Stephanie Pearce: Fearing Alzheimer’s disease
As a writer, I always hope that something I write will touch someone. I want to have an impact on my readers in a positive way. I want people to remember me in an optimistic light. More than that though — I want my kids to remember me that way. First and foremost, I want them to view me as an encourager, hopeful and confident. Mostly, I want them to remember who I was, how I thought, how much I loved them — especially if I ever forget. I want them to have my writing to look back on and remember who I really was. You see, Alzheimer’s has affected my family, and I worry about getting it, too.
Alzheimer’s is a neurological disease that is the most common form of dementia. According to Wikipedia, “dementia is a broad category of brain diseases that cause long term loss of the ability to think and reason clearly that is severe enough to affect a person’s daily functioning.”
It can come on slowly and progressively become worse. I have three uncles that have died with Alzheimer’s. One was diagnosed, and we really didn’t see the symptoms at first. My aunt did and had him tested, but it was hard for others to see at first. I remember my aunt telling me he couldn’t remember how to tell time sometimes or even what a clock was. I remember thinking he must feel so helpless at times.
The hardest part is seeing the person who you knew disappear into their body until you know they aren’t there anymore. It seemed to happen slowly and then all at once. At first, it’s just little things you help them remember like finishing their sentences or reminding them of their favorite tool. Before you know it, they can’t speak. They can’t eat without assistance, they don’t know you anymore. It’s so difficult to watch this happen, knowing you can’t stop it.
There were a few good days though. My kids would go visit one of my uncles fairly regularly in the rest home. Sometimes he wouldn’t recognize them at all, but some days he would smile when they walked in. If it was my son, he might say a cuss word because that’s how he greeted the one’s he loved most. If it was my daughter, he would smile and say something like “little toot toot” and sit and hold her hand. Toward the end of his life, those times were less and less.
A few times after he was put in the rest home, family brought him out to our ranch, where he grew up. He would look at the machinery and try to “fix” it or he would stare at the rock formations behind the house.
Alzheimer’s is so cruel. It is cruel to the person that has it, but it is a nightmare for the people that watch the person they love disappear. I pray that it never is something that manifests in me, but if it does, I want to leave enough of a legacy for my family to remember who I really was.
November is Alzheimer’s awareness month. If you know someone who has the disease, make an effort to support them and their family in some positive way this month.