Growing up, Emily German looked up to her mother as a fierce role model who effortlessly juggled family, friends and a successful career.
In the 1980s and ’90s, Linda Larsen German had worked her way up the corporate ladder in Manhattan, helping to grow the Liz Claibornebusiness into a Fortune 500 company before leaving to start her own ventures. She was a natural-born leader with a quick mind.
“She was such a tough, powerful, strong woman. That is 100 percent how I viewed her my entire life,” said Emily, 24, a software sales representative who lives in New Orleans. “It was really because of my mom’s bright personality that we caught on to her disease so quickly.”
In 2012, Emily and other family members noticed a shift in Linda’s behavior. At age 61, she began to show uncharacteristic signs of confusion, agitation and restlessness. Once Emily flew home to New York for a college winter break. She says she remembers her mother spending an hour searching for her parked car at the airport. They laughed it off at the time, but these “funny” instances became more frequent.
A year or so later, she witnessed her mother get frustrated and confused at the grocery store, snapping rudely at the cashier — something she wouldn’t ordinarily do. The shock of seeing her erratic behavior was enough to lead Emily and her father to make a doctor’s appointment for Linda.
In early 2014, at age 62, Linda was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Soon after, Emily began to notice an odd cyclical pattern to her mother’s behavior. As day turns to night, Linda becomes more disoriented, irritable and upset. “She’s more likely to repeat herself, have mood swings and get frustrated,” Emily said. “If she’s in a new place during the late afternoon, she’ll get really confused and want to go home.”
Linda is one of millions worldwide who experience a clinical phenomenon called sundowning, typically seen in people suffering from dementia or cognitive impairment.