Alzheimer’s disease: A Silent Walk Alzheimer’s disease is a fairly common diagnosis for the elderly. Most often when an elderly person is experiencing some difficulty with memory or motor function a doctor will usually test them for symptoms of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. When my father was tested several years back, there was not much good information on the subject and little more in the way of help for a person that becomes a caregiver of the patient.
My family began our own journey down a long road of caring for my father. We could not be prepared for what was to come. Prior to my father’s illness at the age of 65 he was not much of a family guy even though he had been blessed with six children and a loving wife. My father was a real macho kind of guy and he believed the child rearing belonged to the women and not the men. He provided well for our family but chose not to actively participate in our lives, never attending even a school function or a little league baseball game.
Needless to say, that this lack of participation did not strengthen our relationship as adult individuals. I was a grown individual with two children of my own before my fathers disease brought him back into my life. I was notified by my sister that he was ill and that the women he had married divorced him when she knew of his disease. My sister retrieved him from his home in Alabama and brought him to live with her. She was able to care for him for a short while, before feeling overwhelmed and placing him in a facility.
He remained in this facility for almost a month and she would advise me of his progress from time to time, but I was determined that he had chosen not to be a part of my life (or my children’s) and that I had a choice not to be a part of his. His existence in this facility haunted me on a daily basis; this was my father who had been cast out to strangers. He in his current state, was unable to communicate effectively about his caregivers, and I was afraid that he was suffering. I awoke one morning, packed a bag, drove 11 hours; and I brought my father home to live with my family and me.
Little did I know what the next three years would bring! Although it did not matter, I was prepared to do what I could, for he was my father. The doctors we had seen were of little help. They prescribed medications that almost made matters worse. The disease and combination of drugs made life not only more complicated for my father, but made my world seem almost unreal. Part of the disease is called the wandering stage. The patient cannot control their movement, and they walk continuously from morning until night. As this disease progresses the wandering is increased at nighttime.
Even with the strong medication, my father slept very little. My youngest sister and our families took care of my father for three years until his death. According to MedicineNet. com Alzheimer’s disease is defined as: A progressive neurologic disease of the brain that leads to the irreversible loss of neurons and dementia. ( L1) According to the CDC, Alzheimer’s disease has increased over the last 20 years, has been linked to Mad cow disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease : […] Alzheimer’s disease in the United States [has] skyrocketed.
 … Alzheimer’s Disease is now the eighth leading cause of death in the United States, afflicting an estimated 4 million Americans.  Twenty percent or more of people clinically diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, though, are found at autopsy not to have had Alzheimer’s at all.  A number of autopsy studies have shown that a few percent of Alzheimer’s deaths may in fact be CJD. Given the new research showing that infected beef may be responsible for some sporadic CJD, thousands of Americans may already be dying because of Mad Cow disease every year.
 (L2) With the increasing numbers of Alzheimer patients growing, and the baby-boomer era approaching the 60 mark, our healthcare system will struggle to meet the needs of these patients. According to the Alzheimer’s Association there are 10 clear symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Symptoms include: memory loss, difficulty performing familiar tasks, language problems, disorientation to time and place, poor judgment, problems with abstract thinking, misplacing things, changes in mood or behavior, personality changes and changes in initiative.
(L3) Unlike many diseases which have definite symptoms and treatment, Alzheimer’s disease is more complex. Many symptoms are untreatable due to the deterioration of the brain, this causes the disease to progress differently for each patient. As the disease gripped my father, he became confused and began to talk to people that were not in the room. He would carry on full conversations using hand gestures and true emotion. I would ask who he was talking to and he would tell me full names and the history of this “ghost.
” He would allow his opinion of this person such as: “She is a good woman” or “he is a good man. ” One day I asked exactly where this person was in the room; he promptly pointed to a very large clock on the wall and answered, “Right there! ” I knew that he truly saw this person in the clock, and most times I went along with him, even saying hello to this invisible entity. Alzheimer’s is a strange disease twisting the very fibers of our miraculous brain. In the year after my father’s death there was much controversy about Mad cow disease.
I was watching a documentary on humans with mad cow disease, and noted some very similar symptoms to the Alzheimer’s disease that had destroyed my father. I had discussed the possibility with my doctor and was informed that mad cow disease was only contracted by cows. During my father’s struggle with his disease I had researched on my own to try and find him the help he needed. I do believe that Mad cow disease (CJD) is the disease my father had and unfortunately for him, for there was no evidence at that time linking it to humans. According to the USDA, spongiform encephalopathies are CJD and Madcow disease.
The USDA published a statement noting: The incubation period for human spongiform encephalopathies such as CJD can be decades.  This means it can be years between eating infected meat and getting diagnosed with the death sentence of CJD…(L4) Another interesting fact was conveyed by Author Colm Kelleherwhen he suggests … [T]hat many deaths from Alzheimer’s and dementia may actually be misdiagnosed cases of BSE. He backs this statement up with research findings from Yale University and the University of Pittsburgh. He claims that 653 people died from Alzheimer’s in 1979 but in 2002, 58,785 people died from it.
This increase in death cannot be solely attributed to an aging population or improved diagnosis. To further confuse the issue, symptoms of Alzheimer and BSE are similar and only an autopsy will rule out one of them. (L5) Including patients and caregivers, the estimated nationwide cost per year is 100 billion dollars, and around 18,400-36,100 dollars per patient. Most of the money for treatment comes out of pocket. According to a MetLife market survey, the annual cost is around 75,000 dollars annually. The cost of Alzheimer’s for a family is great.
My father’s medication alone was one thousand dollars per month. Alzheimer’s patients have many special needs such as: special beds, chairs, clothing and nursing care. During my father’s disease our resources were slim; we were forced to hire what private care we could afford. Some days seemed longer than others, but we managed. Three years passed before my father went to sleep and did not wake up again. My father’s disease was hard on him, and equally as hard on my family members. I felt blessed that I was afforded a second chance to be able to reunite with my father.
The time I spent caring for my father provided some closure for myself, for I was able to reconnect even under such lousy circumstances. We were blessed to have shared our lives with him. In the end we were all aware that this horrible disease actually brought his family back together. Both children and grandchildren helped care for their “Papaw. ” His grandchildren were a part of his daily life, yet this horrible disease did not allow him to even recognize them on a daily basis. We all worked to make his life more comfortable, and hoped he knew that we loved him.
Our mission was to keep him content, and protect him from harm. Caregivers have a tough road to follow caring for patients with this robbing disease. Keeping the patient at home is not for everyone, and a facility may be the safest place for your loved one. This was a hard call for our family, so we chose to keep him close. Our mission was somewhat accomplished, for he did not spend his last days with strangers (although there were days that he could not recognize a single family member), but with his family, as we all hope our last days will be.