The other day, I received some sad news from my good friend, Doc Farmer. His mom has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Doc has written a column about this and I ask you all to keep Doc and his family in your thoughts and prayers. He and his family will be going through a very difficult time. - Sailor
My Mom Has Alzheimer's
Monday, June 20, 2005
Author's Note: My apologies to my regular readers. I haven't written for a while, but putting this article together has taken a lot of time. It's a bit difficult writing this article, as the title probably suggests. After reading this, I hope you'll understand why…
My Mom, who is proud to state that she is 75 years of age, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Well, to be accurate, they've diagnosed her as possibly having Alzheimer's. Apparently, the only way doctors can be 100% sure is to perform an autopsy. Frankly, I'm quite happy to wait for the "definitive" diagnosis, if that's all the same to everybody.
Mom has always had memory problems of one form or another. Problems that my sisters and I (and you as well, I'd wager) have also had to face. You know the kind I mean. Getting up to do something in another room and then, when you get there, forgetting why you came in there. Saying something to someone and then forgetting what the heck you were talking about half-way through (which has happened to me
in the middle of a speech!). I still recall in my childhood, before we ever took any family trip (even to the grocery store) Mom always had to pray to the household gods - "Oh, my God, did I turn off the stove?", "Oh, my God, did I put out that cigarette?", "Oh, my God, did I activate the tripwire for the claymores by the front door in case somebody selling The Watchtower comes by while we're gone?", and so forth.
Actually, the reason our family is in this particular pickle is partly my fault.
When I lost my job in
to me. She'd repeat the same stories over and over that my Dad and I had heard ad nauseum. She'd forget the small and simple stuff more and more often. Her motivation in life, or just in doing the "little things" around the home, was waning. I kept noticing the patterns, and in traditional Farmer Family Fashion I took action.
Yup. In a stunning (and thoroughly enjoyable) payback for all those times Mom gave me seven kinds of hell in my youth for the disgusting state of my bedroom, I started vexing her. Get to the doctor, I said. Have your hundreds of prescriptions checked for adverse interactions, I badgered. Get a memory test, I henpecked (or, in my case, roosterpecked). I annoyed, pestered, importuned, plagued, prodded, hounded, heckled, goaded, noodged (yes, that really is a word), urged, badgered and penny dogged that poor woman until, finally, she agreed to ask
the doctor at her next appointment.
And then when she got to the doctor, she forgot to ask.
About 25 years ago, when Alzheimer's started getting into the national mindset, Mom was worried that she had it. She was always forgetting where her keys were. And the car. And the parking lot. She worried and fretted about it back then, but then her doctor informed her that if she really had Alzheimer's, she wouldn't know it.
Well, she has it now. And she absolutely knows it. I can see the fear in her eyes when I see her now. "Will I remember this moment?" is the question that shouts from her mind loud enough for me to hear. It's the unspoken comment, the elephant in the living room, which all of us do our best to ignore. Well, we can't ignore it any more.
By the way, if you're worried about a family member, the seven warning signs of Alzheimer's disease (according to http://www.alzheimers.org/) are -
1. Asking the same question over and over again.
2. Repeating the same story, word for word, again and again.
3. Forgetting how to cook, or how to make repairs, or how to play cards - activities that were previously done with ease and regularity.
4. Losing one's ability to pay bills or balance one's checkbook (this one doesn't apply to Mom - she could always pay the bills, but Dad and I could NEVER figure out her checkbook).
5. Getting lost in familiar surroundings, or misplacing household objects.
6. Neglecting to bathe, or wearing the same clothes over and over again, while insisting that they have taken a bath or that their clothes are still clean (Mom doesn't have this problem either).
7. Relying on someone else, such as a spouse, to make decisions or answer questions they previously would have handled themselves.
However, there are other warning signs the Alzheimer's group missed, that you should watch out for -
8. Inability to notice that 24-hour cable news networks are repetitive - every CNN or Fox News story seems brand new.
9. Forgetting that Monday is pork chop night.
10. Actually believing that "Everybody Loves Raymond" is funny.
11. Withdrawing from mental activities that were once pleasurable, like reading or crossword puzzles.
12. Repeating story lines and plot points from "As The Stomach Turns" (which means that this disease has been building up in Mom since
Since the diagnosis, I've noticed that her memory is more sporadic. She'll forget some things from her past (like how she was taught in her youth that "MAD" magazine was actually a communist front in order to discourage my interest in the publication). However, she remembers other things with crystal clarity (like her relief that my apartment has its own washer/dryer, because she doesn't want me to catch VD from the washing machines in a public laundromat). She'll forget what she had for dinner last night, but will remember with eidetic (and, indeed, frightening) precision the layout of downtown
siblings, but will still remember our dog Smokie in the list (which I don't mind too much - I miss Smokie as well!).
Mom's now taking medications to help slow the progress of the plaque buildup on the synapses in her hippocampus and cerebral cortex. Apparently, flossing won't work in this particular case. While the memory degradation has slowed somewhat, it hasn't stopped. Nor will it. Mom's having to deal with the side effects as well - dizziness, weight loss, some limb weakness and suchlike. And this is just Stage One of the disease.
However, Alzheimer's isn't an individual disease. It's a family one. While my mother is living with the actual illness, my sisters and my father are having to cope as well. Dad, while hardly Job-like, is still a generally patient man. Generally. However, Alzheimer's tests the patience of any family. He gets frustrated that Mom doesn't get out as much as she should, or read as much as she should, or
even help with the small stuff around the house.
My eldest sister, who still lives in
I've already talked to Dad about helping out in the future, when Mom requires more direct assistance. I don't know if that'll mean getting a part-time nurse to help out
around the house, or having Mom put into assisted care. I've already talked to my boss about possibly changing my work hours so that I can go back to
I don't know how much insurance coverage my folks have to help them face this disease. I do know that what insurance doesn't handle, my sisters and I will (as best we can). But there are other questions that arise. Will Mom need to be institutionalized in the future? How will we handle things if Dad dies first? The stress on him can't be helping his health all that much. What do we do if Mom becomes violent, which can happen in Alzheimer's cases? I found out recently that she asked Dad to take her guns and lock them away. She was very angry at a person who had been harming a close
friend of hers, and she was afraid she'd call a taxi and go shoot the guy. Had I know about this earlier, I would have happily sent her cab fare (round trip), but that's another issue of course.
Then there are the more direct emotional issues to deal with. Mom is worried about forgetting us, and we share that fear. The only real comfort I have is that while the mechanism of memory may fail (the brain) the memories themselves are stored inviolate in the soul. So, when she dies, her memories will all flood back as her spirit is released. She'll also, finally, get all those jokes that she hasn't understood over the decades, which is an added bonus.
I know that this disease will, eventually, be the cause of her demise. I don't fear her death, mainly because I accepted my parents' mortality (and my own) many years ago. I'm not too thrilled about the process of her death of course, but we don't really get to choose that one. However, Mom and Dad have already
taken care of their funeral arrangements and costs well ahead of time. The eulogy and church services are pretty much set, except for the date of course. Although after the pastor finishes delivering the eulogy, I do plan to request equal time for rebuttal.
I've noticed nowadays that when I tell friends or coworkers that Mom has Alzheimer's, they treat the news in the same way they would react to a death in the family. Which, in point of fact, this is. Just really slow.
One thing I am learning about Alzheimer's that is a bit disturbing is that it appears to run in family lines. In my mother's case, her mom (my maternal grandmother) had three sisters, one still living, and a brother with Alzheimer's and her dad had a sister and nephew with it. I don't know how much genetic work has been done in that regard, but I'd personally like to get Mom tested to see if there is a genetic marker. Same for my sisters, myself, and our offspring. (Actually, I don't think my ex-wife
will agree to supplying the DNA data for my kids. She's currently trying to have them cloned in order to extend my child support payments, so I doubt she'd be well disposed to help....) If there is a marker, I'd like to know now so that early testing and detailed CAT/PET/MRI scans can start to track the disease before it kicks in. I don't know if there even is a genetic marker yet, but the DNA information we donate could help to find it. If your family has a history of Alzheimer's, I'd recommend this action as well.
Mom's got a long road ahead of her, as does my Dad and the rest of my family. It won't be an easy road, but we'll get through it together - mainly because we have no other choice, but also because that's just the way we are.
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This Article Was First Published In ChronWatch At: http://www.chronwatch.com/content/contentDisplay.asp?aid=15237