As we struggle with all of the world’s issues and face COVID 19, there is one population that needs our support and understanding. I have had the opportunity to interact and help many families and individuals dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease or another form of Dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that there are over 5.8 million people in this country suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and over 24 million worldwide. Many of us know very little about how the progression of the disease works. We do not realize what the victims or families are going through. At the onset of the diagnosis it is common for that friend network to disperse. The fact is that Alzheimer’s is not contagious. These families and individuals need support.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that attacks the brain and causes the person to lose their short-term memory. Part of your short-term memory is that ability to make new memories. While Alzheimer’s is a form of Dementia, there are many other issues that may cause Dementia. Dementia itself is a loss of intellectual functioning such as thinking and remembering that affects everyday life. I encourage you to think about all of the things you do daily without even thinking about it. Imagine forgetting how to brush your teeth. Something as simple as this could be a major undertaking.
Imagine sitting down to eat dinner and seeing a metal object sitting beside the plate but not recognizing that it is a fork, or understanding how to use it. This is the reality of Alzheimer’s. That fact is, if you have met one person with Alzheimer’s then you have met one person with Alzheimer’s. Every single person is different.
It is not unusual for Alzheimer’s and other forms of Dementia to affect a person’s immune system. Oftentimes it jeopardizes the immune system and individuals become more susceptible to various illnesses. With this being the said, consider COVID 19 and what the world is going through at present. While assisted living facilities are taking a huge brunt of the impact of COVID 19, we still have many with Alzheimer’s living among us. They are our neighbors. While most people look at Alzheimer’s as a disease of the elderly, it should be noted that there have been documented cases of people in their 30’s being diagnosed. It does not just affect the elderly.
Now some may wonder how a police officer got involved in educating people about Alzheimer’s. I was assigned by my Sheriff to implement a tracking program to help deal with individuals with cognitive disorders that cause them to wander away from caregivers. As I went out and met these amazing people and families, I began to realize that they were all struggling from more than just the wandering. I realized that there were victims of Alzheimer’s who did not even recognized their family members. In their mind, they were living with strangers. I met an 80 year old woman who could tell me all about the high school basketball game she played last night, but had no idea who the people were that cared for her. In her mind, she was 16 years old, and as far as she knew, her daughter, son-in-law, and grandson were “they nice people that took care of her”. I cannot imagine the hurt involved when your mother has no idea who you are. I have often heard it said many times that the caregiver suffers more than the individual suffering from Alzheimer’s. These caregivers are losing that person. They are watching them disappear and become a totally different person.
I have responded to calls where a husband thought his wife was an intruder in the house. In one particular case, the husband stabbed his wife thinking she was an intruder. There have been situations where a wife rolled over in the bed and did not recognize her husband in the bed with her. I have responded to Break Inns where the complaint was that someone came in and rearranged the furniture. Imagine a police officer pulling over a car for weaving and approaching the driver. The driver very descriptively articulates where he is coming from and where he is going. The observant officer notices two notes taped to the dashboard. The one on the right says “Gas” while the one on the left says “Brake”. Would you want that officer to be able to recognize this subtle sign of Alzheimer’s be sure not to let him drive away?
We all need to be a support for everyone in society. While we may want to stay away from those suffering from Alzheimer’s for their safety, keep in mind that many are still living at home with a spouse who is their only caregiver. Even though it may not be safe to go by and visit, call them or email them. Let them know that they still matter. Offer to run errands or pick up their prescriptions for them. It is not easy for a caregiver to leave their loved one alone even for a short period of time. You could be their saving grace.
The point that I would like to get across, is that everyone matters. I want you to envision two one hundred-dollar bills. One has been around for 20 years and is warn, crumpled and wrinkled. The second is a fresh bill. It has hardly been used. While one is in rough shape and one is crisp and clean, they are both worth the same. We are all worth something.
As we go through these trials that the world gives us, I would like for all of us to realize that it does not matter if your neighbor is the wrinkled dollar bill or the fresh one. It does not matter if they are the caregiver or the victim of Alzheimer’s Disease. We are all worth something and I would ask all of you to treat each other that way.