Mom and Me and Solitaire – Or, How Long IS Short-Term Memory

While my Mom still lived in her own home, except for  weekends spent with us, I had a plan.

I knew Mom had memory issues but had no idea of the limits or the span of her short-term memory. Just how far back did her memory go?

She knew who I was. She knew my brothers. Sure, occasionally she forget where she’d been the day before, but her memory wasn’t that bad. Not yet, I thought. She could still live alone as long as I checked on her every day.

Mom never wanted to see a nursing home, she’d said, and I would never have the heart to force her. Secretly, I was hoping she’d never get that bad.  For now we were handling issues as they arose. And this weekend with us would actually be an experiment. We had added a few days and extended Mom’s weekend “sleep-over” to a 2 week stint. We were trying to prepare her gently for the day she would come to live with us permanently.

Hubby and my Mom always got along, no friction there. He is a Texas boy and loved nothing better than a vegetable garden. Mom was an Oklahoma girl and thought growing tomatoes was about as happy as one could get.

So I began to plan for the day when Mom moved in with all her belongings. Mom loved Solitaire and I had a home-based business which consisted of many hours of computer-time. Generally, Hubby and I sat side by side on networked computers, which I thought would suit my plan for Mom and me just fine.

When Mom arrived for her extended weekend visit, I decided to give my plan for her future “memory-care” a test drive.

I sat in front of my wide-screen Dell, while Mom grinned in front of the older, smaller HP like she was ready to test drive a new cadillac.

Mom was not computer literate, I knew that. But she was smart, a quick learner and she’d retired from an electronics firm 15 years earlier, how hard could it be to teach her to point and click?

Mom loved card games. Evenings as a child found Mom’s family gathered around the wood table grandpa built for long games of Canasta, Gin Rummy or Pitch. When I was a child I begged her to teach me how to play that game with cards laid down in rows of seven.

Mom played Solitaire. She loved Solitaire and knew 15 ways to play it. Now, she was about to learn Computer Solitaire. Old memories die hard, I was hoping proved true in this case.

Mom smiled at me, then turned to face the screen in front of her, colorful cards blinking. Her eyes were as bright and blue as they’d ever been and I could see the excitement as she waited for intstructions. No sign of aging or the weakness that affected her brain. Her hair was still blond (though she’d long forgotten that it had always come from a bottle) and a fresh perm curled it gently around her face.

I watched her mouth drop open first, then her eyes widened before she exclaimed, “That’s Solitaire!” with a gentle finger touching the screen. “Oh my goodness, maybe I like computers after all,” she was giggling.

I was thrilled. My plan was going to work. I knew it would. She could play solitaire — and I could do my work, side by side, without incident. No Nursing Home for MY Mother! Her short-term memory was still intact. She recognized the faces, the cards, the game–even while framed on a  foreign screen. 

I placed her hand over the mouse, did a quick rundown of instructions and let her try it on her own. She used the drag and drop perfectly, picked it up like a pro. I was so thrilled I could squeal, while Mom and I were both giggling.  I had tried previously to measure her short-term memory loss, but was never certain how long it lasted. Previously, she’d forgotten my words in mere seconds. But this seemed different somehow. “You should have told me computers were this much fun. I would have bought one a long time ago.” Mom said through pleasant laughter.

That had created a slight bolt of contention between us at one time. I had begged Mom to buy a computer for years, to stay in touch with her grandchildren and relatives back east, to play card games when she was bored, and to join message boards for the elderly or retired which I knew she would love. Especially now, post Alzheimer’s, I thought the computer idea might have helped retain more of her short term memory, the first thing to go when it comes to Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Mom had always been the friendly, greeter-type person. She’d never leave anyone in the corner alone but urge them into the fray. A people person, for sure! I laughed. It was joyful to see her having so much fun. She’d been more than a little depressed lately at her lapses of memory.

“I told you,” I said. “I knew you’d enjoy the Solitaire game for sure.”

Mom was loving this, without looking away once, she had  moved many of the cards around the screen and almost beat computer Solitaire! We were both laughing at her new found dexterity with a computer mouse! Plus, I had been right all along. We could spend many happy hours after she came to live with me sitting side by side at the computers.

I thought of all the places and things I could show her on the computer, and could only imagine all the hours she would spend exploring an entirely new world for her. I was so glad I had planned ahead, thought of ways we could both occupy our time when she came to live with us permanently.

Mom stopped for a moment and turned her chair to face me. “What are you doing?” she wanted to know.

I explained about my job and the work I processed on the screen. She scooted closer and listened intently, nodding and bobbing her blond curls. I was beside myself with pleasure. Mom had never taken much interest in my home-based business, so my plan was already bringing additional benefits I hadn’t foreseen. She was really interested in what I was doing…

Then, suddenly Mom squealed loudly! and I jumped out of my congratulatory reverie about my super-duper plan. “What?” I turned to her, puzzled.

Mom was bouncing up and down in her chair like a five year old child, pointing at the computer screen, she could hardly speak. Her face filled with the glee and delight of a little child and a new toy. “Look at this…look at this…” She was pointing at the screen, shaking my arm, and breathless she exclaimed, “Just lookie here –I have solitaire on my screen! How did that get there? Can you teach me how to play it?”

My jaw dropped as I suddenly realized …………….I needed a new plan.


Playing Cards make a great activity for the Alzheimer’s Patient. Though they are no longer able to remember “rules of play” for card games, they often remember how to count and like the pleasure of shuffling and sorting and stacking cards in numerical order. 



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  1. What a lovely story depicting the difficulties faced by all Alzheimer’s caregivers and the patience required for the long-term task.

    • ~ Sandy says:

      Hi Kathleen,
      I know, I could get so aggravated with Mom’s obstinate behavior back then, and now–it just make me smile.
      I was so uninformed about Alzheimer’s then.

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