The concerns of an Alzheimer’s caregiver are many. Safety of their patient (mental safety, physical safety) is paramount, but there are others – are they getting enough to eat and is it nutritionally satisfying; are they sleeping; what is their mental state (because, you know, an unhappy Alzheimer’s patient can be a whole other type of Hell); am I doing everything I can to provide (while I can) an enriching life. There are additional concerns, obviously, too numerous to mention, not the least of which is, hey, am I remembering to take care of myself?
There’s one concern…one fear…that’s not often mentioned, though; not in support groups or literature on the disease. It lurks in the depths of your mind, running rat-like in circles, gnawing at the inside of your skull. It takes an especially vicious bite every time you misplace your keys or forget to do something.
What if this happens to ME?
It’s a legitimate fear. Alzheimer’s can strike anyone. It’s particularly frightening to those with family members suffering from the disease because it tends to run in families, particularly through the matrilinear line. Hooray.
Like most people, I never gave much thought to my occasional mental lapses. I mean, it happens to everyone, right? We all have those DUH! moments when we wonder just what the heck is the matter with us. But when someone you know has Alzheimer’s, those moments take on a whole new ominous overtone, colored like the bruised underside of a thunderhead.
I’ve had two such lapses in the recent past. A few weeks ago, I took my cell phone in to AT&T because I was having issues with it, and when the service person asked me to key in my code to unlock the phone…I couldn’t remember it. Blanked it. Totally. Not in a smidgen of a clue. I left the store shaken, drove home in tears. It finally came to me on the drive (what a relief!), but the episode scared the crap out of me because it left me with the exact impression of what my mother has described: “It’s like the inside of my mind goes white.”
The other episode was yesterday when I went to write a business letter and could not for the life of me remember the correct format. Did the return address go above or below the date? I’ve written countless business letters. I should know this by rote, but the brain stalled, leaving me staring at the computer screen in confusion and…yes…fear.
Are these normal lapses? God, I hope so. But I’m only 57. Seems a bit early to me. Then again….wasn’t Mom in her 50s the first time I noticed a marked episode of forgetfulness?
Am I blowing this out of proportion? Who knows? I’m watchful now, though, because if — God forbid — this is the road I’m set to go down, I want to arm myself with as much knowledge as I can rather than be waylaid as my parents were. I want to fight the fear, turn it inside out, make it work for me instead of against.
But, yeah, I’m scared.