"When I look out there it kind of seems like I'm in the suburbs," my uncle said, peering out the front door of the home he's lived in since 1953. "Really, though, I don't know where this is..." He turned and shuffled back to his bedroom, crawling into the bed where he spends most of the days. He rarely gets dressed now, a man who once shopped only at Brooks Brothers, buying three or four suits at a time to wear to work, and countless pinstriped shirts and khaki's for "everyday" around the house. My aunt, who once complained that he felt the need to use a clean towel for each of the two or three showers he often took per day, now nags him somewhat relentlessly until she manages to get him into the shower once or twice a week.
When my mother in law died last September, another victim of Alzheimer's Disease, I had watched her decline for about eight years. And now, I'm watching my uncle follow the exact same pattern.
Can I say how much I despise this disease? How angry it makes me that a person's entire life is erased from their memory, that they can no longer recall their children, their home, their favorite color or song, can't crave the taste of chocolate or coffee, can't sing a tune or swing a golf club, write a check or a grocery list. I want to stomp on Alzheimer's Disease, I want to tear it into shreds and toss it into the ocean. I want it eradicated from the face of the earth.
Most of all, I want it to leave my family the hell alone.
Am I scared of this disease? You bet, I'm scared. Terrified would be more like it. I have to remind myself not to get too smug, that just because no one in my direct blood line has it - not my parents or grandparents, nor any of their brothers or sisters - that doesn't mean I'm immune. It could strike me randomly, like a wayward bomb from some crazy fighter pilot in the sky.
And I'm petrified for my husband, who has developed every other health condition his mother had, right down to benign cysts on their right kidneys and identical parathyroid tumors on the same gland (which they both had surgically removed on the same day back in 2004). Add to that the plethora of other risk factors he has - a long history of high blood pressure and high cholesterol, recently diagnosed pre-diabetes, poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle - and I feel as if I might as well put him on the waiting list at Chestnut Village. Does he listen to my warnings, or those of the myriad health professionals out there?
What do you think? If he inherited anything at all from his father, it was stubbornness.
But lately I'm feeling just as angry as I am fearful. Where did this scourge of a disease come from, anyway? Why all of a sudden are so many millions of people living their last years of life being stripped of their memory and intellect? Is is something in the water? In food? In microwaves or cell phones?
Somebody just tell me, so I can do something about it.
For of course, there's the biggest fear of all. This horrible disease causes it's victims to lose complete control over their lives. And for a control freak like me, what could be more fearsome? A fate worse than death, indeed.
So yes, I'm scared. But I'm also "stomp my foot" mad, and I don't want to take this anymore.
Let's insure that our children and grandchildren can forget all about Alzheimer's Disease, and needn't be afraid of it at all.