5/21/2008

The Long Goodbye



I went yesterday to visit my Aunt Sue. It was a very difficult visit due to her having Alzheimer’s disease. She is in the last stages (stage 7) of the disease. It is a disease that destroys brain cells, thus eliminating memory, thinking and behavior. In some cases, the patients are quite belligerent. My Aunt is one of those patients with that behavior. When I came in to visit yesterday, she not only wanted to know who I was, a complete stranger, coming into her house, but she also wanted to call the police to me. She then threw a cup at me, missing me by mere inches. My Aunt Sue was quickly admonished by one of her daughters (my cousin). But, she was adamant about me leaving the house immediately. She said she doesn't allow strangers to just walk into her house.

I turned to leave and my cousin walked out to the carport with me. There were tears in her eyes and she was apologizing for Aunt Sue's behavior. I quickly told her that wasn't the Aunt Sue I have known all my life. There was no need for any apology. That wasn't the Aunt Sue that would take us all to the beach when we were kids. That wasn't the Aunt Sue who dived into a lake to rescue my drowning brother. Aunt Sue was always my mother's favorite sister. It affected her greatly when my mother passed away back in 1998. Aunt Sue frequently told me she had lost her best friend. And she had. I had been avoiding this visit for a long time. But, it was something I knew I had to do. If for no other reason than because I know my mother would have wanted me to do this. She is at the stage where she can no longer clean herself. She also has to wear adult diapers now due to “accidents”. I suppose it's true...we all have a second childhood. But, in my Aunt's case, it is perfectly understandable.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive and fatal brain disease. As many as 5 million Americans are affected with this disease. Many of them are not even aware they have it. Something I was not aware of, this disease was first diagnosed back in 1906 by German physician Alois Alzheimer, the namesake of this disease. It is considered the most common form of dementia. Also surprising, some 500,000 people just in their 30s, 40s and 50s have Alzheimer’s or a related disease. I was shocked by this information.

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. However, research is continuing and there are drugs currently on the market to help patients deal with the disease better than in years past. There is no helping my Aunt Sue, of course. She is in the end stage of Alzheimer’s disease, often referred to as “The Long Goodbye” as the patient loses all touch with reality. This is probably the most stressful time for patient and family.

I will go back to see Aunt Sue again. I know I have to or I won't be able to sleep at night. She was good to me my entire life. Aunt Sue doesn't know she has Alzheimer's. It wouldn't matter now anyway because she wouldn't know what you were talking about. Personally, I would want to know. But, everyone is different. In Aunt' Sue's case, it was probably for the best.

2 comments:

Hi Dave, I'm Matt's Mom (Matt-Speak) and got your name from his blog. I absolutey LOVE your blog. You and I have a Lot in common..for sure. I have taken care of Alzheimers patients, and I am in awe of your caring and understanding the devestation of this disease. And you comments on Child abuse....well, I can say that for many many years I wanted to work in that field, even volunteer for CASA, but the reason I didn't is because I don't like the accommodations at prison, and that is exactly where I would be after seeking revenge on a child's abuser....but I will do something. I promise! Do keep up the good work, I will be back, your writing is addictive.

Hello Matt's mom!!! Glad to have you here. Yes, I would probably be in prison also if I worked social services. I had a ex-girlfriend who did work in that and...well, I'd be in prison. That's all I will say.

Thanks for the kind comments. Matt has the best blog bar none around here. I appreciate your words about this one though. It was Matt's idea to start this fight for children. I just am following up on his idea. Together, we can all make a difference. Please come back and visit whenever you can.

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