Conversations Turn Into Monologues As Alzheimer's Robs Family Of Memories | KUOW News and Information

Conversations Turn Into Monologues As Alzheimer's Robs Family Of Memories

Nov 13, 2015
Originally published on November 16, 2015 9:22 am

StoryCorps' Memory Loss Initiative supports and encourages people with various forms of memory loss to share their stories with loved ones and future generations.

Teresa Valko lives in California, and her mother, 80-year-old Evelyn Wilson, lives in Georgia. They keep in touch with regular phone conversations.

Eight years ago, Wilson began to show symptoms of memory loss.

"I would call and ask, 'Where did you go for dinner last night?' " Valko, 49, says during a visit with StoryCorps. "And, not only could she not answer, she would also get embarrassed, which made me feel horrible."

There is a 100 percent occurrence of Alzheimer's on Wilson's side of the family: Her mother and all of her mother's siblings were diagnosed with the disease.

"So I watched my mother live in absolute frozen, mortal fear of developing Alzheimer's disease," Valko says.

Valko says that for a while, there was one subject that could elicit a response from her mother: "What's blooming in your yard now?"

"She had all these beautiful plants and trees," Valko says. "And so I could hear her on her phone going from window to window of her house and telling me about this beautiful pink azalea and her white camellia, and she would cheer up because she loved her flowers and she loved her yard."

But as the disease progressed, recalling the names got more difficult. So instead, Valko asked what colors her mother saw. That worked for a while. But eventually, they reached a point where her mother could no longer tell her even the colors.

"And our conversations became a monologue on my part," Valko says. "So I've essentially lost my mother, although she's still living."

Valko has had genetic testing done — and has the same genetic profile as her mother.

"It's not often that someone is so aware of how they're probably gonna die," Valko says. "I don't know when I'll be diagnosed, but I'm not gonna dwell on what's coming. I don't want to spend my time and my energy mourning something that hasn't come to pass yet."

Produced for Morning Edition by Liyna Anwar.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Time now for StoryCorps, giving everyday people to tell the chance to tell the stories that have shaped their lives. This week, we'll hear about a family that's endured Alzheimer's disease for generations.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Teresa Valko lives in California. Her mother, Evelyn Wilson, lives in Georgia. Eight years ago, Teresa's mom began to show symptoms of memory loss. And at StoryCorps, Teresa remembered when their weekly telephone conversations began to change.

TERESA VALKO: I would call and ask, where did you go for dinner last night. And not only could she not answer, she would also get embarrassed, which made me feel horrible. But one of the questions I could ask her was, what's blooming in your yard now, because she had all these beautiful plants and trees. And so I could hear her on her phone going from window to window of her house and telling me about this beautiful pink azalea and her white camellia, and she would cheer up because she loved her flowers, and she loved her yard. And then she progressed further, and recalling the names was getting to be very difficult. So I asked her, could she tell me the colors that she sees. And that worked for a while, and she would tell me, well, there's a red and pink and yellow. And then eventually, we got to the point that she couldn't even tell me colors, and our conversations became a monologue on my part. So I've essentially lost my mother, although she's still living. On my mother's side of the family, there's 100 percent occurrence of Alzheimer's disease. My grandmother was diagnosed, and all of her siblings were also all diagnosed. So I watched my mother live in absolute frozen, mortal fear of developing Alzheimer's disease. I have done genetic testing, and I have the same genetic profile as my mother. It's not often that someone is so aware of how they're probably going to die. I'm 47 now. I don't know when I'll be diagnosed, but I'm not going to dwell on what's coming. I don't want to spend my time and my energy mourning something that hasn't come to pass yet.

INSKEEP: That's Teresa Valko in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Her interview is part of StoryCorps' Memory Loss Initiative and will be archived at the Library of Congress.

WERTHEIMER: This Thanksgiving would like you to record the story of someone in your family. You can find the details at npr.org. Search the great Thanksgiving listen. And you can find the StoryCorps podcast on iTunes and at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.