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My Experience of Alzheimer's Disease
Member Name: Epiphany
My Experience of Alzheimer's Disease
Date: 23/07/01, updated on 23/07/01 (92 review reads)
Advantages: Is this really appropriate?
Disadvantages: Is this really appropriate?
I was talking about my aunt with my parents a little while ago, and mentioned her dodgy memory. “She wasn’t always like that you know”, was the response that came back at me. This is strange, because for as long as I can remember, my aunt has been forgetting. She would consistently turn up to birthdays a day late, but she would always turn up, that was until….
I will continue my tale in just a second, but first I wanted to tell you all why I have decided to write this opinion. I wanted to share my memories with my aunt with you, and give you a flavour of what can happen to a person who has developed Alzheimer’s disease. I don’t plan to go into the medical ins and outs, and cover every single little sign and symptom of it’s onset and diagnosis (although stranger things have happened), I just want to share with you my own and my family’s experiences. So, back to the story…
My aunt got more forgetful and it became clear something was wrong. No one really knew for sure what it was, but the medically educated among us (mostly my mother and one of my uncles) could have a good guess as to what the problem could be. Arguments ensued over the coming months and years as to what could be done about my aunt’s condition and who was making it worse or better. I’m not sure when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but I know that when it was, it came of no surprise.
Birthdays weren’t the only thing she began to forget. She would go to social gatherings, driving down in her car and forgetting that she took it and so starting to walk home before someone would point it out to her. At the same social gatherings, she would go to the supermarket and, once again, try to go home afterwards when she had left her things in the community centre with her friends. All this was very amusing, we knew she couldn’t help it, and we didn’t make a big ‘thing’ out of it, but
my poor aunt was obviously getting embarrassed and frustrated, and this wasn’t helped by other members of the family who did give her a hard time.
Then she started to forget people. You would introduce her to someone, and it was likely that she wouldn’t remember them the next time you saw her, but this wasn’t a huge problem, and she used to be the first to make an embarrassed joke about it. She stopped remembering all but a few birthday’s, was unable to drive her car any more because she was constantly getting lost around roads she had driven most of her life and required more care at home to make sure she didn’t leave chip pans and ovens on by mistake.
Then one night EVERYTHING changed. I’m sure it was a more gradual transition than this, but one morning my mum told me that my aunt had been taken to a psychiatric hospital because she had had ‘an episode’ during the night. My aunt was incredibly fastidious and this became almost an obsession during her illness. If her husband changed the sheets on the bed, she would rip them off again and do them herself. This one night, she forgot who he was completely. She was very aggressive and physically violent towards him. She began talking of a man he had never known before making threats like ‘if you don’t let me leave so-and-so won’t be happy’. Her husband managed to calm her down enough to allow him to phone a taxi, when in fact he phoned their daughter who instinctively knew there was something wrong and came right over. Later a doctor was called and the admission to the psychiatric hospital was eventually made with her agreement. Had she not agreed, the doctor said he would commit her anyway, probably under the mental health act.
My tiny, grey aunt who wouldn’t hurt a mouse underwent further transformations. Over the following months, my aunt who wouldn’t normally hurt a fly and didn’t even look capable,
actually broke another patients nose! Apparently, the looks she gave some people were pure evil, and often she couldn’t maintain a conversation, getting up agitatedly and wandering around or just turning away from people. She would clean with pretend cleaning cloths, put things straight and generally tidy whatever she could. She could no longer control her bodily functions, in that she knew that she was uncomfortable, and there was something she needed to do, but she didn’t quite know what resorting to the behaviour of young children when they are bursting to go to the toilet. Her mind seemed to have been set back many years as she talked of people who’s hair she had cut that day, when in fact she hadn’t cut hair for years and of people who used to live near by in the days of her parents but who had long passed away or moved on.
Things got worse and one of my cousins cried on the day she visited, as my aunt didn’t recognise her at all. Conversations were now largely impossible as not only did she not say much, have the ability to comprehend she also didn’t have the necessary social skills to cope with the task (i.e. looking someway towards the person you are conversing with, not getting up and walking away mid-sentence). Eventually she was moved to a nursing home and it was here that things started to look up a little.
My aunt was happy. She was allowed to clean whatever she wanted (even in the kitchen!) and was given the necessary equipment to do this. She went on trips with the other residents and the change was apparently tremendous. Then one day her daughter went to see her and mentioned that one of her friends from the social group (mentioned earlier) had been to see her. Her daughter asked her who this visitor was, and she actually remembered this lady’s name and asked a question about her visit, showing she also remembered a little about her relationship with the visitor. A glimmer of hope was seen f
or the first time in ages, which makes what happened next all the more hard to understand.
Last Saturday night (14th July) my aunt was found collapsed on the floor with a very weak pulse. The doctor was called, but she was pronounced dead on his arrival. In some ways, this was a tragic loss considering the signs of hope, but on the other hand, everyone knew that it was only a matter of time before things got even worse. She had already become a shadow of her former self and almost unrecognisable in personality. She seemed more like a stranger to those who visited her, and I’m sure the whole experience must have been very difficult.
I never saw her in the latter stages of her illness, in either the psychiatric unit or the nursing home as I was warned that it wasn’t a pleasant experience and that she probably wouldn’t know who I was, let alone appreciate my being there. I don’t think I would have liked to see her like that! Instead I just think of the way she was, her humorous ways and remember the times she used to baby-sit for my brother and I. I’m upset at her loss, but on some levels it was a release, and she died at a time when she seemed most happy, had a dignified death and some level of quality of life during her last weeks. I hope she is now at peace, and happy.
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