As you may know, my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease about 4 years ago. The doctor would tell you she was lucky because we discovered it early. I’m not so sure I’d agree.
Alzheimer’s is a chronic terminal illness. There’s nothing else to say, is there? The end is always just a matter of time. Medication may delay or slow the onset of symptoms but it won’t stop the illness. Ironically, there are some concerns about the meds currently on the market. While they might slow down symptoms, there can be some nasty side effects, which can vary by drug and by patient. And ironically, medical clinicians disagree on how long to continue giving these drugs. Some say a year, or two, while other experts say that taking a patient off the drugs at any time may cause a precipitous cognitive decline. But there’s no definitive agreement.
My mom has lived in an assisted living facility for the last two years. They take good care of her, providing meals, a safe environment, food, laundry, and many activities. She has lots of company with five children in the same city, which is unusual for most of the residents in her facility.
Regardless of her accommodations, Alzheimer’s is relentless. Mom’s losses are steady. Over the past few months, she has
- become more aggressive with the staff and other patients
- continued to have delusions and hallucinations
- lost most of her social skills
- lost her sense of taste for the most part
- forgotten the names of her children
- lost the ability to put together ‘facts’ in her mind with information on the calendar
- lost much of her vocabulary
- lost her ability to realize when she’s confused or what she’s forgotten
I am shocked at the rapidity of these losses. For example, mom has knitted ‘kittens’ for years. She has provided thousands of them for overseas charities. She knits three squares of different sizes, then stuffs them and stitches them together in a certain way and sews on a face.
About a month ago, she told me that she could no longer remember how to stitch the faces on these little stuffed toys and had asked one of my sisters to complete this task. Literally one week later, she could not remember that she needed to do three squares, but completed only the largest one. When I asked her about it, she said my sister was going to finish the rest of the toys.
So the illness took her from a strong physical memory to a very limited function in a matter of a couple of weeks!
One of the scariest patterns of Alzheimers is the rapid and almost overnight losses of an individual. Click To Tweet The losses aren’t a gradual slope down, rather they are slopes between great big steps from which there is no recovery.
As I watch her with the other residents, I see that her personality is changing. The pleasant, smiling woman who was usually willing to see the best of people, no longer likes anyone, except for her kids. She spat at one of her caretakers the other day. And yet, she’s happy with the care she’s given.
As long as we all realize that Alzheimer’s in another brain illness whose symptoms are behaviorial (as with all mental illnesses) and that the degeneration of her brain will only be visible during an autopsy after death.