Click any of the underlined text to take you to the help sheet

What Is Alzheimer's

**** One of the most disquieting phenomena associated with Alzheimer's disease (AD), in reality and/or imagination, is insidious erosion of personality. Not only is there a long- drawn-out and inexorably progressive loss of abilities, but the victim tends to become a shell of his former self, and then perhaps a cardboard cut-out. In the final years quality of life is so low that death tends to come as a relief to those who loved him. *****

By Morris Friedell Diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 1998

What Is Alzheimer's?

It has been said that Alzheimer's is the most challenging disease known to man. And it is. Striking without warning, this slow and insidious disease takes first the memory, then the abilities, and finally the essence of self. Can you imagine what it is like to look into a mirror and not recognize the person staring back at you? Can you picture a time when dressing yourself, tying your shoes and going to the bathroom unaided, is beyond your abilities? This is what it is like for a person with Alzheimer's. Everyday is one of failure. Every moment is one of misconception and nightmarish reality.

Alzheimer's can develop at any age, although it is most frequently seen in people over the age of sixty five. There are no indicators that the disease has begun and for the most part, few people recognize the symptoms early on. To be honest, there are no confirmative tests to date. Most of the medical tech-knowledge revolves around process of elimination. Only upon autopsy is the actual diagnosis made when a pathologist confirms the presence of plaques and tangles.

To most people, Alzheimer's is thought to be a form of mental illness but it isn't. It is a physical disease that attacks the brain and destroys it. As the disease infiltrates further into the brain, atrophy results, and in most cases, it is so severe, the brain actually shrinks in size.

For the person afflicted with this disease, it is an end to their future. As the disease progresses it dismantles every facet of their life. Over time, like the ocean crashing against shoreline, it sucks away the riches leaving only furrows of darkness in it's wake....and at this point in time, it cannot be stopped.

The clinical description of Alzheimer's is one of straight forward loss. The symptoms varying from personality changes, to the ineptitude to problem solve, to new and unaccustomed behaviors, inability to make decisions, loss of communications skills, disorientation to time, place and people, paranoia, suspiciousness, and loss of identity.

As you will notice in HELP SHEET 1, the consequences are devastating. They lose their ability to understand what is going on around, although the person may not even be aware their mental capacities have deteriorated. They may experience inappropriate behaviors such as spontaneous laughter or crying spells. And since there is no steadiness left in their lives, they feel like they are cast adrift in unchartered waters.

As the disease progresses they become suspicious and paranoid. Nothing is making sense anymore and someone must be to blame. Not being aware the disease has infiltrated their brains, they look to others to lay fault. It is not unusual for an Alzheimer's person to become suspicious of those around them. They may charge family members of stealing money, they may become convinced others around them are crazy. They may do and say unusual things such as making rude remarks or undressing in front of company.

On rare occasions, some individuals do recognize the changes taking place, which just happened to be the case with Morris Friedell, a retired sociology professor who was diagnosed with "a-typical" Alzheimer's last year. As he writes; "I first got worried in the fall of 1997 when I couldn t remember my mother s conversation, and could not brush this off as undisciplined attention. Maybe this was a merely Freudian matter, but I didn t think so. In February, 1998 I wound up at a neuropsychologists, and had the damnedest time trying to tell her about a movie I d seen and enjoyed the night before. I knew it was in there, but it wouldn t come out. Later I wrote her a letter about it. In April she gave me her preliminary report and described to me the perseveration indicating right frontal lobe dysfunction. I knew little about neurology and it had never occurred to me that anything could be wrong --I considered myself a decisive person rather than an apathetic zombie. However, I started learning, and in May, when I discovered on the Internet, dementia and its faint early signs as recalled by caregivers, I felt uh-oh. I called my neurologist, and in June he told me that my MRI showed atrophy".

For Morris, struggling to overcome the everyday failures that results from this disease, sent him into a deep depression. To a man who possessed an extremely high I.Q. the results were crushing. Over time though, Morris has began to focus on the things he CAN DO. He has developed a routine of familiarity that he has become comfortable with. But the one thing he now worries about, is loss of his personality.

*** I want, as long as possible, to maintain a quality of life which is characterized by dignity...integrity...responsibility, meaningful human connection, and individuality...creativity...a sense of humor. ***

As you can see, just because you are diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease doesn't mean you look or act sick. For Morris, few people outside of his immediate family would have recognized the almost undecipherable changes taking place. True, Morris was diagnosed somewhat early on, but that is rare, because in most cases, the disease is much more advanced.

Click HERE to go back