By CATHY BROWNFIELD
Family Recovery Center
Isolation is a harmful thing. There are changes all through our lives, changes we are forced to accept. Society, with its biases, sets the rules for acceptance that we live by.
But when society gains an understanding of something, the individuals within that society fare better. When we understand, we are not afraid. When we are not afraid, we accept.
Sometimes isolation is a good thing. When someone has a contagious illness, isolation helps to prevent the spread of the illness to others. Sometimes, though, isolation is not a good thing, as in domestic violence when the abuser keeps his or her victim(s) separated from the people who know them best-family and close friends. But there is another kind of isolation, separating from others loved ones who are marked with disgrace, stigmatized by the disease that they suffer. Dementia and Alzheimer's are such diseases.
The son of a minister said, "Please don't say anything about Dad's condition. He still gets invitations to preach and so far he still knows what he's doing." His father has Alzheimer's. "Mom is worried that people will look at him differently, that they will start to avoid him." And that does really happen.
The friend promised not to say anything, but realized from experience that the secret would not be a secret for long. If the family sees the changes, others who know him see the changes, too, even if they are too polite to say anything to the family.
It's said that change is the only consistent thing there is. What choice do humans have but to accept it? Some people go through life with blinders on, denying there is anything wrong or different. But denial holds people back. It is in embracing the problem and going to work to find support, seek solutions, and do what can be done that freedom, peace of mind, is found.
Alzheimer's is devastating, more to the family than to the person going through it because the family remembers everything and the loved one with it does not. It's not about a person being "crazy." It's about a person who can't remember and that person's caregivers.
Alzheimer's is epidemic around the world, so it could be you one day. We all have a stake in the future of Alzheimer's, and in the care of our loved ones. In China, reports The New York Times, "a decade ago, many families were ashamed to admit that their elders had such a disease. And because of a lack of awareness about the disease, many dementia patients were confined to the psychiatric wards of hospitals" Their one-child policy means fewer people to take care of them. By 2050, according to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 1 in 85 people worldwide will have Alzheimer's.
A simplified explanation for Alzheimer's is that the electrical impulses of thought that travel throughout the brain get spots of plaque (called beta amyloids) so when the messages are traveling through the brain they have to jump over the plaque to continue on their way, losing the information that is hidden beneath the plaque. Short term memory is lost well before long term memories are gone. It isn't that someone with Alzheimer's is crazy or stupid. It's that they are memory-impaired. Anyone might get angry at realizing their independence is at stake, but someone with Alzheimer's in the earlier stages will be aware that they are failing , being robbed of their memory and there's nothing they can do to stop it. Their cars are taken from them because they could get lost or could hurt or kill someone else. They can't cook because they might forget what they are doing and burn the house down.
Alzheimer's is not something we should hide. It is devastating and hurts everyone in the family. Stress and mental health of everyone dealing with Alzheimer's in a family is at risk. A good support system must be built to get the family through such a challenging time. Isolation is a harmful thing.
Family Recovery Center promotes the well being of individuals, families and communities with prevention, education and treatment programs related to substance abuse. Depression, substance abuse and anger management related to Alzheimer's can lead to other risky behaviors and problems. You can reach FRC at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.