A glimpse into another’s reality
Even if you don’t have any personal experience with Alzheimer’s disease, chances are your friends, neighbors or work colleagues all know someone who either has the disease or is caring for someone with it.
There has been a lot of publicity about the increase in numbers of people with Alzheimer’s in our country. At present, it’s the sixth-leading cause of death across all ages in the United States; for those aged 65 and older, it’s the fifth-leading cause of death. The number of Alzheimer’s-related deaths continues to increase. Statistics published recently by The Alzheimer’s Association project that the total number of new cases of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia will likely double in America by 2050, due to the increase in the number of people older than 65. The precise causes of Alzheimer’s disease remain unknown. And no treatment is available to substantially slow, much less stop, the disease’s progress. But the news isn’t all bleak. Researchers around the world are working on a number of treatment strategies that might change the course of the disease. Studies also show that if the disease is detected early, medical intervention can extend the period during which patients and their families can enjoy a relatively high quality of life.
Of course, we all fear Alzheimer’s. Forgetting someone’s name or having trouble coming up with a word you know perfectly well makes people ask, “Am I getting Alzheimer’s?” The Alzheimer’s Association has a great questionnaire which can help you distinguish between the disease and age-related memory loss.
Once in a while, you can experience something that, while it may scare you, does give you a glimpse into what it must be like when your brain doesn’t work like it used to. A friend, Barb, described what happened to her: She takes a person with some short-term memory issues out regularly, and one of the usual stops is to a convenience store to buy cigarettes. This store is in a strip mall with several other businesses. This day, they parked as usual, and Barb waited in the car while her companion went in to get her cigarettes. The companion came out a bit shook up and said, “They have changed everything, and they don’t sell cigarettes any more!”
Barb thought, “Well, her condition must be getting worse, so I guess I have to go in with her now.” She got out of the car, and they reentered the store together. Barb was shocked to see that everything was, indeed, different, and they did not sell cigarettes there. An employee greeted them with, “No, we don’t sell cigarettes; this is a dog grooming business!” After a moment, Barb understood that both she and her companion had gone into the wrong store, and the convenience store was next door, as it always had been. But not paying close attention had meant they both had gone into the wrong place and been confused by what they saw.
Imagine experiencing that on a regular basis, and it’s no wonder there is a lot of fear at the prospect of getting Alzheimer’s or other diseases that affect the brain. But it also can help you understand and empathize with those who do have it. It sure did that for Barb!
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia, you are not alone. The Alzheimer’s Association is the trusted resource for reliable information, education, referral and support to millions of people affected by the disease. For more information, visit alz.org.
Liz Foss runs the Worcester area Seniors Helping Seniors, a non-medical, in-home care agency. Having worked as an accountant for nonprofits for many years, Foss now has her own business, which hires active seniors to help people remain in their homes for as long as possible. Seniors Helping Seniors provides services in Worcester County. For more information, visit seniorshelpingseniors.com/worcesterarea, call (508) 885-6004 or email Foss at email@example.com.