Living with Alzheimer’s

The statistics are mind-numbing. As many as 5.1 million Americans may have Alzheimer’s disease – the most common cause of dementia among older people.
One of those 5.1 is my mom, “Cookie.” She’s an awesome person, and she just turned 89. But more on mom later.
It’s amazing how quickly you become an expert when something like this affects your family. Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually, even the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. Dementia ranges in severity from the mildest stage, when it is just beginning to affect a person’s functioning, to the most severe stage, when the person must depend completely on others for basic activities of daily living. Near the end of this heart-wrenching disease, a patient may be in bed most or all of the time as his or her body shuts down.
Alzheimer’s disease is named after Dr. Aloysius Alzheimer. In 1906, Dr. Alzheimer noticed changes in the brain tissue of a woman who had died of an unusual mental illness. Her symptoms included memory loss, language problems and unpredictable behavior. After she died, the autopsy concluded her brain had many abnormal clumps and tangled bundles of fibers.
Plaques and tangles in the brain are two of the main features of Alzheimer’s disease. The third is the loss of connections between nerve cells in the brain. Although we still don’t know how the Alzheimer’s disease process begins, it seems likely that damage to the brain starts a decade or more before problems become evident. Before long, the damage spreads to a nearby structure in the brain called the hippocampus, which is essential in forming memories.
Mom’s journey began with the typical loss of memory – forgetting things, losing car keys, etc. After her diagnosis, this strong-willed woman wrote her annual Christmas letter but, this time, ended on a sad note.
Christmas 2008
“As I conclude my letter, want all my friends and family to know I’ve been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Not particularly sure what this all entails, but doesn’t sound good.
Right now I’m living life to the fullest and hope to continue to spend time with my granddaughters and continue my Steele and Stivers High School reunion planning and of course attending church as long as the good Lord will see fit.
But if you do not get my annual letter, you’ll know why.
Before I forget (pun intended) want you all to know I’ve had a great life, full of excitement, pleasure and fun.
My 49 year marriage to the best man in the world (Jim sr.) was something I’ll always cherish.
Great kids and friends, couldn’t ask for anything more.
Just hope when you remember me (if I don’t remember you) that good thoughts and smiles will appear.
It really has been a wonderful life.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Love to all…
Cookie Bucher”
Today, more than ever, it’s tough to read that. Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s.
Scientists are researching whether brain imaging and biomarker studies of people with a family history of Alzheimer’s can detect early changes in the brain like those seen in patients suffering from the disease. I’m not sure about you folks, but I’d rather not know. There’s nothing you could do about it anyway.
Experts say they don’t yet fully understand what causes Alzheimer’s, but it has become increasingly clear that it develops because of a complex series of events that take place in the brain over a long period of time. It is likely the causes include some mix of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors. Because people differ in their genetic make-up and lifestyle, the importance of any one of these factors in increasing or decreasing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s may differ from person to person.
Right now, mom’s short-term memory is “shot,” as she would say. She remembers her wedding day in 1948 vividly, but calls and leaves the exact same message on voicemail four or five times within 20 minutes. But she knows me and the kids, friends, too.
One of the crazy things is that she thinks someone is sneaking into her apartment while she’s sleeping and that this person eats her cereal and works on her crossword puzzles. If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry – which she still does, with comments like, “I’m losing my mind aren’t I?”
Mom knows we love her; I hope she remembers that.
For more on Alzheimer’s, visit
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