According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the number of those afflicted with Alzheimers has dropped approximately 3% in the last ten years in New York, but it still affects approximately 320,000 in New York alone. For each person diagnosed, there are many more who are impacted.
I can isolate the very moment I truly began to understand Alzheimer’s. Perhaps the moment stands out in such stark clarity because it happened in such a safe, sane everyday context, as unexpected and incomprehensible as a family pet turning on you.
We had piled into the car to go out for a family dinner. Daddy and I were settling into the back seat, and I reached for my seatbelt. Daddy then reached for his and began to fumble to buckle it. It was as if he had never encountered a seatbelt buckle before and did not know just exactly what to do to click it into place. In wordless frustration, he tried again and again, as my eyes met my husband’s in the rear view mirror. I wasn’t sure whether to reach over to help him or to allow him the dignity and space to manage unaided. Finally, just as I did move to lend a hand, the mechanism caught and everybody in the car exhaled.
The Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis was not a fresh wound, but the undeniable realization of its veracity was. Like so many other daughters in so many other families, I had been in denial about the disease. It is so much easier to tell yourself, “for heaven’s sake, the man is in his eighties, of course he forgets things; of course he has his struggles.” However, Alzheimer’s disease is not just a challenge. Alzheimer’s is a life or death battle with a disease that relentlessly chips away at normalcy as it slowly steals the life of someone you love.
For people like me, tottering on the edge of understanding what is going on with an elderly parent, there is help. Anyone who has questions about signs, symptoms, and definitions has a wealth of resources. Sites like www.alz.org are invaluable when someone just needs a starting point.
Finding the right help for a struggling senior can be complex, though. Many conditions other than Alzheimer’s disease beset seniors. Rather than attempting to diagnose or treat any problems ourselves, we must always trust medical professionals.
However, once professional help has been attained, perhaps the most empowering source of the wisdom and comfort and humor that allows families to persevere is the counsel of the others who travel this heart-rending road: other daughters, sons, grandchildren, spouses, friends. The inherent connection with, the instant empathy of, someone else who has faced the same battles is invaluable.
This blog is an opportunity to share your journey with us. Let’s help one another.