I have read many articles and stories on Alzheimer’s. My grandmother had it, my first mother-in-law, my sister-in-law’s father and my best friend’s husband. I am well acquainted with its many faces. So much so that Helena Clare Pittman’s story “Firefly,” posted in our Elder Berries section took my breath away with its accuracy, its courage and its empathy.
I remember as a child not understanding why my grandmother would believe I could ever steal from her or why she didn’t remember who I was sometimes. I remember Mac explaining how he talked to God and could I please get his family to stop giving him pills, because he liked talking to God. I remembered the Halloween when we sat together listening to Bob tell a story about when he and Maybelle were married, (which in his state he believed to be the week before, though it actually took place in 1953), Maybelle stopped fighting against the disease that took away the man before her and instead brought back the man she once knew. I remember how we sat at the kitchen table listening to the story of the camping trip and the bear that followed Maybelle home from the river and how his minute recollections of every detail made the moment come alive again for the both of them. And lastly I remembered my mother-in-law Helen, who stopped calling me by my name and called me instead by the name of a long dead sister. It gave me joy to become that sister for her, though it was sad in the moment to think she’d forgotten me.
They were sad memories, but they were happy memories too and I walked around in them all over again today recalling about Ms. Pittman’s story. She got it so right. Alzheimer’s and dementia are terrible diseases both for the person suffering and for the friends and families of those who care about them. There are days that will try the patience of saint, but embedded in the tragedy are also many daily miracles. Thank you, Ms. Pittman for reminding me of the miracles.
Definition of Alzheimer’s
- Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, resulting in loss of memory, thinking and language skills, and behavioral changes.
- These neurons, which produce the brain chemical, or neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, break connections with other nerve cells and ultimately die. For example, short-term memory fails when Alzheimer’s disease first destroys nerve cells in the hippocampus, and language skills and judgment decline when neurons die in the cerebral cortex.
- Two types of abnormal lesions clog the brains of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease: Beta-amyloid plaques—sticky clumps of protein fragments and cellular material that form outside and around neurons; and neurofibrillary tangles—insoluble twisted fibers composed largely of the protein tau that build up inside nerve cells. Although these structures are hallmarks of the disease, scientists are unclear whether they cause it or a byproduct of it.
- Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, or loss of intellectual function, among people aged 65 and older.
- Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging.
- Origin of the term Alzheimer’s disease dates back to 1906 when Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German physician, presented a case history before a medical meeting of a 51-year-old woman who suffered from a rare brain disorder. A brain autopsy identified the plaques and tangles that today characterize Alzheimer’s disease.
To learn more about Alzheimer’s visit the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.