Reminders of Alzheimer’s Reality

This must be my week for videos. A few days ago the leader of my local support group sent this three-minute video About Alzheimer’s, from the Alzheimer’s Site blog,  tracing the changes in a person’s brain during the course of Alzheimer’s.

The film follows the areas of brain cells that die off as plaque and tangles increase, not information I didn’t know but stated/shown with a matter of fact approach I find refreshing. While I have to say that Ralph’s case does not follow the pattern in the film exactly–his memory for language has not been the first area compromised as the film suggests—the visualization and concise explanation are useful. I can imagine returning to watch the video from time to time to keep me grounded in the scientific reality I sometimes (perhaps willfully) forget.

Meanwhile at the group meeting yesterday, I was reminded just how different everyone’s situation with dementia is, and how lucky I am, so far. I attend rarely because the meeting conflicts with my Thursday morning Pilates class—and frankly I depend on that 45 minutes of intense concentration on breathing and stretching and keeping my shoulders out of my ears—but class was cancelled at the last minute and I was already walking out the door so why not.

It was a good meeting. Honest give-and-take, practical information. In the other group, all married couples, most of the spouses are still borderline Mild Cognitive Impairment like Ralph, but in this group the caregivers seem to be dealing with parents and spouses who are at later stages. One woman, “Jane,” mentioned that her husband has recently had to be moved into a care facility

When the meeting ended, she and I began to chat. It turns out her husband is 67, Ralph’s age. Okay, I thought, he must have started having symptoms earlier. Then she said he had been diagnosed exactly two years ago. Around when Ralph got his testing results.

I teared up for the first time in two years. How lucky Ralph and I are compared to others struggling with Alzheimer’s. And how cocky I have been in my fool’s paradise. Thanks to Namenda and Donepezil (plus a generic version of  Lexapro for anxiety), Ralph is holding more or less steady, but suddenly the reality of these videos and the stark contrast between Ralph and Jane’s rapidly deteriorating husband brought me up short: This is real life and Alzheimer’s isn’t going away.

So this when morning Ralph turned to me and said, “Coffee in bed and NPR, what paradise,”  I agreed. I’ll live in our fool’s paradise as long as we can.

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