For the duration of my adult life, I have only known two adults with Alzheimer's disease (AD). I mean, I've known several people along the way, who went to my church or played bingo where I played, but I've only known two people really well.
Diseases of the mind fascinate me. It's so odd and random and logical and illogical how the mind picks up a bit, omits a bit and re-routes other bits. Its like a bunch of handshakes, some of which go unmet.
The first Alzheimer's victim I really knew was a good friend's mother whom I had known off and on for my entire life. I spent more time with her during her final years, as she was in a nursing home and I don't live far from the home. This dear woman, whom we shall call Mary, spent hour after hour watching traffic in front of the nursing home. She was looking for wrong-doers (people who parked in the lot, got out of their cars, gathered their things, walked through the front doors or left). Oftentimes, when I went to see her, she had her wheelchair perched in front of the glass doors and I would pull up a chair and look for wrong-doers too. Depending on my mood, I'd sometimes humor her and other times go against the grain.
"That woman is getting into that car right there. The brown one." To which I'd respond, "Yes, she is. It's okay though. It seems to be her car." Mary had no response. Sometimes, it was like I wasn't even there as soon as the greeting ended. I'd even fuss with her hair and act like I'd never noticed her bracelet before, but I'd get no response. She'd have that look in her eyes and it was like someone else was driving her personal vehicle.
Sometimes, my mother, my friend, and Mary would be sitting in her room and she would be very animated as she talked about her deceased son, husband, and granddaughter, as though they were still alive. She was also living in her house (and not the nursing home), driving, buying groceries, and functioning
as though it were 20 years ago. Everyone else would just look at one another and let her talk.
The second person I knew with Alzheimer's is my grandmother. Now that she too is in a nursing home, her mind seems to be leaving her via AD. I never really thought much about her having this disease until today. I knew that she had it. I just hadn't thought much about it.
She was sitting in front of the main entrance, so my mother and I found chairs and sat to visit. My grandmother looked at me for a minute or two trying to figure out who I was. She knew that she knew me, but that's all that she knew. I looked back at her and wanted to tell her who I was, but I also wanted to make her mind work. But I tired of waiting. I told her who I was. It was a normal visit. She told us how she's been working at the nursing home, doing small tasks, and waiting for someone to pick her up and take her home. She neither has a job, nor will be leaving that nursing home. She's 90 with an unsteady gait, and has fallen once.
She mentioned her husband and my father more than once, as though they were both still alive. Neither of us corrected her. Usually, Mother will say something. She didn't this time. She kept leaving us to try and find Grandmother's roommate, so that she could leave our telephone number with her. The side of the family that primarily take care of her don't talk to us. Someone is getting married tomorrow, in fact. Neither of us was invited.
During one of Mother's jaunts down the hall, there was a really long and awkward silence, and Grandmother mentioned that she couldn't wait to get home to Papa. Without thinking, I told her that Papa is gone and so is my father. In an instant, I saw a look of pain, agony and angst that I'd never seen before even though I sat next to her for some time and at Papa's wake. There was a single tear, then her face went blank. I felt like I had killed them myself and was just confessing to her. And, in a way, that's exactly what happened. I hope that I am able to remember this painful moment so that it never happens again. I just don't see any need for it.
It makes me see the plus side of having AD. Its protection. Its selectivity. Its sense of reality. My personal knowledge is limited, as I have only really known these two people, as an adult. But my experiences are vivid. Diseases of the
mind fascinate me.