Article for MADRC Reflections Fall/Winter 2008
When someone you love does not remember or understand whom you are talking about, and they should, it is quite upsetting. Last Christmas, helping Dad decorate his tree, I kept referring to “Mom” as the one who crocheted the little stockings I had been hanging. My Dad said “Who?” I said “Mom, my mother. Your wife, Helen.” Dad went into the bedroom and brought out a photo of my mother taken on their wedding day. He had made the connection when I said my mother’s name. This incident shows how important it is for the caregiver to provide the Alzheimer’s patient with new paths to their memories again and again.
My book, A Walk With Boppa: A Portrait of Early Stage Alzheimer’s, references books, web sites, movies, and children’s books to help people learn more about Alzheimer’s. The personal-journal entries give an honest picture of the warning signs, the reactions, and the results of Alzheimer’s. Four years ago my family and I did not realize just how important creating these new paths to old memories would become. Our goal at that time was to get a diagnosis, move Dad to a place closer to us, and make sure his financial future was secure. Over the years my sister and I have discovered that Dad does remember certain things and people if he is reminded many times, has a photo to look at, or sees them on a regular basis.
I give Dad photos all the time, of his great grandchildren, grandchildren, children, other family members and all the special occasions. When I print them I leave a generous border to write names and dates on the front of the photos. My sister and I recently hung two cloth photo boards, with ribbon criss-crossed so you can easily slip photos behind the ribbon, over his dinning room table. We then arranged framed family photos all around the photo boards. He can now sit at the table and look at the photos with names and dates. He tells me he looks at them every day.
When Dad was first diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s, I asked him if he would like to participate in a research study. He liked that idea because he would be doing something to help others. Dad went through his first neuropsychological test on November 15, 2004 at the Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (MADRC). This test is a comprehensive three-hour evaluation of cognitive and physical abilities, and is used in the process of diagnosing early stage Alzheimer’s disease. He has had three neuro-psych tests and been in several studies. Last winter my sister took Dad to a ten week Tai Chi study. This past summer he participated in the University of Michigan Memory & Aging Project and a brain imaging study for MADRC. By participating in the research studies, maybe some day soon the cause of Alzheimer’s disease or an easier method of diagnosis will be discovered.