The Pink Flamingo’s father turns 89 today. I don’t even know if he realizes that he has reached an age that few men in his family achieve, other than his Uncle John and Uncle Dave. Most men in his family have a tendency to stroke out in their early 70s. We caught the strokes when they began occurring. If medical science had been what it was today, his father would not have died so young. He’s heading into his 90s today. We wonder if he will ever become 90.
My father has Alzheimer’s Disease. All my life, he has been the Birthday Boy. His birthday was always followed by Father’s Day, thus requiring a week long celebration of him. It was all in good clean fun. Every year there was a huge picnic, with no fewer than 50 guests. The menu was always the same: BBQ, corn, scalloped potatoes, baked beans, garlic bread, cole slaw, and the chocolate cake with white icing that my mother has always made.
In May, of 2006, while my mother lay in ICU, hooked up to everything, after suffering from massive heart failure, my father sat there, wondering what we were going to do about his birthday party. I was a little annoyed at the time, but looking back, I should have realized something was wrong.
That’s the problem with our parents, the elderly and Alzheimer’s Disease. We don’t want to see the warning signs. We tell ourselves that uncharacteristic chattyness is normal. We fob off the memory lapses as old age. We ignore the lost keys or wallet by saying he always did it. Then you notice that something is terribly wrong with the family finances – and it is too late.
What no one bothers to tell you about Alzheimer’s Disease is that there are very specific physical markers, signs, that, when put into context with the little things, is a flashing stop light! It’s all about physical coordination. The ability to stand up after sitting at a table is one of the earliest signs of the disease. The mind and body just can’t put it together. My father has had difficulties standing up after sitting at a table for almost a decade. He also had a strange way of going up and down stairs, with the back of his heel rubbing the back of the step.
It was weird. He couldn’t explain it, and he was extremely lucid, with no other real symptoms other than becoming a little confused with directions, and constantly losing his wallet (while we were traveling).
If I had known then, what I know now, things would be a heck of a lot different for our family. We could have caught the lying scumbag of a broker who cheated him out of over half a million bucks, cold cash. We could have caught the man’s assistant when she appropriated a quarter of a million in cash for her own personal use. But, we didn’t know to watch – I didn’t know to watch out for the finances.
That is the worst part of Alzheimer’s Disease, not catching it in time. If you do, early enough, and start B-12 injections every three weeks, there is a 46% chance you can either slow the development of the disease or even stop it in its tracks. I swear we managed to slow the development of the disease by several years with the injections. He’s just now going into early Stage 5.
It’s so simple. All that is needed is a special color imaging CT scan that literally layers the brain. It can catch the development of the disease a good 10 to 15 years before symptoms began showing. This is critical in stopping and slowing the onset of the disease.
Having lived with this for three years, now, I swear the worst part of Alzheimer’s Disease is the fear that someone you know has it, and then avoiding the diagnosis of it, until it is too late. There’s going to be hope in the future. By the time we Baby Boomers are entering that phase of our lives, there are going to be exciting new treatments. We already know enough, that, if you have a genetic pre-disposition to the disease (and only about 6% of the population does), you have hope. You can’t fight it if you remain ignorant.
My father’s is the only case we can find in our family. I’ve been doing genealogy for nearly 25 years, and have his family literally back to Adam on all but his great-grandmother Miller’s side. There is no sign of it, at all. My father had the first diagnosed case of Lyme Disease in South Carolina. That was the year before my oldest niece, Rachel, was born. There are now major indicators that those who have had Lyme Disease will most likely contract Alzheimer’s. The indicators are so strong, I have a friend whose 23 year old daughter is already on the B-12 injections and the anti-Alzheimer’s medications.
There are such stupid assumptions out there about the causes of the disease. It is not caused by:
- Blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Lack of exercise
- Poor diet
I think we’re probably going to find that there is a chemical component to the disease, the same way there are now indicators that some cases of Parkinson’s Disease may be caused by exposure to certain agricultural and petro chemical components. It is also caused by brain injuries.
I hear people lament the fact that their loved one has the disease, how they hate it. I don’t hate it. The real problem we have with Alzheimer’s Disease is approaching it like it is some shameful condition to be hidden with the sufferer put away in an institution, to simply wait to fall, break a hip, and die.
It’s a disease, no different from cancer. People who have it should not be locked-up, unless they are violent. My father, when told that he had it, said he wanted to go out and do things until he started drooling. So, he goes out and does things. There is one specific restaurant here in town that he likes. The meal process now takes 2 hours. He would once wolf down his food. Now it is agony, sitting there, putting up with the slow pace. If a server takes our plates, he will stop eating. This has led for the most tense moments we’ve had with the disease. You keep your plate, and pretend to still be eating.
My sister, her 3 children, and the baby arrived on Monday. We will all be together this one last time. That’s the best part of this. We know the end is coming. We know that this is the last year he can easily and readily participate in his birthday. We have the blessing of knowing that every moment counts. There will be lots and lots of photos. I’ll be castigated for not downloading the last set of baby photos out of my camera. (I found a way to get around that one – saving them for Rachel to put in her lap-top).
We’re lucky. We know what is coming. You count your blessings, and know that it’s not going to get any easier. My mother is the one who is having the difficult time of things. She’s the one living with it, day in and day out.
I think she’s learning how to laugh – I hope.
It’s not easy, but neither would be cancer. I swear I don’t know what the difference is with this and
any other debilitating disease. There is no reason for shame, or to hide my father from the world. He interacts so well with people. It stimulates his brain. He is happy. I’m not going to take that away from him.
Funny, I’m writing this a few days ahead of time so I can do other things. I’m not even crying about it. The difference in his appearance is startling. The photo with him in the red shirt was taken on the parent’s 60th, 2 years ago. He’s now developing that look of what is going on here. It’s sad. Then, he comes up with something hilarious, showing us that he’s still there.
We know what tomorrow brings. We know this will be his last real birthday. Very few families are blessed enough to know to treasure that last time. We are.