June designated Alzheimer’s and brain awareness month

My mother called. By the sound of her voice I knew something was amiss.

“What’s the matter, Mom?”

“The doctor wants to talk to you.” She stammered a bit. The rest came out in a cry, a sort of sob, “He says I have Alzheimer’s.”

For a moment I couldn’t hear anything from the concussion of her words that deafened me. Just as quickly I recovered. She needed me to be there, fully alert and aware, to be a lifeline that stabilized her for at least the moment.

“OK. I’ll call him as soon as we hang up. Do you need me to come to your house?”

“No. I’m all right,” she said, but I knew she would never admit to being afraid, to needing me to be there. My mother wouldn’t let anyone know she was afraid of anything. What did I expect when I met with the doctor? Compassion, understanding, patience.

“I don’t understand why everyone is so upset!” he said. “It’s something that happens to everyone sooner or later unless you’re one of the lucky ones that drop dead on the golf course!”

I didn’t know what to say. I also did not know that his mother-in-law had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, too. His family was struggling, too. And all of a sudden it didn’t seem necessary for me to explain that I was upset because my mother was a gifted, talented woman who had not yet reached her greatest potential, and now? Now she never would. He already knew such things.

Alzheimer’s is a devastating condition, more so for the family and caregivers of the person with dementia than the person who has it.

“I don’t think my Alzheimer’s is as bad as you all think it is,” my mother said.

“That’s because you are looking at it from inside Alzheimer’s and we see what it’s doing on the outside.”

“Oh. That makes sense,” she said. And then she sat me down to talk. “When I can’t take care of myself anymore, put me in a nursing home. And when I don’t know you anymore, stop coming to see me. I won’t be there.”

All I could agree to was doing the best I could when we crossed the bridges along the way. I judged the progression of Alzheimer’s by the complexity of the crochet patterns she used to make beautiful afghans. My heart broke the day she showed me what she was working on … a simple granny square. “This is the most complicated pattern I think I have ever worked with,” she’d said.

The Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org) provides a lot of information including the signs to know that should prompt you to call your doctor because the earlier the diagnosis, the better.

1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life.

2. Difficulty working with numbers, following a recipe, concentrating.

3. Unable to complete familiar tasks, like driving from home to the grocery store and back. (My mother said she didn’t recognize the place when she came out of work, but she followed everyone else out of the parking lot onto the highway where she recognized some of her landmarks that got her home.)

4. Confusion with time or place, unable to understand something that isn’t happening right then. (It seemed that Mom had a sort of tunnel vision. She couldn’t see anything but what was right in front of her eyes.)

5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships with vision problems. They have trouble reading, judging distance, determining color or contrast.

6. It becomes difficult for them to follow or join a conversation. They can’t find the right words, call things by wrong names.

7. Misplacing or losing things and not being able to retrace their steps to find the objects.

8. Decreased or poor judgment with money, how to dispense their own medications. They don’t think about grooming or personal cleanliness.

9. They withdraw from work, hobbies – even favorite ones, and social situations because they struggle so much.

10. Changes in mood or personality. (Eventually we realized that Mom did better with visiting when only a couple of us at a time visited. She needed a consistent routine.)

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, the time to Go Purple to support those who are fighting the condition and to push for answers and solutions for Alzheimer’s. Check out the web site, www.alz.org.

Addiction has no address, but Family Recovery Center does. For more information about the education, prevention and treatment programs for substance abuse and related behavioral issues, contact the agency at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail, info@familyrecovery.org. FRC is funded in part by United Way of Northern Columbiana County.

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