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Jan 19

Alzheimer’s, a season of ‘lasts’

“Old age comes on suddenly, and not gradually as is thought.” – Emily Dickinson

Most stories about Alzheimer’s catch my eye, but none more than one I read this past week, a USA Today story about a family’s ongoing blog about Alzheimer’s.

I am interested in this because my mother, 94, was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s more than 12 years ago. We have been in the throes of this dreaded disease ever since, so naturally I am interested in everything Alzheimer’s. And I must admit, I worry about getting it myself.

The story mentioned above is named simply Bob’s Blog, a personal journal kept in association with USA Today. It is about Bob Blackwell, 69, a retired and once brilliant and highly talented CIA analyst who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s five years ago.

At first, he started writing about his battle with the illness, but soon thereafter, his wife Carol took over blogging about their personal journey.

She tells poignant, sometimes humorous and always loving tales about their daily lives. Recently, Carol has been writing the blog they keep for USA Today about “the season of lasts — listing things Bob has done for the last time. He has been a lifelong fan of University of Georgia football, for instance, but following the games last fall was too challenging.”

And on and on the list of “lasts” continues.

Carol writes: “Here we are, and there’s no cure and no promise of a cure…I know it’s too late for a cure for Bob, the disease has moved into many parts of his brain, but I’m praying for my children and grandchildren. We have to find a cure.”

If you are close to someone who is afflicted with Alzheimer’s, I imagine that you drink in every word as well on the subject of finding a cure for future generations and for ourselves.

Unfortunately, the very definition of Alzheimer’s is indeed foreboding.

Health reporter Janice Lloyd describes Alzheimer’s as “a form of dementia that causes progressive loss of intellectual and social skills, the only disease among the top killers for which there is no prevention, cure or treatment that will slow its progression”.

We hear constantly in the news these days that disease is thought to run in families and the growth of Alzheimers, the projected number of people over the age of 65 in the U.S., is now in the millions.

WebMD further explains: “Dementia is considered a late-life disease because it tends to develop mostly in elderly people. About 5 to 8 percent of all people over the age of 65 have some form of dementia, and this number doubles every five years above that age. It is estimated that as many as half of people in their 80s suffer from dementia.”

I find better news in the fact that new efforts are being made to raise public awareness, provide more funding for research and speed up the timeline to find a cure.

And even better news in the fact that once in awhile our loved ones with Alzheimer’s emerge ever so briefly from the fog and come back, sometimes long enough for us to catch a glimmer of the person we used to know.

For example, the other day I could not get my mother to open her eyes. It was lunchtime at the special care Alzheimer’s unit where she resides.

I tried to entice her to smell and taste her food and to take a sip of coffee, which incidentally she has adored her entire life.

It was the coffee I gave her that I believe brought her back to life. Right away, she opened her eyes and smiled. Then she squealed, “Oooooo, coffee. That’s good.” She then turned to a neighbor at the dining table and said, “Have you met my mother”, pointing to me. Looking at me she said, “Kay Jean (the name she has always called me) have you met my mother?”

And that is how it goes most days, but this particular day she recognized the smell and taste of coffee and said “ooooo, that’s good”, and for ever so briefly, she was back.