Thursday, April 01, 2010

ItsFourthAndLong: My battle with Alzheimer's

ItsFourthAndLong: My battle with Alzheimer's

My battle with Alzheimer's

The Wall Street Journal, earlier this week, had a story about Alzheimer’s Disease. Here’s my account of this situation.

I've been living with Alzheimer's for nearly eight years, when my mother, at 60, was diagnosed with this God-awful disease. I've never experienced anything more stressful, more emotionally extracting than watching my mother suffer with this terrible condition.

The best reason the doctors could give me for her dementia was that she suffered from depression. And while 60 is an early age to be hobbled with Alzheimer's, there are plenty of people who were diagnosed at an even younger age.

I met a 43-year-old man with it while I was touring assisted living facilities for my mother. I heard of a 42-year-old woman who was also stricken with Alzheimer's.

Sure, they're the rarity. 

Stimulating your mind with a book or a game is a fine idea. But if you really want to prevent this disease from afflicting you, go for a run at least three times a week. 

Moving the blood around your heart and your head will do more to keep your brain in shape than anything else.

Not that reading is bad by any means. But there's no getting around cardiovascular exercise.

Your heart requires it and now we now our brains do too.

Today, at 67, my mother lives in the Alzheimer's unit of an assisted living facility. The attendants bathe and dress her and make sure she eats. The annual cost? About $80,000.00. And it’s all private pay.

The annual tab for her to live where she does is being paid for through her IRA and the money she made when she sold her house.

If you want to know stress, check out what it’s like to watch the stock market take a nosedive, as it did in the final months of 2008, and then wonder how your mother will pay her bills.

It’s not like she’s employable. Her money has to last her for as long as she lives.

Thankfully, we saw a turnaround in the market. I think she’ll be able to pay her bills for as long as she lives.

Add to that stress the time I had to agree to put her on anti-psychotic drugs. In dementia patients, they’re considered “FDA-approved black label drugs,” as her doctor explained to me.

Meaning death is a real possible side effect. When it could happen is anyone’s guess.

But it’s caused me more stress and issues than I care to acknowledge. In effect, by agreeing to this medication, I signed my mother’s death warrant. At least that’s what it feels like.

And every morning, as I’m waking, my first thought is, “I killed my mother.”

Alzheimer's was first described to me as the "long, slow, goodbye."

I wish it were faster. My mother's a shell of the lady she use to be. In her youth, she was vibrant, beautiful and full of life. Now she's worn down, haggard looking, 30 pounds overweight, can't remember my name or anyone else’s. And she can only repeat three sentences.

"Stay with me. I like you. You're nice to me," are the only things she says now. She takes a battery of pills daily to keep going.

But the sharp mind that she use to have is gone.

The tragedy of this situation is that physically she's in pretty good shape. Mentally, she's a vacuum, not even remembering words said to her seconds ago.

My best wish, the one thing I pray for, is that she dies soon. Her dignity will only be restored through her passing, which can't come soon enough.

Don't let this disease happen to you. Go for a run three times a week and change your diet. And while you're at it, find a good book to read.

Do something, goddamnit!

Because if you don't, you'll cause more strain, stress and emotional upheaval on your loved ones than you can ever possibly imagine. Hopefully, that isn't one of your life goals.