“A person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s every 65 seconds now,” Yael Wyte said to me the other morning over coffee. She’s a geriatric social worker who, among many responsibilities, runs support groups for the Alzheimer’s Association of Los Angeles so she should know.
“No, I didn’t know that.” I responded, stuffing a muffin in my mouth to quell my surging and constant fear that I am next up.
As the daughter of a woman with late stage Alzheimer’s it’s tough not to panic every time you can’t find your keys. Which, to be clear, is every time I need my keys. So much so that my husband bought me a thing called a “tile” that goes on your keychain and then has an app so it can bleep when you need to find them. Actually, he bought the device for his 88-year-old father but it came two to a pack so he figured he’d help his wife out.
I wish it was just keys but it’s not. It can be my wallet, a bill I put in a “very special place” so I make sure I pay it, my phone (natch), my glasses. Probably the only thing I have not forgotten where I put at this point is my son. The younger one. The older one is on his own now.
It always starts out funny, ha ha, “Mom doesn’t know where X is,” it quickly turns in to a little five-minute family scavenger hunt, then someone finds it and we all laugh. “Oh Mom!”
Cue sitcom riff.
But probably 1 out of 10 of these now, okay 8, the search goes on a little longer. My heart will starts racing a bit and my thoughts get in to a loop, “This is crazy, I know I have it. Do I have it? Did I leave it somewhere? Oh my G-d it was stolen, I was careless and it was stolen. I wasn’t thinking! Or maybe I was thinking but I can’t think anymore because I have those amyloid plaque things growing in my brain now…” It’s in these extra minutes of searching that the façade of me having it all together, of my contention that, “No, I don’t actually live in fear of getting the disease,” that I tell people, crumbles like the topping of a homemade coffee cake.
Not that I eat that anymore. Since my mother’s diagnosis, I have completely cleaned up my act. I don’t drink alcohol, watch my sugar intake – which sometimes can mean I literally watch myself eat sugar -but I am highly aware of it and feel guilty, which I’m sure is very cleansing. I cycle and/or dance 6 days a week, I meditate, I do everything to keep Alzheimer’s at bay. Now, unfortunately in the same study that confirmed my friend Yael’s statistic, the fine print says that there is not enough conclusive evidence that any of what I just listed does anything to affect whether we get Alzheimer’s. I mean, it can’t hurt. And Dale Bredesen, an expert on neurodegenerative diseases from UCLA wrote a book called The End of Alzheimer’s that supports all of the above, and a detailed laundry list of other changes to your diet. The discouraging facts for me are that I am a woman, which means I am nearly twice as likely to have my brain clog, and my mother has the disease, which make me genetically vulnerable too.
What is a slightly paranoid but probably with good reason middle-aged gal like myself to do? The only thing I know to do! Keep going and, not to beat a giggly horse, laugh whenever possible. Side note: my PC son just told me we have to stop using aphorisms that reference cruelty to animals. Allow me to amend in deference to the generation that will be caring for us, not to tickle a giggly horse, keep laughing. Sure, I have my little breakdowns when it gets really scary, like the day before I was leaving on a trip and could NOT FIND MY WALLET FOR AN HOUR. I actually didn’t start crying until I found it. Not the first time I’ve responded this way. I have figured out why, it’s the relief. The see-I-found-it, so-maybe-I’m-not-losing-my-mind! Maybe I’ll be okay. Maybe I won’t need someone to feed me and change my diaper in the next 30 years.
Who wouldn’t let a few tears of joy out over this possibility?