My mother's main occupation outside of the home was a bookkeeper. She had worked as a secretary for her local school district when she first got out of school. In later years, after she met my father and they opened their furniture store, she did the books for the business. This also meant that she was the one who handled most of the household finances. When I started Montessori kindergarten, she started to take care of certain aspects of the school's bookkeeping, such as billing and payments for after school care. This was to offset the tuition for my sister and I, because it was worth the expense to them to keep us there.
I learned a lot about how to keep track of inventory, to create a bill of sale and how to invoice clients because my mother often had us sit with her while she worked. She felt it was an important skill for us to learn. Mom was somewhat old-fashioned in that she still believed women needed to learn secretarial skills as back-up job skills. But at the same time, they were excellent life skills that I have applied time and time again both in my day-to-day life and at various jobs.
I have many memories of spending late nights with my mother, reading data for her to enter, helping to separate the printed carbon copies of bills that she had printed, and helping to stuff and lick envelopes. It gave us time to talk and chat about whatever. And we were just spending time together.
After my parents closed the store, Mom got a job in an accountant's office. She later moved to another office and then was sent to work for an individual company. The first major signs of the impending Alzheimer's came about while she was working at that job. I remember being in town to visit. I was supposed to drive back to New York that afternoon and evening, but a storm was coming. I would be safer staying in town. So, I decided to drive over to her office to surprise her that I was staying one extra night. When I walked into the office, she and her boss were having a heated conversation. Apparently she had forgotten to do several of her duties, including some invoicing and bill paying. And it wasn't the first time. She was convinced that she had done them all, but she hadn't. I quietly backed out of the office and went home. I gave my dad a heads-up that she was having difficulties and probably wouldn't be at her job much longer. He had already figured as much.
Sure enough, she was relieved of her duties soon after that incident. She was still determined that there was nothing wrong with her. She sent out many job applications and resumes to various companies that were seeking a bookkeeper. She even contemplated starting her own bookkeeping service for people. But none of these options came to fruition, because it was so obvious that she was slipping. It was painful to watch, because my mother was such a bright woman who could add huge sums in her head. Now she could barely balance her own checkbook or properly count change at the store.
It still took several years before we were able to convince the doctors that there was something wrong with my mother. She could still fake it in a controlled setting for a period of just a few minutes. But we all knew better.
Classic signs of Alzheimer's include inabilities to handle numbers. They have difficulty reading a clock and drawing hands on a clock face. Checks start to bounce, because it is such an abstract concept of money. They lose the ability to perform simple sums. If you start to notice these signs in your loved one, or even yourself, consider meeting with a doctor to note the changes and to seek early help.