I decided NOT to talk about Multiple Sclerosis or Breast Cancer today. Although those are two main causes that hit very close to me, another is Alzheimer’s Disease & Dementia. How very convenient for me that November happens to be Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Yes, I have had grandparents diagnosed with this disease, and have watched as they slowly mentally slipped away from the family during the course of this disease. It has been said so many times that Alzheimer’s is a disease that is harder on the loved ones than the afflicted person, and I can tell you that I know that is a fact.
My maternal grandmother had already mentally slipped quite a bit when my grandfather passed away in 1989. Like so many other married couples who have been together for an extended period of time, my grandfather hid the fact that Mam-ma was not as mentally sharp as she used to be from the family by reminding her of appointments, answering the same questions over and over, and even helping her to get dressed and look nice before leaving their home. I don’t think my grandfather knew he was having to do more and more for my grandmother, he just did it out of love for his wife who may not be remembering things as clearly as she used to. None of the family had noticed any drastic change in behavior in either one of them.
Then the day came that my grandfather had a stroke at home. Mam-maw sat at his side, wiping his brow and attempting to get him to respond to her, not realizing that he was in a medical emergency. My mother happened to call their home after they failed to show up for my grandmother’s weekly hair appointment. When she asked my grandmother why they weren’t at the appointment, my grandmother simply mentioned that Harry was still in bed and was resting. My mother immediately knew that something was wrong, called 911, and then raced to my grandparent’s house.
To make a long story short, my grandfather was transferred to a large hospital in our state’s capitol. After being in Cardiac Intensive Care for a week, his body succumbed to several more strokes before passing away. I was devastated. My grandparents had lived only two miles from my childhood home, and I was used to seeing each of them on a regular basis. After his death, it became apparent to the family that my grandmother was losing her mental capabilities at an alarming rate. She was constantly asking anyone and everyone where Harry was, and insisting that someone take her home. Of course, home to her was her childhood home, not the home she had shared with my grandfather for years, and raised her children.
My grandmother was healthy in other ways—except for her mental condition, which was good news and bad news for the family, meaning that she would live several more years with her health in good form. Unfortunately, her mental condition continued to deteriorate at an extremely rapid pace. She became suspicious of everyone, accusing visitors of taking things from her home, belligerent in her attitudes, and childlike in her behaviors. I recall going to visit her at my aunt and uncle’s house on my wedding day in 1991. She didn’t know who I was, and questioned why I brought her a corsage. She was suspicious as to my intentions, and the tears cascaded down my cheeks as I told her goodbye. When I left her that day to get ready for my evening ceremony, I hugged her tightly, not only saying goodbye to my grandmother for the day, but also silently saying goodbye to the once vibrant, energetic, fun-loving grandmother of my past.
As I write these memories, tears are once again cascading down my face. The tears are for the grandmother I once knew, the grandmother my children never got a chance to know, and all the grandparents and families facing the hardship of Alzheimer’s right now.
Below I have included a link to the Alzheimer’s Association with some early warning signs of the disease. Today, there are disease modifying drugs which show promise of reducing the symptoms of this awful disease. I have experienced first-hand how emotionally draining this disease can be for family members of the person afflicted with it. I urge each of you to read the attached link, and be aware of the early symptoms in yourself as well as family members.
If any of you has experienced a loved one or acquaintance with Alzheimer’s, please leave a comment stating your experiences, I know that I am not alone with these memories. Bless you and yours.