|Joe and I Valentines Day 2016|
Sunday, February 21, 2016
ALZHEIMER'S: WHERE YOU ONCE WERE
I’ve always enjoyed interacting with young children. There’s something fascinating about the freshness of their little minds, uncluttered by conventions and bias. I love their wide-eyed wonderment and innocence. A kind of purity of thought, unfiltered and unobstructed, and free from the experiences that will later shape the lens through which they view the world. Their preciously short childhoods are the beginning of a long walk through life, and so there’s good reason for us to say, “Enjoy them while they’re little”.
Human development is defined as “the biological, psychological and emotional changes that occur between birth and the end of adolescence; it’s the transition from dependency to increased autonomy, a continuous process with a predictable yet unique course for every human”.
As I read this rather clinical definition of human development, I was struck by how similar it was to a definition of dementia. In fact, if I change just a few words I would have that definition.
“Dementia is defined as the biological, psychological, and emotional changes that occur between the onset of the disease and the end of the disease process; it’s the transition from autonomy to increased dependency, a continuous process with a predictable end, yet a unique course for every person”.
Okay, before you stop reading this and fear you’ve just stumbled into a Psych 101 class, let me tell you why I would choose to write about this.
Every so often I find some truth about life that seems totally ironic to me. This is one of those truths…that the development path of the human brain is very similar to the path of its destruction through Alzheimer’s disease, experienced in reverse.
Several years back a short story written by F. Scott Fitzgerald was turned into the film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. It was a romantic fantasy centered around a character (Benjamin) aging in reverse. By the end of the story he is chronologically 84 years of age, but has become physically a child. There’s a scene toward the end of the film where a bewildered social worker stands over his crib and tells his love interest (Daisy) that he’s displaying signs of dementia.
It’s hard to wrap your mind around such a fantastic tale, but there are elements of the story that sound a bit like Al should be showing up in the credits; the erasing of abilities that Al does is like rewinding parts of your life back to where you’ve already been, before you could do what you later did.
In the brief moments when I can set aside my emotions about what Al is doing to Joe, I can look at the disease process with some amount of fascination and marvel. It truly is incredible to consider that if stored on paper the computed memories in the brain might literally fill a warehouse (well, mine might only fill a U-Haul). But if that’s the case, how could what has taken a lifetime to accumulate be so easily disrupted, damaged and destroyed? How can Al be so efficient at bringing a person back to their beginning?
It’s a question I’m sure is perplexing for anyone dealing with Al and unfortunately, there’s still much to be done before there’s an answer.
Today was “doctor time”, a trip for Joe and Al to see the Neurologist. Joe’s doctor is a personable sort of fellow from Minnesota, with a strong hand shake and friendly smile, the kind of guy you’d want as a brother-in-law. But he has a very small bag of tricks to deal with Al and he’s almost apologetic about it. He knows there isn’t anything he can offer us that will change what’s happening. Maybe he can help slow the effects of the disease for a while, but as he tells us that’s about all we can expect. The rest is up to us, well, really up to me.
My role is to keep Joe as physically healthy as I can while providing a safe and stimulating environment for him…. not an easy task.
I need to get Joe out of his chair and keep him awake during the day, which will allow him to sleep at night and keep him from wandering around the house. I may have to set off the smoke detector for this one.
I can always blend spinach into a breakfast smoothie to get him to eat vegetables or add blueberries to his cereal. I might be able to convince him that there is some nationwide ice cream shortage as an excuse for not buying any. But keeping Joe’s mind stimulated requires cunning and something other than endless hours of watching television. Maybe strip Scrabble could be the solution. Today it was miniature golf without keeping score….whatever it takes.