Last week I helped watched over my great-aunt or Tia as we call her, who normally is watched over by my aunt. My great aunt is in her 80’s and has Alzheimer’s. Anyone who has had a loved one with this disease can tell you it is not only tough on the person who has it but on their family members as well. As the person loses the ability to remember if they completed basic tasks like washing their hands, their care taker takes on the responsibility of being that persons eyes and ears. It is like caring for a child, completely vulnerable to the world and its dangers.
When I was a little girl it was my grandfather who had Alzheimer’s. Although I don’t remember, my family tells me that I was the only person he remembered. Even though he would question who everyone one else was, even his children. Back then there was not as many medical advances in the fight against this memory robbing disease. Fortunately now there are some medicines that fight to slow its progression, which she is on but there is no cure.
It is said that as the disease progresses patients revert to their much younger selves. This is the case with my great-aunt, who many times thinks she is younger than she is. Telling her she is in her 80’s is a complete shock to her and she is a bit offended. She also sometimes thinks her mother is still alive and that she still lives in Puerto Rico among other things. Her reactions are funny in the moment, because of her spunky attitude, but it is sad all the same. It is also common for a person with Alzheimer’s to become aggressive or angry, although my Tia can be stubborn thankfully the illness has not made her neither.
What she hasn’t lost is the ability to do is recognize a hot guy when she sees one, dance and move to the beat, say whatever is on her mind and appreciate beauty and fashion. Her loving memories of her dad and some memories of her childhood are also things she remembers. She also remembers her faith in God and she NEVER forgets about dessert!
As you watch your loved one lose their memory and with it sometimes pieces of themselves there is no doubt that you will feel sadness. As much as you love them, and want to help them there is only so much you can do. A fact that was clearly reminded to me when my Tia, misplaced her false teeth. Although we were laughing, because she sneaked them out her mouth and lost them, we were loosing our minds looking for them. No matter how many times we asked her where she put them she had no idea, and would lose recognition of what it was we were looking for. We never found them and I’m not sure we ever will. Another moment of laughter and sadness.
Although I’m not a very emotional person, a wave of sadness that I had not felt before came over me at the end of our search for her teeth. Not because I couldn’t find them, but because I could not help her. Sadness that she’s lost pieces of herself although not all, to a thief that might never be stopped.
This post was a bit of an emotional one, but I felt I had to write it all the same. As writing is my outlet. Do you have or had a loved one with the memory robbing disease? What are your stories of laughter and sadness? Let me know in the comments and on social media.-T.S.