[A piece penned after reading an eight-year-old article entitled “Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease.” Some progress has been made since then, but still . . .]
I am not in the Medical Profession, and I live in New York City. So why would a layman and an Easterner be reading “Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease” in the 2000 Summer issue of Medicine Northwest? My son, Dr. Jay T. Rubinstein, an alumnus of your medical school, sent me the issue, knowing that I am deeply interested in Alzheimer’s.
Deeply interested? Mildly terrified — in a low keyed way – would be a better description. Two of my aunts died with or of Alzheimer’s. My mother died of the effects of this disease in her late 80’s. One of my sisters became a victim of Alzheimer’s in her 60’s, though another sister died at age 86 with her mind as clear as a bell. So, I concluded that, while Alzheimer’s may be genetic in origin, it only pursues female family members.
Incomplete information or questionable logic proved me wrong. Beginning a number of years back, my older brother started to show progressive signs of Alzheimer’s. At his age of 89, it was difficult to hold a reasonable conversation with him. He rambled from subject to subject, with no nexus whatsoever. He was always so intelligent; his memory loss was frightening to me. As I listened to him, I kept asking myself, “When will I fall into the abyss?” My wife, watching the altered life of my sister-in-law, probably got more jittery than I did.. [He died at 93, completely oblivious of visiting friends and family.]
Do I or don’t I have incipient Alzheimer’s? Your article on the subject, interesting as it was, provided more questions than answers for me or others like me who have threatening family histories and are over 80. I am 86 years of age, well on my way to 87. My memory loss is a source of constant frustration, ranging from mild to moderate to severe, depending on the subject matter and the circumstances. I now grope for the mot juste I have known for years, unable to bring it quickly to my tongue. Recently, while visiting Mt.Vemon, I inquired of a guide whether there were presently any Washington “ancestors” living inthe vicinity. Of course, I meant “descendants,” but I twice repeated this question before realizing my error.
I purposefully go in a certain direction or enter another room, and then have to stop to question myself as to why I am there. The question usually answers itself quickly, but the hesitation is frustrating and its growing frequency scary. I suddenly find myself mildly dyslexic, dialing wrong phone numbers and typing words with transposed letters. I have become butterfingered, dropping things much more often than I used to.
Lyrics to songs I’ve known for years endlessly repeat themselves in my mind. I sleep well but, when Iawaken in the middle of the night due to a prostate condition, I have problems going back to sleep. Too many thoughts keep competing for my attention. I periodically find myself brooding about opportunities missed during my earlier years. Furthermore, while my conscious memory keeps getting worse, my subconscious memory seems to be improving. I never used to remember dreams; now I do.
Am I in the initial stages of Alzheimer’s, or are these just the normal signs of aging shared with my contemporaries? I don’t know, and nobody seems to be able to tell me, including your article, my General Practitioner and my Neurologist. If Alzheimer’s is on the horizon, is there anything I can do to alleviate the situation or delay the progression? The answers in books and articles are pablum, not really of much practical use. I know that there are numerous research projects involving Alzheimer’s, but no one seems to have a grip on the date when helpful solutions might emerge. Recent tests on mice indicate some progress. Have researchers reached a stage where they are seeking humans for trial runs on hopeful approaches? Am I a man or a mouse?
I might be interested in finding out, but where do I go to volunteer? In short, I am in a no man’s land, apparently one with a growing population. It would be appreciated if contributors to Medicine Northwest provided guidance in these areas in future issues. I hope they make it on time. In the meantime, I’m still anticipating.# # # # # # # # # #