Punched by Alzheimer’s Disease
One of the saddest days that I can remember is the day that my Mother was told that she had Alzheimer’s Disease. I clearly see the small, windowless room and large conference table where my brother and I sat across from her at the Alzheimer’s clinic. The team of practitioners involved in her diagnosis sat on each side of the table and her doctor sat at the far end. A slight man with a full beard and kind blue eyes, the Neurologist hesitated before stating in a soft and compassion voice, “You have Alzheimer’s Disease”. My Mother shouted, “No, No I don’t” and I felt a pain deeply, from within, as if someone just punched me in the stomach. I sat through the rest of the meeting, a blur with the hum of voices in the background while I tried to hold back the tears and appear strong.
As we drove home, I thought about how Alzheimer’s Disease crept up on us. The signs were there but they were insidious and we didn’t realize that our loved one’s mind was slowly getting washed away. Mom was a master at covering up her symptoms. I am not sure if the cover-up was intentional, a subconscious coping mechanism, or just part of the disease. Cunning and deceitful, Alzheimer’s onset is slow and the symptoms come and go. Mom appeared completely normal one minute, one hour, one day and then suddenly her behavior would become totally out of her character or I’d notice something strange that I couldn’t put my finger on.
I imagined a tiny eraser, gradually moving through her brain, sometimes leaving behind bits and pieces and other times permanently removing precious memories and events. First, it attacked her short-term memory, while triggering flashes from the past that called upon old memories, confusing her about what was happening at that moment and what happened in the past. As it moved along in its destruction, with cruel and slow torment, it tore away at each and every memory that she held deep within. It took from her, her very being. It stole her soul and left her with nothing but a shell that became a memory-less body. Her symptoms appeared and disappeared and then years after the initial onset, the disease reared it’s ugly face and hit her like a ton of bricks, there was no going back, who she was, gone…gone forever.
Alzheimer’s, It’s mean and conniving and likes to rip families apart. My Mother, slowly lost her ability to think rationally. She mixed up the signals and intents of others. The disease caused her to misunderstand and misinterpret the most innocent situations. She became paranoid and started to create stories that pitted family members against one another. She didn’t do it on purpose, it was the disease, it made her think things were happening that really were not. Alzheimer’s is a liar and my mother believed it and so did we! Mom thought that my sister and I were committing misdeeds against her. She complained to her sisters, then she complained to me about my sister and to my sister about me. Each of us stood alone in our belief that the other was mistreating Mom. There was arguing and animosity among us, that is what Alzheimer’s wanted – to keep us apart so that we wouldn’t discover it, so it could hide and secretly continue its cruel game.
The denial and cover-up went on for some time, eventually, the monster inside her couldn’t hide anymore. Her wonderful food started to taste bad. She no longer showed interest in her passion or talent as a seamstress. Once a bookworm, I caught her reading her book upside down. Her peculiar behavior increased. I found her washing dishes from the bathtub with a toilet brush. Of course, I questioned her. She had an explanation, as she always did. I knew something wasn’t right, but Alzheimer’s disease is the master of trickery.
Alzheimer’s is crafty and it slowly sneaks up on its victim, each strange behavior builds upon the next until you are no longer surprised by the most bizarre. It will fool the victims closest family and friends and pull the wool over the eyes of the best physicians. When I first suspected that something was wrong, I took her to her doctor. On the way to his office, she was confused. While in her doctor’s exam room, her memory was crystal clear. I told her doctor that she was having trouble with her memory. He looked at me with surprise then handed Mom a piece of paper and asked her to draw a clock. Her clock was perfect. He continued his mini assessment with questions about the date and current events. Mom was spot on with most of her answers. He looked in my direction with his eyes over his glasses and said, “your Mom has normal age-related memory loss”. Deep down I knew that it was more than that. I did not trust my instinct and I believed or wanted to believe that she was okay.
Alzheimer’s disease, the kleptomaniac who stole my mother piece by piece could not hide much longer. It’s sham was up. It had wreaked havoc on our family right in front of our eyes and we didn’t see it coming! Then, it hit her and all of us, with full force. It stole her ability to function. We had to face the beast. That is when my brother and I decided to take her to the Alzheimer’s center for an evaluation. Even though I knew what we suspected was true, nothing could have prepared me for the pain, the loss and total sense of helplessness that I felt that day that my brother and I sat across from Mom in her geriatric neurologist’s office. That day, that I was punched by Alzheimer’s.