Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It is a progressive brain disease with symptoms ranging from forgetfulness, behavior problems, neurological impairment and finally death. Over 5 million Americans have the disease.
There is hardly a family in America today who hasn’t been affected by this terrible terminal disease. My family got involved with Alzheimer’s in 1992 when my 72 year old aunt could no longer live alone.
Auntie Jill was a glamorous “single lady” who after retiring from a career as an executive in the fashion industry, had settled down in her luxurious apartment, happily enjoying the good life.
My sister got a call one day that Auntie Jill had been going down to the apartment rental office several times a week “to pay her rent.” The rent only needed to be paid on the first of the month.
She also was annoying neighbors, and the office was concerned. She still drove her ’85 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme on nearby major highways. She smoked cigarettes, and drank “Scotch on the rocks”. She cooked on a gas stove, often setting off the smoke alarms in her apartment.
After a few trips to her doctor, it was determined she probably had Alzheimer’s disease and could no longer live alone.
As a family we moved her to Boston to be with us, and arranged for round-the-clock care, either by us or a health aid. This worked fairly well until one day she fell and broke her hip. After that she lived in a nursing home until she died in 1997..
To watch this intelligent dynamic woman change and melt away before our eyes, broke our hearts.
In her lucid moments she would ask. “What is happening to me, I used to be such a smart girl,” and sometimes being with her was like walking on eggshells. Her mood could change from peaceful to furious in an instant. We learned not to say anything to upset her, even if it meant lying.
She would often ask why her sisters had not come to visit. Her sisters had died a few years before. When someone told her this, she would become frantic and agitated as if hearing the news for the first time. We soon learned to tell her that her sisters were coming next week. This gave her some peace, and she would forget about them for awhile.
My husband and I became involved with our local Alzheimer’s Association support group and later as fund raisers and family educators. The Alzheimer’s Association is a wonderful organization which provides all kinds of information for patients and their families.
About Dr. Alois Alzheimer
In 1906 at a scientific meeting, German physician Alois Alzheimer presented the case of his patient, Frau Auguste Deter. Auguste had developed problems with her memory, speech, and behavior.
She had become angry and suspicious. She had difficulty taking care of herself. Her symptoms became worse. She eventually became bedridden and died.
Dr. Alzheimer had never seen a patient like Auguste Deter. He gained her family’s permission to perform an autopsy.
In Auguste’s brain he saw dramatic shrinkage of its cortex, the area of the brain involved in memory, thinking, judgment and speech. He also found wide fatty deposits in her dying brain cells.
His findings were published in 1910 and his work earned him the honor of naming Auguste Deter’s condition, Alzheimer’s disease.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
It is normal as we age to forget names and where we put things, often referred to as senior moments. But when we forget how to do things and have difficulty with daily tasks, it could be something more serious.
Suspect Alzheimer’s when a person who has been self sufficient
- Gets lost or forgets the way home.
- Has difficulty managing money and paying bills.
- Has repetitive conversations and questions.
- Has trouble with daily tasks.
- Shows poor judgment.
- Loses things or misplaces them in odd places.
- Displays noticeable changes in personality or mood.
- Has memory problems noticed by others.
- Has language difficulties and becomes withdrawn
Alzheimer’s is only one kind of dementia.. There are specialists who will evaluate the patient and work on a diagnosis which now can only be determined at autopsy.
Although Alzheimer’s is incurable, new drugs have been successful in slowing the progression of the disease and delaying cognitive decline. These drugs are more effective the earlier they are given.