Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Coming to Grips With Reality

For those of you who know me, you know it's been a very rough year for my parents. They are both approaching 80 and have had some fairly challenging healthcare ups and downs over the years. But, we've managed to navigate the waters. 2009 was a different story -- the straw that broke my back (not the camel's).

It never occurred to me that someone in my family would get Alzheimer's disease. I always thought of stroke or heart attack. This was a big surprise to discover. And, up until last month, I suspect I was in complete denial. Surely, it was something else. Maybe all the anesthesia from the 5 surgeries in January. Maybe this. Maybe that. Maybe not.

Then we started to notice odd things. Desk drawers with banded up unpaid bills (not right for a former banker). Asking us to repeat things many times (silly me -- I thought it was the hearing problem, not the memory). Lack of focus. Depression in someone who always loved life to its fullest. Telling me about the 40 books just read in the past week (speed reader!).

Did we all know and just deny these symptoms -- hoping "it was nothing"? Perhaps. Probably.

When we knew it was time for a move to the Alzheimer's unit at a retirement facility, it was tough to watch the "cognitive" testing the nurse conducted to determine how advanced the dementia was.

This took place in July. When asked what season it was: "It's Fall" was the answer. When asked what the weather was: "It's snowing today" was the answer.

When asked what city our home was in the response was "Ottowa, IL" (childhood hometown).When asked to draw a clock, my breath was sucked out of my body. I saw a scribbled attempt at a circle with child-like numerals drawn backwards in reverse order (Alzheimer's patients often have spatial difficulties).

Surely this was not my parent, I thought. But, it was. It was at that moment I knew for sure Alzheimer's was the cold reality.

Now I can say it out loud. Even to my parent. Every time we are together. "You have Alzheimer's disease." Phew! That was hard. I've finally come to grips.

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