Ever since he passed away, I took care of her.
I think that is my purpose in life.
I saw the signs.
At first she couldn’t remember things. Or the medications she’s on. It was mixed with difficulty in trying to say what needed to be said. She rarely forgot those simple words. One day, it just escaped her. The little lapses – it’s 9PM and she thought it was morning, or she needed to go to the toilet but didn’t know where it was when it’s right near her bed, or she had problems in handling money. There were days when I’d tell her than she can’t be spending things left and right. She’d look at me and ask, “what things”? And then there were those changes in mood and behaviour. Cranky all the time. Or simply staring into space.
Everyone else thought that ageing had just caught up with her.
I had taken her to the doctor. When the doctor gave the diagnosis, I knew my world would be different. I pored through all the information I could get hold on to.
Until some things dramatically changed. She began to forget more often and now had more difficulty orienting to time and place. There would be days that she would stare at me and ask who I am. Her hygiene began to take a downhill course and when I would home from work, the household help would complain on her mood and behaviour. Late one night, someone knocked on our front door. She was found wandering at the neighbourhood convenience store in her nightgown barefoot buying a pack of cigarettes. On the car ride home, she looked at me and said, “your father was left in the store”.
Like a jilted lover who had grown tired and weary of the relationship, we just drifted apart.
I knew then that she didn’t live here anymore.
And it would be a long goodbye.
Many of us have come across similar stories of family and friends whose loved ones have dementia. Alzheimer’s is one form of dementia.
A person with dementia has difficulty with two of the following:
- communication and speech
- focus and concentration
- reasoning and judgement
- visual perception (unable to tell the difference in colours or detect movement or sees things that are not there)
Various conditions can give rise to dementia – as part of the ageing process OR medications like narcotics, anti-anxiety pills, anti-epileptics, antipsychotics, to name a few.
Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)
Is the most common type of dementia.
While it is more commonly seen in the elderly, early onset Alzheimer’s is not uncommon. Early onset AD is usually familial and accounts for half of the early onset patients.
It is progressive. Meaning it gets worse over time. Memory loss may initially be mild, but symptoms worsen over time. It gets more difficult to carry on conversations or daily activities. Then there is the confusion. Even they become bewildered at where they are and in the confusion, become angry and the mood changes escalate.
Let’s be clear about this. Alzheimer’s Disease is not a normal part of ageing.
AD worsens over time. Those with Alzheimer’s live an average of eight years from the time of diagnosis (survival range is 4 – 20 years depending on age and other health conditions).
There is currently no cure but treatment for symptoms are available and extensive research in the past years has made some progress. While treatment options CANNOT stop Alzheimer’s from progressing, it can temporarily slow down the the worsening of symptoms of dementia and improve the quality of life for those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.
“There is much pain to endure when watching a loved one suffer with Alzheimer’s Disease. There is the pain of perpetual grief. There is the raw wound of continual loss. There is the struggle to preserve dignity and the desire to respect the present but cling to the past. In the midst of the heartache there is a small glimmer of light that exists to remind us of the things that Alzheimer’s cannot take away – the warmth of a touch, the importance of smiles and laughter, and the knowledge of what it truly means to experience unconditional love and acceptance.”
For more information on what AD is, http://www.alz.org is a good reference site.
(The story above is a fictional one. But it can happen to anyone of us.)