A Lost World

May 23, 2009

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a degenerative condition. It is fatal. The disease can last anywhere from 3-20 years but averages 7-8 years. The first sign is memory loss followed by personality changes. As AD progresses, the afflicted individual becomes disoriented about time and place and tends to exercise poor judgement. People with Alzheimer’s have an increasing  dependence on others and require round-the-clock care. The personality changes, cognitive lapses and eventual demise of a person with AD are extremely difficult on both patient’s and their loved ones. All is not lost however.

My parents both suffer from this progressive form of dementia and are in long-term residential care. Their world has shrunk to tiny proportions and they are oblivious to what goes on outside their own world. Happiness comes down to physical comfort and company. Family visits are a huge source of comfort to them both.

While sitting with my Mum in the Alzheimer unit yesterday, the lady in the bed next to her was very agitated. Doreen* is normally cared for at home but had come into the unit for a short period of respite care to give her family a much-needed break. Despite being very well looked after, there was terror written all over her face. Doreen’s world had fallen apart, she was ‘lost’ and required constant reassurance from the unit staff.  All afternoon she shouted “hello, hello” to anyone who passed and it was hard not to be moved by her anguish. When my Mum fell asleep, I finally got a chance to give Doreen the company she craved. The look of relief in her face will stay with me for a long time. She grasped my hand and tried desperately to find the words to express herself but the words would not come. I chatted to her calmly and told her that I understood why she was upset. Gradually she relaxed and then the tears came.  We hugged and I reassured her that I would come back soon for another chat.  That’s when I got rewarded with a most beautiful smile. Doreen was back on track and even though I knew it wouldn’t last, it made my day.

* Not her real name