Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Important Topic Regarding Aging Family Members: Alzheimer's Disease

I have been haunted the last few days by some pictures on the news of a local elderly woman in our area afflicted with Alzheimer's disease. She walked away from her home and has not been seen since. Everyone is searching for her. I find my eyes desperately searching the streets, sidewalks and businesses that I use each day in hopes of coming across her to help get her safely home with her worried family. What are the chance I will be the one find her? Probably pretty slim but if everyone keeps an eye out, you never know...

I have worked with a few people who had this disease. I found one man driving down the street with his rear tire rim sparking because he didn't know he had had a flat. He didn't know who he was or where he was or where he belonged or that he wasn't supposed to be driving anymore. He had Alzheimer's and had made it 45 minutes away from his house. I found another man who had gone missing and walked 5 miles (having a heart attack during the walk). He didn't know his name, location, or residence... Alzheimer's. I was called to a house near the beach to take an elderly woman home. She had been sitting in someone's back yard waiting to have tea. The homeowner didn't know her and the poor woman didn't know her name or where she was either... Alzheimer's... I always found these things very sad and heart breaking. But I never understood the full impact of this disease until someone in my family was diagnosed with the disease. We knew for a while something was happening to her. It just seemed to take a long time to officially diagnose it. My wonderful, little grandmother. The nicest lady you ever knew... Everyone loved her.

Obviously this news story brought back some pretty intense personal memories of my own family members who had Alzheimer's. Not only did my grandmother (dad's side) have it but so did my grandfather (mom's side). However, it is my grandmother's battle with it still torments me to this day. She knew when she was slipping away and she was scared. She was with me one minute, just as I knew her all my life, and then back into that dark abyss of her new lonely life. Scared each day, trapped... Alone in her mind. Although she stopped remembering me (just thought I was a kind visitor) toward the end of our visits near the end of her life, she would suddenly scream for me, using my name even, from behind the courtyard walls as I walked through the parking lot to my car. She wandered often even from the care facility she was in. She tried to scale the walls and hit the staff. She was a little lady but full of an angry fire that had been lit by this horrible disease. She died exactly 30 days after her husband died (although she no longer knew she was married). She just stopped eating one day and a few days later closed her eyes until the end.

After watching the news the last few days, I was reminded not only of my family and our experiences with this disease but also of a program that is not well known but is very important for families to learn about if they have someone with this or a dementia type of affliction. It is called the Alzheimer's Safe Return Program. It is a government funded program. It is a national information and photo data base. You can order bracelets and clothing labels for a small fee on the site for your family member. It has a number on bracelet that can be called if your family member wanders away. We got it for my grandmother and it helped us feel a lot better about keeping track of her should she make an escape. I attached the link to their site under my site links list to the left. I also added a link to the Alzheimer's website in case you want to learn more about this disease or donate to the cause. Please spread the word about these sites. You never know when someone you love (or yourself) may end up in this situation. Thanks for listening/reading.


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