Losing the memories of a life
January 15, 2003 1:54 PM   Subscribe

Losing the memories of a life. A staff writer for the Washington Post Magazine tells what it's like to watch his mother slip away to the unknown world of Alzheimer's disease. There's a little bit about possible causes and the science of the disease, but mostly it's a very personal story, and it's stayed with me since I read it. Excerpt: "He changed the subject before the fury came. When she became angry or terribly disoriented, she sometimes told him he needed to go home; that her husband would be arriving soon, and that he better be gone. I am your husband, he would say, smiling. She would yell: Go. Go home."
posted by GaelFC (19 comments total)
Same topic in Elegy for Iris (infinitely better than the movie)

and Franzen's My Father's Brain included here
posted by matteo at 1:58 PM on January 15, 2003

Jesus, I'm tearing up just thinking about this. Not sure I'd be able to make it through the articles.
posted by jonson at 2:19 PM on January 15, 2003

While they're not quite the same thing, about two years ago I stumbled on linguist Arnold Zwicky's on-going account of taking care of his partner, Jacques, whose brain was effectively destroyed by cancer therapy; the results are very similar to Alzheimer's. (Since Zwicky posts these to Usenet, you can find the more recent installments by searching the ex-DejaNews.) Genuinely moving.
posted by thomas j wise at 2:33 PM on January 15, 2003

"He loves her enough to accept that she cannot love him back; knows that this part of their lives is over. "

Oh my. It was painful to read, but very well done. Thanks for the link.
posted by donnagirl at 2:34 PM on January 15, 2003

Jesus! Heartbreaking and frightening.
posted by timeistight at 3:27 PM on January 15, 2003

I can't bring myself to read the articles...Alzheimer's used to scare/depress me enough when I saw made-for-TV movies about it, but now my beloved mother-in-law is suffering from the early stages of the disease. I guess the best description of the disease I've read is that it's a thief - it steals the patient away from his/her family....from himself...
posted by Oriole Adams at 6:28 PM on January 15, 2003

Dunno if it's a repeat, but tonight's episode of The West Wing dealt with this also. My wife told me a story about how her erstwhile adoring grandmother, in the later stages of dementia, totally failed to recognize her and slapped her face when she was trying to help her in her hospital bathroom.
posted by alumshubby at 7:01 PM on January 15, 2003

The fact that there are only seven comments about this article and thirty-eight (and counting) on the sitting-on dry-ice-for-a-radio-promo link above speaks to the average age of MeFiers.

I'm 50. My daughter has one grandparent; and he has Alzheimers. I could tell you stories, but they are all the same. One sad part is that he knows his mind is slipping away; he's said so.

My genetic history indicates I'll die of cancer, probably about ten years after my smoking wife dies of heart disease. But maybe I'll be history next year!

Carpe diem!
posted by kozad at 8:08 PM on January 15, 2003

It's all about quality v. quantity Kozad. ;)

After calling me by a name not my own, I told my grandmother to try again. She thought for a moment, then said "I know you. You have an older sister who is much quieter and better behaved!" Aunts, uncle and mother just about fell over with laughter as she had it right on the money, but the little grin that fell over her face was priceless.

Thanks Gael!
posted by sillygit at 9:15 PM on January 15, 2003

Kozad: There are also 98 comments on the US income distribution thread.

Shaking your fist at the youths doesn't help anything...you just come off sounding dumb. Take it easy.
posted by lazaruslong at 9:34 PM on January 15, 2003

Oh, and great link, Gael. My aunt died after having full-blown Alz for 6 years. Losing someone gradually to the disease is a surreal, painful experience.
posted by lazaruslong at 9:36 PM on January 15, 2003

Ah, Christ. I'm not even going to try to read this. (One grandfather gone, the other on the way, and numerous more distant relatives.) Many thanks for posting it, though, GaelFC.

Your story made me smile, sillygit. It's incredible how much of the personality can remain after the memory is gone. My father's father, still in the relatively early stages, knows he always cut tangerines for me when I was young--now he just cuts up three times as much as I could possibly eat and serves us both seconds of ice cream.

My mother's father stayed physically robust long after he stopped talking. My aunts were alarmed when, in an elevator, he seemed to lose his balance, leaning heavily on his youngest daughter and pinning her against the wall. Then he grinned and straightened. Aware that his vocabulary was gone, he had found another way to joke with them.
posted by hippugeek at 11:47 PM on January 15, 2003

I don't know if I can read the article either.

For the last seven years, I've watched my grandfather slip slowly away from my family. It might be Altzheimers. It might be some other form of dementia. When I was 15 we'd play poker and he'd tell me how we'd go to Vegas someday and win it big. I'm almost 22 now - last month I tried playing a game of cribbage with him and he forgot the rules.

He knows I'm related to him, but I think he forgets how exactly that all works out. It's not all bad though - as his mind has deteriorated his sense of humor has gotten edgier. Whenever he answers the phone he politely asks "who the hell are you?" And last year, when he got lost in the St. Louis airport for 8 hours, he demanded to know what had taken so long when we finally found him.

I wish I was older, so I could have known him better. Or I wish he was younger, so there might have been more years to share before his mind started clouding. But really, I wish the illness had never taken hold.
posted by Happydaz at 12:41 AM on January 16, 2003

GaelFC, thanks for the post. It's a moving personal account that gives us much to think about. My maternal grandmother died after years of dementia. I remember there were times she would grab my hand with all her fragile might and smiled without saying a word. I just hope that a cure for AD will not elude us for long.
posted by taratan at 7:01 AM on January 16, 2003

It's difficult to comment. My grandmother thought my Dad was her brother for the last 5 years of her life. She was gone.

My Dad has some form of dementia, moreso from strokes. Recently he was in the hospital. He would ask my brother "When is that other guy coming?" or make comments about "That other guy." That other guy was me. Ya gotta laugh.
posted by Mondo at 7:52 AM on January 16, 2003

Same here.
Very painful to read.
My mother has Alzheimer's.
I'm a likely candidate one day.

Anyone ever read "The Notebook?" It's a beautiful love story and involves dementia. I highly recommend it but be sure you have the napkins handy.
posted by nofundy at 8:08 AM on January 16, 2003

My paternal grandmother suffered from alzheimer's the last 6 years or so; she had always been a very self-sufficient woman and more than anything was angry at becoming "useless". She wanted to die.

My mother suffers from MS. She's only in her mid-fifties but exhibits symptoms like early stage alzheimer's - not following things very well, always having simple, flat conversations about the cats or the weather, asking simple questions and then rejoining with "yes, that's what I thought it was," after you answer...

thanks for the link. beautiful and depressing.
posted by mdn at 9:40 AM on January 16, 2003

lazaruslong...I wasn't shaking my fist at you...I was just saying that if most of us here were old like me, this thread would generate a lot more responses. Same thing with threads about raising teenagers, for example. Not too big here.

Good point about the income distribution thread though. You young'uns are apparently interested in more than radio stunts.
posted by kozad at 7:03 PM on January 16, 2003


I'm 32 and I was first in line commenting here
It's not about age -- although young people have a reasonable expectation that there will be a cure for this illness by the time they'll get old
also, this is not a support group, so I don't see why a Alzheimer's thread should have 234 comments and counting by its very nature. also, very often FPP's with good links dont get many comments. a good link is often a good read, no need to comment
trollish crap instead gets naturally lots of comments.
many comments in a thread dont mean quality or community interest
posted by matteo at 8:45 AM on January 17, 2003

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