As I’ve shared previously, my mother, who recently turned 96 is struggling with short term memory issues. In addition, over the past several years she has also become more “inward” focused. While she’s happy to respond to any questions put to her, for several years now I’ve noticed that she seldom initiates conversations.
This is especially noticeable at mealtimes, which ordinarily, when I was growing up, would always be filled with lively conversation. Recently I noticed that a friend, who comes a couple of days a week to spend time with mom had begun doing crossword puzzles with her. While initially I thought this was just something to help the two of them pass the time, after a few weeks I noticed that mom would become more engaged in lively conversation when trying to answer the crossword clues.
So, for the past several weeks my wife and I have begun incorporating crossword puzzle solving into our evening meals. In short, the results have been astounding.
For most of mom’s life she has been a voracious reader. Even today she still can be found with a book, magazine, or newspaper in her hand throughout the day. While it’s not clear to me how much of what she’s reading she can remember, it’s still encouraging to see that she has an interest in reading.
It's also been fascinating to observe how certain words trigger memories. For example, a clue about Wiesbaden led us to a discussion about the year that she and my father spent in Germany while he served in the Army the first year they were married. The clue “Wildcats” prompted us to remind mom that her sole surviving brother is living in Tucson, AZ, the home of the Arizona University Wildcats. In response to the clue, “pod vegetable in gumbo”, mom immediately came up with okra which resulted in our discussing some of her favorite recipes.
While these examples may sound trite or even insignificant to some, for our family this small exercise we do daily during our evening meal stirs up fond memories and reengages my mother in conversation. Words matter.