I spent almost an hour last night looking for my keys to lock my car. After dumping my purse, going through my pockets, and even looking in the refrigerator as silly as that sounds. I finally sat frustrated and almost in tears to ponder where I could have possibly left them. As she often does Ansley crawled up beside of me and immediately went into comforting me. It was an attempt to calm me and sooth my rattled nerves but I was too preoccupied to fully appreciate her gesture.
After about ten minutes of walking around aimlessly, I knocked on my son’s door. That was the level of crazy I had reached…turning to the 13 year old for help. He walked out and said as calmly as possible “What did you do after work?” After a few minutes I recalled coming home after picking up a pizza and salad from Whole Foods and recanted that to him. “You brought home milk too Mommy!” Ansley chimed in. Now sitting on the couch grinning from ear to ear at this new game of detective we were apparently playing.
“Yes, I did! I had brought in the milk, the pizza and the salad.” I retold like I was flipping back the pages in my mind to retrace the story and my steps. James walks in a determined pace away from me. I swear I can feel his eyes rolling from the back of his head as he goes to the front door, opens it and removes my keys from the lock. I suddenly feel my face turn red and I am sure that I had not been so stupid. At that moment I have no recollection whatsoever of leaving the keys dangling from the lock I opened five hours prior. This must be how the beginning days must feel to some one beginning the stages of Alzheimer’s. Swiss cheese recollections of things that they are most certain did not happen.
The Alzheimer’s Association states the first stages present one of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s is memory loss, especially forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events; asking for the same information over and over; increasingly needing to rely on memory aids (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things they used to handle on their own.
I just wrote that and still needed to pause and re-read it because that happens to me on a day to day basis. Truth be told on the ten signs I read in the article, I could easily at 45 see myself in all ten of them. That is why I am sure as my uncle started beginning his journey to the long goodbye no one really, really noticed. I can’t imagine having to finally come to the conclusion that the seeming forgetfulness and odd behavior wasn’t just aging. It breaks my heart for them because this tower of a man had been such an important part of my life. I had grown up with his fun and childlike personality, incased in this burley, strong as an ox body. He was tough as nails but a big push over that would roll on the ground and play with you in such a wonderful way, that to a child, he was the grown up you liked best.
With the job I have, we are mainly involved in planning and preparing. But how do you prepare for this? There are no real warning signs until you are smack dab in the middle of a diagnosis. Then it is just a painful, sad story that has to play itself out. One with no happily ever after’s, no table of contents, book of directions or alternate endings. I think many of us have a hard time even thinking about the “what if” scenario because it is so difficult to ascertain what is the disease and what is the decent into old age.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ALZHEIMER’S AND TYPICAL AGE-RELATED CHANGES? *
|Signs of Alzheimer’s/dementia||Typical age-related changes|
|Poor judgment and decision-making||Making a bad decision once in a while|
|Inability to manage a budget||Missing a monthly payment|
|Losing track of the date or the season||Forgetting which day it is and remembering it later|
|Difficulty having a conversation||Sometimes forgetting which word to use|
|Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find them||Losing things from time to time|
The picture above in the article is my precious uncle, who now when he sees me knows that he should know me, but cannot recall my name. In his lap is my son James and his cousin Mackenzie, both two at the time. My gift, is that I can remember this day eleven years ago. It was a birthday party for these two munchkins at one of my favorite places in the world Holiday Island in Hertford, NC. A place so very special to my own childhood.
I remember how much I loved going to the island every summer growing up. My Aunt and Uncle’s camper home continually grew. Rooms were added, porches were built, outside bathhouses erected, additional lots and campers bought and renovated. Not by builders that were hired but by my uncle and his sons and maybe a few friends. My uncle never stopped. Constantly moving, fixing, tinkering, constructing and most of all playing with the children when the work was done. Now he has trouble understanding the simplest of directions because of this incredibly complex disease.
My cousins are doing what they can to care for him, they really didn’t have a plan “B”. No idea that this would be his twilight years spent slowly disappearing into a dark emptiness. This is the situation many people find themselves in with this particular disease. Alzheimer’s and Dementia rob the mind, but due to constant care and medication, the body stays whole much longer than the brain can keep up with. I pray for strength and love and light for my family as I do all the countless others out there saying the long goodbyes. Becoming the caretaker to those adults who took care of you as a child can be an enormous job and one that surpasses any one’s anticipation of what it will take from you or do to you.
“Caregiving often calls us to lean into love we didn’t know possible.” ― Tia Walker
Ask anyone you know who has hindsight if they would have, should have or could have planned for the worst case scenario before they found themselves there. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t give anything to go back to the just before that moment…moment. Unfortunately we don’t often live in the “just before” mentality. I know that one day I too will tread on the slippery slope of aging, and James and Ansley will have to trade places with me in this leadership role. I can only hope to prepare for the worst the best way I can and hope for the best case scenario, that is the world we are in now.
For the moment though I can take stock in the fact that after looking over the warning signs, I am merely a hard working, summer weary, slightly frazzled Mom of two that forgets where she last had her keys. Hopefully both children will keep that in mind down the road and grant me grace and understanding. ~Blessing to you all….Kimberly