WHAT I ALREADY KNEW
In 1999, while my Father (age 80) was a patient at a rehabilitation center, recovering from a stroke, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. This came as a shock to our family as just weeks earlier, my Dad had been given a clean bill of health during his annual physical exam. So, I suspected then, one could possibly harbor this disease without knowing it, and it might also disguise itself during a routine medical check-up.
At that time, I suspected there may be two possible causes for his disease. The first being caused by the stroke, or secondly, it may just be part of the normal aging process. I had heard of this disease, but lacking any understanding of it, I searched the local libraries while inquiring through the Mayo Clinic, Harvard Medical, and Massachusetts General Hospital. I was disappointed in the limited amount of information available, and the reluctance of health care professionals to divulge any information that could have been useful.
It appeared that the disease process was still not clearly defined, and the prognosis was often sketchy, depending on the individual’s peculiar manifestations. Testing was in the infant stages, so definitive onset and progress of the disease was still apparent guesswork. The concepts of dementia and a disease process seemed related. So, the only conclusions that I could safely make were that age was a factor, and that the prognosis was not favorable.
I was forced to accept a “wait and see” approach to his anticipated changes in behavior. I expected to interact with him based on the unfortunate rumors that were associated with anyone afflicted with Alzheimer’s. As far as clinical intervention was concerned, it appeared that the medications prescribed were trial and error, based on his behavior. Alzheimer’s seemed to be best defined as a loss of cognitive skills, with impaired memory being the most apparent symptom. He was experiencing some short-term memory loss, but otherwise did not appear to differ from others with stroke related impairments. I was confused, but determined to provide the necessary care to accommodate my Dad’s needs.
I admit that my earlier experiences; visiting nursing homes as a youth, working with “Meals on Wheels” as an adult, and listening to my husband as a CNA, did not encourage me as to a favorable outcome. Rather, my mind held a vision of a drastically deteriorating individual. It seemed that those with Alzheimer’s were among the most afflicted, and the least likely to survive. Their quality of life and life expectancy was curtailed, or actually a terminal prognosis.