Posted by Mary Lang
Alzheimer’s disease has been in the news a lot recently. An article in the NY Times reported that a new definitive diagnostic tool will be available in the next couple of years. The NY Times also reported, as did WBUR, about Beatitudes, a nursing home in California with an unconventional way of treating its residents with dementia – basically treating them as people with individual wants and needs – which has proved very successful. Even Ron Reagan’s new memoir of his father talks about the likelihood that President Reagan suffered from very early stage Alzheimer’s while he was still in office. Alzheimer’s can span decades of a person’s life, each stage bringing new challenges as well as new opportunities for meaningful relationships.
My mother lived with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis for ten years before she died, but it wasn’t until I was cleaning out her house after she moved that I realized she’d been covering it up for years before that. Under layers of papers and bedside reading in her bedroom, I found her handwritten notes, on her characteristic 5×7 mini yellow legal pad, from a phone call she had with me about the new pre-school that my children were attending. That conversation occurred in 1986 – at least five years before any of us were thinking about Alzheimer’s or memory loss, but even then my mother was taking notes on conversations with her daughters, because she couldn’t rely on her memory to remember what we’d talked about. Standing there in her bedroom, the pieces fell into place. Those years when she’d been increasingly anxious, increasingly disorganized, increasingly emotional were the early symptoms of her Alzheimer’s disease.