. The role reversal is a difficult one for many to come to terms with

  2. Myrna says:

    It must be very difficult when the roles are reversed, beautifully written,thankyou.

  3. babe67 says:

    what a lovely and quite moving story, thank you for sharing it,

  4. Graham says:

    A most moving story. I cared for my own Mother for ten years but not with dementia, at least not until the very end. However she was in the age range 84-94 during those years & clearly there was a a significant role reversal. Strangely perhaps ( as a man of 50-60 during those years ) I seemed to slip into the role reasonably well. Looking back on it all two years after her death I have no regrets at all : In fact in many ways my life has been enriched by the experience.

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