A majority of us know and love someone who has Alzheimer’s disease. It is so prevalent that every 67 seconds, someone in the US develops this disease. So far, it cannot be prevented, slowed down, or even cured. There are no survivors. It is heartbreaking and frustrating to view. We do realize that ultimately it is a lonely condition and we can never truly know what it feels like to your loved one. However, we can get some idea from the people themselves who in the early stage of the disease have written or told about their experience.
My sister-in-law Charlotte was a college professor. In her early years of her disease she described her experience. “Imagine yourself in a classroom. The teacher calls on you to answer a question. You know you used to be able to answer such a question, but now you can’t. You feel embarrassed, scared, and alone. That frustration becomes magnified and repeated constantly throughout the day.” Charlotte continued, “I was once a person others went to for ideas and direction. Now I’ve lost that and am forced to be directed and there’s nothing I can do about it as I watch my condition worsen.”
When you think about it, everything we do is premised on memory. Your memories are a foundation. They give you context for what you’re supposed to do in a given situation. Cooking a dinner, driving a car, going to work are all good examples. The person who has Alzheimer’s disease loses memory. Their brain is damaged. As the damage increases, the brain just doesn’t have enough information to interpret situations correctly. Every day they lose a little more. In the beginning individual memories pop in and out. However as the disease progresses, the symptoms worsen. Communication becomes difficult and normal conversations are lost. Wandering becomes common. Sometimes it is a product of boredom. Other times, the person feels he or she wants to go home. Their current home becomes unfamiliar. They want to go to their childhood home and re-live with their parents where it is safe and secure.
As their world becomes more confusing, even their closest family members seem like strangers. A person with Alzheimer’s can feel defenseless and afraid, trapped and angry. At other times they become irrationally suspicious of the people around them. As the disease worsens, they no longer realize their deficiencies. They are in a world of their own, living in the moment and forgetting that moment right after. As horrifying as it is for us, perhaps it is their salvation.