READING BETWEEN THE LINES, IS THE REAL STORY OF ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE

“Harvey died just before Thanksgiving,” his widow wrote, this is his story.

“Harvey showed signs of memory loss three or four years ago. Then after Christmas last year it got worse. In April he fell off our front step and all tests were negative, then it seemed to escalate. Through the summer the nights were really bad. Pills were not working. The month of August after what seemed like hundreds of phone calls we found a care center. Harvey had two good months there. Then one night he wanted to get up to go to the bathroom. Afterwards, the staff took him back to bed and he died in his sleep. What a blessing!”

One brief paragraph, nine short sentences, not really enough to tell the story of Harvey. But maybe it is, his story is like so many others.

Just a few years when the family identifies his memory loss?  We know he was struggling for longer than that. The time of mild cognitive impairment, when the person is mildly confused, yet functioning, can be many years. Years when the person doesn’t need any help dressing, bathing, eating, but might be having trouble remembering a word or an event. He could remember how to drive the car, and as long as his wife was giving him directions, they didn’t get lost. By having a routine to life and sticking to the routine, it makes it harder to see the changes, they just creep up on you.

The 3-4 years of memory problems she remembers, was most likely when his struggles were becoming more obvious. Especially if other people now noticed. Having a fall, any injury, infection, anything to change the normal routine tends to escalate the symptoms. And the person no longer bounces back to their previous level of function.

Pills were not working. No, medications for Alzheimer’s disease tend to only help for a period of time.

Nights were really bad. So many people caregiving for someone with Alzheimer’s disease come to that place where they are looking for a care center because the nights are bad.

But it wasn’t all bad. Between these few lines you know there were holidays and birthday celebrations. Grandchildren were born and many family get togethers were enjoyed by Harvey. The elderly couple enjoyed going to a movie, or out to eat. They were faithful members of their church, where Harvey was well known. He died at the age of 85, and only lived those last two months in a nursing home.  What a blessing!

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing