It’s an old joke, of course. A man is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s but his doctor tells him to go home and forget about it.
My father had Alzheimer’s. He died in 2007 having forgotten his family and himself and just about everything else. It was tragic, given that he had had such a marvellous mind throughout his life. He was a psychiatrist and a good man who helped a lot of people.
My mother has now been diagnosed with the same disease.
In case you don’t know, Alzheimer’s Disease is a form of dementia. The victim forgets who they are and who everyone else is and can’t properly look after themselves. There is no cure.
I remember what my mother went through when Dad was diagnosed and slipped away from us. I was living in another town at the time, 600 kilometres away, but I visited them as often as I could. Dad became increasingly needy, eventually unable to care for himself and even, on occasion, wandering off. Mum found it enormously difficult and eventually Dad had to be put in a nursing home.
One time I visited him and he had forgotten who I was. His speech became increasingly difficult to understand. We knew he was desperately trying to communicate with us but at the end we couldn’t understand a word he said. That was frustrating for him as much as us. He even asked me on one occasion if Mum was angry with him, because she had sent him away to live apart from her. He had the idea there had been a disaster and he and “these other people” (his fellow patients in the nursing home) were trapped in a cave. Did I know the way out?
I believe that my father died twice. Once when he lost his mind, and once when he lost his life. He died from septicaemia. We thought it was best to just let him go, so asked the doctors to fill him full of morphine so he could die in peace. At his funeral, my brother gave a eulogy in which he documented my father’s life and achievements but refused to deal with the last few years when he no longer in charge of himself. “That,” said my brother, “was not who Dad was.” My own eulogy avoided the subject, too. I focused on Dad’s wonderful sense of humour and how loving he had been to his family. That’s the father we want to remember.
I now live with Mum. And she is going to go through the same process, apparently. She is ok so far, but the first signs are there. I am trying my best to look after her, but I am gaining a vivid picture of what she went through with Dad.
As I said, there is no cure. It is a terrible disease without hope at the moment. I fully intend to leave everything I have to Alzheimer’s research in my will. There has to be something done about this.
Of course, I should also be worried for myself and my brothers. Are we likely to suffer the same thing because both our parents have had it? I don’t know. Having witnessed (and now witnessing again) the effects of this disease makes me feel uneasy for my own future.
If you know someone, or have a family member with Alzheimer’s, I know how you feel. I know what you are going through. It is a shit of an illness. My heart goes out to you. Maybe there will be a cure for this horror someday. But it isn’t here yet.
Be strong. Be loving. The person needs you more than anything.
– Russell Proctor. http://www.russellproctor.com