Will I get Alzheimer’s? Will you? Maybe we will if we live long enough.
Should you be worried? I don’t think so. Worry can kill, or at least bring on a host of diseases from mental illnesses such as anxiety disorders to insomnia to heart disease-and all these illnesses will kill you far sooner than Alzheimer’s is likely to show up. I was my mom’s daughter and eventual caregiver and her last years were spent in the grips of Alzheimer’s, but I can’t let that define her. My mother had a full, wonderful life–and this insipid disease cannot diminish the amazing woman she was.
A lot of people are asking themselves the “Big A” question. They’re especially concerned if their parent or sibling has dementia, Alzheimer’s or other types of memory disorder diseases. There are even tests to help you determine if you are a likely candidate. But most people aren’t getting tested, they’re just worrying.
Ironically, my mother’s situation with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (even though it sounds crazy to say this because so many see this disease as off-the-charts scary) is that I’m no longer afraid of these two monsters. Why?
Because I’ve ripped off the curtain and seen for myself that the great and terrible Oz is just a little guy in a green suit with a booming voice, I don’t sit around and worry about getting any disease, much less Alzheimer’s. These two diseases didn’t take my mother from me (in some ways it did, but life/aging/death does anyway). I’m fortunate that my mother didn’t start showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s until her late 80s and it was only the last two years that were truly difficult. Even when it was terrible, and I do mean terrible, she was still my mother–something I had to learn to remember and cherish when she no longer could.
I do have to admit–I was adopted. You think that lets me off the hook, but you see, my birth mother had schizorphrenia–another brain related disease that’s really off-the-charts scary. My birth mother’s life (and in some ways mine) was destroyed by schizophrenia. She was in mental institutions much of her adult life, had to undergo many shock treatment therapies, and she couldn’t raise or even be around her children. I was eventually adopted and my mother died before I found my birth family.
Schizophrenia strikes somewhere between your teens and early 40s. I remember asking my daughter’s pediatrician how would I know if I were to become schizophrenic. “Oh, you won’t know…but everyone around you will.” That’s a lot like Alzheimer’s. The forgetfulness, the confusion, the delusions and excuses are all ignored, denied, or simply go unobserved–by the person experiencing them. It’s their co-workers, spouses and children who first begin to see the symptoms.
I finally made peace with the schizophrenia bully-monster who was lurking in the back of my thoughts. My life was significantly different than my birth mother’s. I was in a loving marriage, I took care of my health, and I was aware that it was a possibility–and I knew that there were much better treatments available today. Other than that, there was nothing I could do–just live a full, rich and healthy life–and trust for the best.
I feel the same way about Alzheimer’s. We’re so much more educated about our health. We know to watch our weight (whether we do or not is another issue) to exercise, use our brains, watch the vices such as alcohol and smoking…and I truly believe that we’ll begin to see medical advancements as well to curtail the current statistics.
Here’s the breakdown of those who will have Alzheimer’s from the National Center for Health Statistics for the average person from ages 50-90.
(From Today’s Senior)
I’ve given my family written permission that if I become seriously ill with Alzheimer’s or any other long-term chronic disease that completely strips me of my cognitive abilities, put me in a decent care home, visit and love on me often, but go and live your great big wonderful life…in my honor (if that makes you feel better about it).
My heart goes out to those who contract Alzheimer’s at a young age. Yes, it does seem totally unfair, a life cut short, and families placed under tremendous financial and emotional stress. For these circumstances, I pray for a cure. I’ve lived through and also witnessed the ravages of this disease. It’s not simple. It’s not easy, and even when I try to make the best of it, I know how isolated and scary it is to deal with Alzheimer’s in your family. Those who are caregiving a loved one with Alzheimer’s are under tremendous stress.
If you’re really in a knot over whether you’ll get Alzheimer’s, consider getting tested. Write your family a letter and share with them how you want to be cared for.Do some research and find good doctors or care assistance, and after you’ve done all you can do, try to let it go. Being proactive is all you can do. Don’t let what could happen tomorrow steal today.
For me, each day I try to make peace with my past–and my future at the same time. I refuse to worry about something that might–or might not happen. I’ve got too much living to do. I have a bucket list three miles long!
What’s coming tomorrow–or twenty years from now none of us can know. That’s why it’s so important to live in the now. Do good work. Live with purpose and passion. Make a difference in somebody’s life. Laugh and embrace right where you are. Today. It’s all any of us have.