“Swimming, swimming, keep on swimming, just keep swimming.”
And eventually they found Nemo. The little courageous clown fish. The fish with the half-fin who learned that being different or disabled doesn’t affect the size of your heart, it doesn’t restrict the potential of your spirit. And Dori, the hilarious sidekick joining in on the adventure of a life time, even with her own short-term memory problem. Conquering the impossible by being a friend and having a great companion.
There is a disease raging through the minds of our elders. A monster that devours memories and leaves behind desolate ruins of fear and insecurity. A condition that affects people across the globe that morphs wondrous Nemo’s into tragic Dori’s. And seeing the transition first hand, remains one of the saddest things to behold; because unlike Dori in the movie, the condition is irreversible.
Alzheimer’s disease (AD), also known in medical literature as Alzheimer disease, is the most common form of dementia. There is no cure for the disease, which worsens as it progresses, and eventually leads to death. It was first described by German psychiatrist and neuropathologist Alois Alzheimer in 1906 and was named after him. Most often, AD is diagnosed in people over 65 years of age, although the less-prevalent early-onset Alzheimer’s can occur much earlier. In 2006, there were 26.6 million sufferers worldwide. Alzheimer’s is predicted to affect 1 in 85 people globally in 2050.
According to Wikipedia.
It remains one of the harshest realities of people entering their Golden years. A destructive condition of the mind. A disturbing disease that slowly consumes our loved ones from the inside. And leaves an outer shell that’s filled with anger and fear, totally insecure and utterly helpless.
There are funny moments. When granny wakes up and sees Son and greets him happily, only to repeat the greeting again, three minutes later when he exits the bathroom. Or when Princess has to repeat the dinner menu five times, and she doesn’t have the understanding of keeping her replies short and sweet.
But once the humour dissipates and the smiles disappear, one is left with a deep sorrow. A melancholic realisation that this person you love, this sweet, kind and generous soul, our granny…is fading away. She’s becoming less of the person we know so well, she’s changing and it’s heart wrenching to observe. Her gracious hospitality is morphing into an absurd insecurity. Her adventurous spirit is dissolving into irrational fear. Her generous and giving heart is turning into utter frustration. For she knows. And that is probably the saddest truth of it all: They have enough comprehension to understand that they’re slipping away and there is nothing anyone can do.
Grandma is 81, and we all know that everyone will meet death at some point in our life. It’s probably the only thing we can count on these days. With children, grand children and great grand children she has lived a wondrous life, filled with love and oh so many memories. Memories of her late husband, of many lost friends. She blossomed as a widowed geriatric helping and assisting wherever she could in the beautiful retirement village she lives in. And those moments and memories kept her going in the times when the family were not with her. And this is why all the discussions and warnings would never have been enough to reduce the sadness I experienced when I saw our fragile, somewhat confused grandmother this weekend.
To me the inevitable truth about Alzheimer’s disease is not about repeating conversations, because for that we can grow patience. It is not about the insecurity they live with, because for that we can show love and understanding. It is not about their frustration for not remembering things, because for that we can show encouragement and support. To me the worst part of the disease is when they start forgetting those they love. When it reaches the point where there are strangers in their house and foreigners at the dinner table. The inevitable truth of this disturbing reality is that some of our beloved grandparents don’t just grow old, they grow alone too.
They become a Dori, but without Nemo’s dad.