Everyone with a brain is at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
That’s the mantra of the Alzheimer’s Association. And if it truly is the case, you and I are at risk of contracting the disease — or at least being affected by it.
Every 66 seconds someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s. So by the time you finish reading this column, three or more individuals and their loved ones will be confronted with news of this dreaded disease.
Alzheimer’s is the only malady among the top 10 causes of death in America that cannot be prevented, cured or slowed. It’s estimated that one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
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My father-in-law was diagnosed with and treated for Alzheimer’s for years, until his doctors revised their diagnosis to a form of dementia. His medical regimen changed, but the implications for him and our family grew even dimmer.
We simply exchanged one monster for a crueler one.
Dad died nearly two years ago from another medical condition, yet not before the disease took an even greater toll on him and those closest to him. There were times when he seemed perfectly normal, followed by days when we did not recognize the “other person” living inside his body.
We have a tendency to associate such diseases with the elderly, yet there are a growing number of cases of dementia among “younger people” — defined as those under age 65. A dear friend recently was diagnosed with dementia while still in her early 50s.
Lisa and her husband stayed with us during a visit to Kansas City, and — like my father-in-law — you couldn’t tell from the outside she had dementia.
She could remember events from her past, but struggled with conversations that were a mere five to 10 minutes old.
And many things we take for granted, such as spatial recognition and equilibrium, were beginning to decline.
Lisa has no misconceptions about the consequences of her disease, yet she is determined to make the best of her moments of clarity to share her journey in a blog with a bit of humor mixed in.
She’s frequently asked how it feels to have dementia. While she welcomes such questions, she often struggles to find the right words. So she recently posted a list of potential answers: Off or disoriented. Unsure. Surprised. Embarrassed. Entertained. Confused. Oblivious. Sad ... because it’s much harder on my loved ones than on me.
Her selfless concern about the effect her condition has on her family is not surprising because it’s consistent with her nature and of many others experiencing the early onset of dementia. Counselors who work with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients stress the importance of providing care for the other “victims” of these diseases — family members, friends and especially primary caregivers.
There are numerous free support groups that offer a safe place to gather, dialogue and walk through the “pre-bereavement” process. The Alzheimer’s Association’s website (www.alz.org) has a community resource finder that lists support groups and other resources available in our area. It’s at www.communityresourcefinder.org.
Dementia is a cruel, unrelenting disease, yet Lisa has found resolve and contentment in the midst of tragedy. “No one is immune from life-changing events,” she said.
I agree — especially when the common prerequisite to be at risk for this life-changing event is to have a brain.
You can find Lisa’s blog at dementiaat50.blogspot.com.
Paul Scianna of south Kansas City is a native of Mississippi and a marketing and communications executive. To reach him, send email to Midwest Voices at firstname.lastname@example.org.