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Last night, the television show Boston Legal had one profound moment relating to Alzheimer’s.  

The premise is that one of their leading characters, Denny Crane (played by William Shatner) has early Alzheimer’s. He’s a brilliant attorney who has never lost a case–and he’s part owner in firm. The other law partners are hesitant for Denny to continue to litigate. Not only is he forgetful, he sometimes does or says bizarre things. Things Alzheimer’s patients might say or do.

Great scenario because I happen to know a great law professor from Yale who lives in my community who now has Alzheimer’s. You can be homeless and live under a bridge–and have Alzheimer’s, AIDS, or cancer–or you can be the president of the United States.

At one point, Alan, Denny’s best friend is having a conversation with Jerry, another lawyer in the firm, (who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome) about what a phenomenal job Denny did in court. Jerry blurts out, “Too bad Denny’s dying from Alzheimer’s.”

Alan is shocked. Insulted. He retorts:

“Denny’s not dying from Alzheimer’s. He’s living with it.”

There’s a great distinction here.

One of the drawbacks to early diagnosis is giving up too soon.

Early detection should mean that you receive proper medication, spend time with your loved ones, and make plans to live–not die.

In the case of Alzheimer’s, the average patient lives 8-10 years, and even longer depending on the age you contract this disease. Parkinson’s, ALS, MS, and other diseases can even offer a longer lifespan. Coincidentally, the average caregiver spend 4.3 years caregiving–leaving a bit of a discrepancy here.

The message is: don’t give up too soon.

Don’t hear a diagnosis and go home, draw the curtains, curl up in a fetal position and wither away.

As a family member or caregiver, it’s a blow to hear that your loved one has a terminal illness, but you still have to get up and face each day.

Michael J. Fox says that Parkinson’s is “the disease that keeps on taking.” He’s chosen to live with his disease. He’s chosen to do this for the millions who look to him and rely on him to raise money for research, for the difference he’s already made, but I’m sure he does this even more for his wife and his children.

A recent example is Ted Kennedy’s diagnosis of a malignant brain tumor. He had a seizure and went into the hospital just last weekend. Yet today, he and his wife, Vicki went sailing. He loves sailing and the Boston Globe said he “finds renewal on the water.”

Ted Kennedy is actually teaching his family and others how to treat him. The Chicago Tribune wrote, “Kennedy’s cancer is dire, not hopeless.”

It’s proven that prayers and good thoughts can impact people’s lives clear across the country–and we can create the atmosphere and attitude around us by how we handle our own bad news.

Maya Angelou says, “We teach people how to treat us.”

Yes, it’s natural to feel kicked in the gut.

It’s natural to take to the bed, cry, get angry, lash out or pull in. Don’t beat yourself up for going through this very natural stage.

But after that, it’s time to move on.

You (or your loved one) most likely won’t die tomorrow. Or the next day.

So you take your meds, maybe get physical or occupational therapy. Change things around in your home, hire a home health aide, buy a walker or scooter or whatever else you need. Life is different. I don’t doubt that. But life can still be good.

You can still find joy–and purpose.

Sometimes our purpose is nestled in our situation. Sometimes something–or someone arises in our midst and a window opens where a door shut.

Yet, there will come a time–hopefully in the distant future when the tide turns again.

You, or your loved one may die from this disease, I can’t promise you won’t. 

If not, from something else.

We have to eventually accept that as well. Another transition. Another acceptance. Another change.

But until then, live, live, live, live, live.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Check out her book, a day-to-day, intimate and honest look at caregiving…

Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

Family Advisor at www.Caring.com

Syndicated blog at www.OpentoHope.com

www.kunati.com/mothering

 

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Boston Legal has a new storyline. Denny, played by William Shatner, has Alzheimer’s.

What’s great is that Denny is and always has been a bigger-than-life character who says and does outrageous things, is and was a shameless but rather harmless womanizer, and while he’s irritating and embarrassing, he’s brillant as a lawyer, and endearing.

Sounds like many people I know who also have Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s is the great equalizer. I was recently talking to a support group, and one woman’s husband had been a construction worker all his life, and another woman’s husband was a lawyer and taught at Yale. Both had Alzheimer’s, and the women sat next to each other sharing comfort and support. It didn’t matter “who” they were or what they did. On that day, what mattered was a strength, love, and committment their family members gave that kept them going.

Alzheimer’s may alter a person’s personality, but the true sorrow comes when it obliterates it.

This usually happens toward the end stage of this disease, in stage six or seven, in years three to eight, depending on the person’s age and other complications.

As frustrating, scary, and utterly exhausting Alzheimer’s is, the real sorrow comes when your loved one is truly lost–lost to movement, thought, and emotion. Then, you long for the cantankerous days, the fights, the chaos because that’s when they were ironically, alive.

Denny Crane is played flawlessly by William Shatner, and his Alzheimer’s was not addressed at first. You simply knew what he said or did was…off. I have to admit, I thought of it, but I have experience. He’s young, in his sixties. Less than 10% of the people who get Alzheimer’s get it that young, and the numbers increase with age. Those above 85 years old have a 50% chance.

Denny’s quirkiness covered his dementia.

Are you blaming quirkiness, fussiness, meanness instead of looking at an underlying problem/issue?

Then, Denny was diagnosed, and they had several episodes of dealing with this as a law office, as co-workers, as lovers, and as friends. Last week’s episode dealt with Shirley Schmidt’s  father (she’s played by Candice Bergen) who was hospitalized and sufferiing with the last stages of this horrendous disease.

Shirley asked for a morphine drip. That’s usually considered palliative care and is used by regularly by hospitals and hospice and is reserved for diseases such as cancer that usually have a lot of pain. Alzheimer’s isn’t known for its physical pain. The nurses and doctors knew her reasoning.

Morphine drips are also used to allow a person to die. The dosage is increased, and the person simply drifts out. It’s considered humane for someone who is suffering.

The doctor’s refused. I’m not surprised. Candice got a court order. She had to tell Denny he couldn’t argue the case. His best friend, Alan Shore, played by James Spader argued the case.

Is physical pain the only kind of pain there is? Is it any less ethical to give morpheme to a person with Alzheimer’s who can no longer eat, communicate, or swallow on their own?

 Alan became quite empassioned. He couldn’t help it. He related it to Denny, to his best friend, and in many ways, you could see he was grieving what will come. What would he do if it was Denny? At the end of the closing, he told the court that his best friend had early stage Alzheimer’s, and that he had already vowed that no matter how hard it would be, he would find a way for his friend to leave this world with dignity.

They won the case. Shirley’s father was allowed to pass quietly and peacefully with his daughter by his side.

The last scene of Boston Legal always takes place on a penthouse patio overlooking the city. Denny and      are smoking cigars and drinking scotch and pondering life. Two best friends who may eventually become caregiver and care receiver.

Denny tells Alan that he heard his closing arguement, and then, like a couple of ten year-olds, he asks if his best friend would like to spend the night.

***

I’m not trying to get into the ethical debate of euthanasia, mercy killing, or anything else you want to call it.

What I wish to say is that Alzheimer’s is no longer a disease that’s mentioned in whispers.

It’s rippling ( or ripping) into our homes, our communities, our movies with such recent hits as Oscar nominated Away From Her, and now it’s making television.

What Boston Legal is doing right is that they’re not in a hurry with the storyline and so far, they haven’t written off this complex and entertainig character. 

They had 9.29 million viewers last week.

They’re showing the progression of Alzheimer’s to 9.29 million viewers.

This may not be their only agenda, but they’re a messanger. all the same. 

They’re portraying a character you already love, and love to hate, and now, after years of this crazy, quirky, shock-talking guy you care about whether you want to or not, and he hapens to have Alzheimer’s.

He’s your Uncle Joe, and this hits you in the gut. If he can get it…

As Alzheimer’s increases, I hope the media follows producer’s David E. Kelley’s lead and creates intelligent, vibrant discussions iand storylines in which Alzheimer’s is a part of–something we can learn, talk about, laugh about..and even cry.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Family Advisor at www.caring.com

Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

available on Amazon and in most bookstores

www.mothering-mother.com  

 

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