Human beings are exceptionally adaptable.

Yesterday, on business, I visited Horizon Bay, an assisted living facility in Concord.

The person I met with was delayed for about twenty minutes, and they offered me a seat in a sort of central room there.

It’s quite a nice room.  A stereo system put out some decent music — show tunes and other familiar tunes from yesteryear.  Perfect for me.

There were newspapers and magazines to read.  Inspirational quotes by Churchill and others on the walls.

It was moments before dinner time.  A group of elderly residents sat in a circle.  They passed the time sitting, staring into space, talking to themselves, or napping.

I took my seat in the circle and, oddly enough, felt right at home.

A few months ago, this might have been a little uncomfortable.

A few years ago, it would have freaked me out.

That’s what daily visits to Carillon’s Alzheimer’s unit — in order to visit my mother — can do for a person.

Today, I found it rather peaceful.  And perfectly normal.

I remember experiencing the same type of acclimation as a teacher.

My first two years (1982-84) I taught high school. The ages of the students didn’t throw me, since, at the time, I was just a few years older than they were.

But the learning difficulties did.  I had just finished Wake Forest and was teaching students at South Rowan High School with special needs.  Many of them had trouble reading.  Many of them also worked a full third shift in the mill at night, and went to school in the day.  Even if they had been highly motivated to learn, they were too sleepy!

After a couple of years, I switched to middle school.   Talk about energy.  Those kids weren’t sleepy at all.

Fifteen years later, the age difference between those kids and me had become rather pronounced.

And then I transferred into elementary.

It was a breath of fresh air.  I remember my first class of third graders in the computer lab at Morgan Elementary.  I taught the same lesson on spreadsheets I had taught to many eighth grade classes, and they learned it three times faster.

And I remember the first time I had a kindergarten class in the computer lab, at Rockwell Elementary School.

There were four adults in the room.  The teacher, the teacher’s assistant, another technology facilitator who was helping me with the “transition,” and me.

We used a popular and ingenious piece of software called Kidpix.

After about fifteen minutes I badly needed a nap.

One child asked me how to do something, and I took the mouse to show him.  This is something I had been doing for years in middle school.  Just a quick demonstration and then give the mouse back and let the child do it.

When I took the mouse from this kid, he popped my hand and seized it back.

“Get your own!” he said.

I worked in elementary schools for seven years and remain, to this day, amazed by the energy, patience, and giving spirit of all the kindergarten teachers I observed.

I feel the same way now about those special people who work as caregivers for the elderly.

Of course, some extraordinary people have written books about how they acclimated to horrific circumstances:  Viktor Frankl, Wole Soyink, Anne Frank.

But even with my narrow set of experiences, it’s interested to see the changes in perspective that can happen so quickly.

Notes from the Sandwich Generation (update on my mom and her Alzheimer's)

Legend has it — and it may, quite possibly, be true — that Rose Post, my mother, won more NC press awards than any journalist in the history of the state (while raising five children).

Whether she won “the most” or just quite a few, she achieved what she did for many reasons:  high energy, longevity, and talent.

Now, she’s taken up a humble residence in the Alzheimer’s unit at Carillon Assisted Living, her memory so depleted that I feel a pang of joy each time she remembers to call me by the name she gave me:  “Sammy.”

She moved to Salisbury, NC, as a young child, and lived here almost her entire 84 years — over 50 of which were spent as a newspaper reporter for The Salisbury Post.

She knew a remarkable amount of local history.  Not necessarily the textbook type of history — battles and government events and churches, although she knew a lot of that — but much of the human side of life in the American South in the second half of the 20th century.

All of her fellow residents at Carillon certainly knew their share.  Each was a vibrant, functioning person with the entire constellation of thoughts and activity we all in enjoy and sometimes take for granted.

But she was a particularly nosy busy body who had a tendency to write stuff down and publish it for all the locals to read.

I remember listening to her gossip about who carried on with who during the various wars, when boyfriends and husbands were overseas.  People sneaked around and climbed through windows and even got pregnant.  The tabloid stuff.

But she also intimately knew the history of civil rights and desegregation, school merger and higher education, tornadoes, floods, leaders, writers, crackpots, business ventures, centenarians with perfect memory, changes in Russia and China, and even a bit of presidential politics.

And she knew many of the players.  She interviewed all kinds of famous people.

She knew about immigration, since both of her parents escaped messy regimes in Europe for a better life here.

When a school principal once told me that he didn’t expect Mexicans to do well in school because, after all, they don’t hear English at home, I replied that it’s actually quite possible.  My mother’s parents didn’t speak English at home, and she could read and write in English just fine (a lot better than he did, even though his parents did speak English at home — although I did not say that).

It’s not so easy now.

Alzheimer’s Disease strips away the past and future, and leaves one in a virtually speechless, fleeting fog of here-and-now.

The adjustment to this new residence — a life that leaned toward the vast, now reduced to the minimal — so hard for her family and her friends, seems to be have been quite easy for her.  She doesn’t seem to know where she is anyway.  Her new, communal home, comes with a bit of built-in social life.  There’s an old friend or two among her suite mates, even an old college friend, a woman who raised five children here in Salisbury in the same era.  I sat between them yesterday, thinking how long and well they knew each other, even though they barely seem to know that now.

They are receiving care that is loving, gentle, and kind.  Do I dare say, given her condition, that she enjoys it?  Possibly so.

There were other options, and there’s been quite a bit of controversy in the family about how to deal with Mom’s care.  At one point, a couple of years ago, I renounced my Power of Attorney because I couldn’t live my life while engaging in each sibling battle/decision.

I do know that Mom took care of her mother, in her home, as long as she possibly could.  My grandmother, Bubie, ultimately died in a nursing home at the age of 97.  Mom bought long term care insurance for herself precisely because she did not want to be a burden to us.  She told me so.  She also told me that she wanted to stay in her own house as long as possible, until she didn’t know where she was anymore.  Then she wanted to move into a place similar to where she is now.

So, despite the controversies among her children — and there could be more — I feel her wishes have been honored.

My home, in the only house I’ve ever owned, is only three blocks from hers, the home I grew up in.  It’s an easy five minute walk.  So the ties were close, and the adjustment may be more difficult for me than for Mom.

But I’m lucky that she’s in a good place that specializes in Alzheimer’s that’s only a five minute drive.  I’m content, knowing she’s safe, and surrounded by people who have some training and respect for what she’s dealing with.  I like visiting her there, and I’m not worrying as much about her when I’m not there.

Psychologists and economists tell us that, as much as we like to pretend we care about others — and, of course, we do — we mostly care about ourselves.

I could run for President of that club.

Some say that we’re experiencing an Alzheimer’s epidemic that is not entirely attributable to the aging population.  I try to drink plenty of water, exercise, do lots of deep breathing, eat blueberries and fish — but…

Yesterday, I dropped off my car at the mechanic and walked home.  He called, a few minutes later, and asked where I had left the key.

“Right beside the cash register,” I said.

“It’s not here,” he said.

I knew that’s where I put it, but I checked my pocket and there it was.

So I guess that’s my albatross, and the albatross of millions of others in my generation.  Each time we lose our keys or forget where anything is (I often lose my glasses and my shoes), we get to wonder if we’re getting Alzheimer’s Disease and, if so, how it’s progressing and how much of this good time we have left.