It gives most people hilarious pictures in their minds of other people doing strange, funny, silly, irrational things without really realising what they are doing. My Grandma is losing her marbles but it’s not funny or silly, instead it’s very sad when its happening to someone you love. It is caused by a disease called Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is described as a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain, but to you and me that means slowly bit by bit losing the control and functions of your mind. What makes it even worse is there is no cure.
The disease was first described as Alzeimers dementia in 1907 by a German Scientist who found that certain changes had occurred in the tissue of the brain of a 51 year old lady who died after suffering from dementia. Dementia is a condition characterised by the progressive loss of mental function, changes of behaviour and a gradual loss of the skills of daily living. Skills we take for granted like washing, feeding, clothing ourselves, remembering things like who people are, what their names are, where we are and what day of the week it is. All these simple things are lost due to the gradual loss of brain cells.
The risk factor of developing Alzeihmers increases as we get older and women are twice as likely to develop the disease as men. It is estimated that there are 650,000 people in the UK suffering with dementia. 40% – 50% of these have an identifiable underlying cause such as the result of a stroke, genetic disease or a transmitted diseases such as CJD, which we currently hear a lot about in the news usually referred to as mad cow disease. The remaining 50% – 60% do not fit into any of these categories and are generally diagnosed as having Alzeihmer’s Disease the cause of which is still not known. That means there are between 325,000 and 390,000 sufferers in the UK.
The disease progresses through a number of stages. One of the first symptoms you notice is memory loss which nearly always appears early on in the disease. You notice the person is more forgetful of recent events and are likely to repeat themselves in conversation. This is the stage my Grandma has reached. I have noticed the gradual change in her memory as it slowly deteriorates. I find myself having to tell her things over and over again and she will often ask me the same questions several times during the same conversation. At first this can get rather frustrating and it’s difficult to stop yourself saying something but you just have to remember that she can’t help it and she doesn’t even know she’s doing it.
I often wonder what it must be like for her to know she has the disease and what she must be feeling to know there’s nothing she can do about it, there is no cure and she will eventually die as a result of it. As she gets worse her mental abilities will deteriorate, being unable to find the correct words in conversation or mentally grasp things at all eventually becoming more and more confused to the point where she will require more and more help and assistance with daily living tasks.
Sadly the outlook for a person with Alzeimers is bleak with most patients ending up spending the last years of their life bedridden in need of 24 hour care and usually dying of pneumonia or a similar infection. I watched a television programme not long ago that described the progress of the disease in a very interesting way. It’s almost as if, as the disease progresses and the patient deteriorates, its like going from being an adult back to being a child again and eventually back to becoming a helpless baby.
The programme showed scenes of an old man, with a mind of a 2 year old boy, who couldn’t do his shoelaces up and was kicking his wife whom he thought was his mother. My Grandma has shown some of these signs as well. She has done silly things like making 3 cups of tea, instead of 2, imagining her father is there as well as or instead of my Grandad. She has also telephoned us to ask us when we are going to visit her in her new house, even though she’s lived in the same house for over 40 years.
The programme went on to say that often when the patient dies, they die as they started off in the womb curled up in the foetal position just like a new born baby. So next time you say to someone that they’re losing their marbles think of my Grandma, and think of what the phrase really means. The phrase losing your marbles can still bring a smile to your face. But losing your Grandma doesn’t.