The title really says it all. Dementia sucks. This is more than a general observation. Like so many others, dementia has touched my family. According to the Alzheimer’s Association more than 6 million Americans have Alzheimer’s Disease, one form of dementia. 73% of them are age 75 or older. About 1 in 9 people age 65 and older (10.7%) have been diagnosed. That is a lot of families mourning the loss of their family members even while those family members are still alive.
It is only a matter of time until my mother will no longer know who I am. She usually doesn’t remember where I live or what I do for a living. She only intermittently knows who her sisters are, and sometimes she insists that she doesn’t have siblings at all. She has trouble remembering her grandchildren. This is very hard to watch. She looks like my mother, but there is very little that is otherwise recognizable. She can still sing most of the hymns she has ever known, some patriotic songs, and songs from old Broadway musicals. Only when we sing together does this feel like my mom.
There is some evidence that the disease begins 20 or more years before the memory symptoms begin. Looking back, I can now identify signs and symptoms that were present but easily overlooked. Typical symptoms include memory loss, problems with planning and problem solving, difficulty completing tasks, confusion about time and place, problems with visual and spatial relationships, problems with language, misplacing items, decreased judgment, withdrawal, and changes in personality and behavior. It basically destroys the person you love right in front of your eyes.
Like me, you might not even notice the symptoms at first. For a while the afflicted person might be able to deny the symptoms or make plausible excuses. Eventually there is no way to explain the changes away. While current medications may slow the progression, they don’t cure the disease.
Dale Bredesen, MD does offer some hope. His book, The End of Alzheimer’s, describes a program of diet, exercise, supplements, and life style change that appears to have been helpful to many people, particularly when the symptoms are mild. Replications of his studies are underway. Am I believing because I want to? Possibly. But Dementia sucks. Yes, I want to have hope.