Sunday, January 3, 2016

ALZHEIMER'S: The Slow Tsunami

Joe chillin in the breeze February 2015

Life is short but, we all know that.  So unless you’re a plastic bag, which I’m told will endure on earth for 400 to 1000 years (although having only been around since the Thirties, no one really knows for sure), at some point we all must face getting older and eventually, the end.  I’m reminded of that when I rewind the events of my life so far.

Around the time I was a toddler, Eisenhower was our President, going head to head with Khrushchev.  Jonas Salk had just developed the polio vaccine, and Korea had split in two.  Howdy Doody was my daily entertainment, and Elizabeth became the Queen of England.

By the time I was an adolescent, Elvis Presley was rehearsing his gyrations that would soon cause my parents to turn off the television.  Castro was thumbing his nose at Kennedy while at school we practiced civil defense drills.  I dreamed of being on American Bandstand, wished I had a dog like Lassie and lived in Mayberry eating Aunt Bee’s cookies with Opie. 
Personal computers, cell phones, space rockets and even coffee makers are the wonders of my lifetime.  I remember when hair dryers were as big as Barcaloungers, and I strongly believe Perry Mason could have gotten a conviction in the OJ Simpson trial.  But that’s just me.

Many of us Boomers are preparing to or have already retired.  We’ve officially handed the world to the next generation’s care.  Or have we?

I read recently that in the US there are over 5 million people struggling with Alzheimer’s or other dementias.   Approximately two-thirds of their caregivers are women, and 32% are over the age of 65. That sounds like a big chunk of Alzheimer’s care that is still being provided by us old Boomers.  And by the way, there isn’t a pay check.

You’ve probably heard the term the “Silver Tsunami”, referring to our aging population and its predicted impact.  I suggest that term also describes the wave Alzheimer’s caregivers see in front of them today.

I sometimes wonder when the Alzheimer’s Silver Tsunami will get to us.  When will Al overtake Joe to the point that Al’s won, and Joe is left broken, adrift, and unable to find himself? One of the hardest parts of being a caregiver is not knowing the “when”.  And since this disease can affect all aspects of the body, there can be other things happening in Joe’s body that I might not be able to see.  So it isn’t just the “when”, it’s also the “what”.

Last week Joe’s doctor called with the results of his latest lab tests and to schedule more tests.  This time it’s kidney function.  We’re just finishing with the skin cancer, and now it’s his kidneys.  Before that it was spinal issues and of course it’s always diabetes.  (I’m glad that I don’t understand more about human anatomy; it would surely only give me more territory to worry about.)

We have pills and medications for everything and specific times they must be administered.  I’ve become robotic in their dispense.  Maybe that’s what I need, a robot specialized in Alzheimer’s care.  I’d name it Hal.

“Hal, check Joe’s blood glucose level.” 
“Hal, prepare Joe’s insulin”.
“Hal, remind Joe to get on the recumbent bike”.
“Hal, it’s time for Joe’s pills.”
“Hal, remind Joe to drink water”.

That all sounds a bit far-fetched but back-in-the-day who would have thought that we’d have drones that could help locate someone lost in a forest, or take unflattering photos of the Kardashians 200 feet above their back yard?

I don’t know…It seems to me that a soft touch or a hug and a kiss are such big parts of caregiving, we could never be replaced by robots.

Today I pulled up an email I’d saved titled, Alzheimer’s Caregiver’s Resources.  It was sent to me back in early November by a case manager from the clinic where Joe’s doctor practices.  I had delayed reading it until after the holidays, noting the dozen or so files it included.  There are files on Caregiver Support, Caregiver Vouchers, Adult Care Support, Personal Care Agencies, Government and VA Agencies, and multiple application forms, all of which overwhelm me.  Each one will require hours of attention, and I’m not sure where to start.   I really have to force myself to do this.

I’d so much rather curl up beside Joe and take a nap.