I'm sure all of us have read about famous people who have Alzheimer's Disease -- the late President Ronald W. Reagan and actor Charlton Heston to name two -- or know someone who has a family member who has been diagnosed. I'm sure we've all said "How Awful." or "It's so sad." But, what do you say when a member of your family is diagnosed? "Not my Dad!" That's what I said.
My 82 year old father was diagnosed in late January 2004. My sister noticed small things, mostly memory lapses and loss of time, because Dad lives with her. So she scheduled a brain MRI through his Primary Care Physician who said the scan was consistent with Alzheimer's.
Let me back up just a bit to the day of Dad's brain MRI. Dad was still driving at the time so he was to drive to my house (a distance of about 20 miles) and I was going to take him to the VA Hospital for his 8:30am appointment. He left my sister's house about 6:35am but he never arrived at my house. By then everyone was panicking.
My brother-in-law called me around 8:45am to say Dad had called and left a phone number for my brother-in-law to call him back -- a pay phone which you cannot call in on. He said Dad sounded panicky; that he had been calling me and I didn't answer the phone. I found later he was calling the phone number that he had before my Mom passed away in 1991.
I sent my husband out to look for Dad because I figured he was close by the house we now live in. It was my late mother-in-law's house and Dad always remembered where it was. I found out later he did indeed drive by the house but didn't see my truck so he went to the corner Circle K to call me. It finally dawned on me he might be at the Circle K so I called and gave the Clerk a description of Dad and his truck and the Clerk said he was parked in front. When I explained everything to the Clerk, he went out to tell my Dad to wait for me but Dad had already driven off. I might add that through all this I was in contact with my sister and her husband, my husband, and the VA Hospital.
My sister called as soon as I hung up the phone from talking to the VA to update them on Dad and she was on the verge of a breakdown as was I. Do you know what it feels like to know your Dad (or other family member) is driving out "there" somewhere and he can't find anyone to go get him? Would you know how he feels?
I called 9-1-1. The dispatcher was very caring and concerned and immediately put out a BOLF (be on the lookout for) and dispatched a deputy to my house.
About ten minutes after that, the VA called telling me Dad was there and, even though he was way late, they were going to do the brain MRI. I asked Cookie (the technician) to keep Dad there until I arrived. Then I had to call 9-1-1 back to let them know Dad had been found (and profusely apologized for bothering them -- they said that is what they're here for). I then let my sister, brother-in-law and husband know Dad was safe and I took off to get him. That's also the day his car keys were taken away and hidden -- now his sense of independence is gone.
With the help of Aricept, his Primary Care Physician, and the Neurologist, Dad is doing pretty good. He does, however, have bouts of depression, anger and boredom. My sister is Dad's primary care giver -- having given up, for the time being, her job as a Head Start Teacher to work for the County as Dad's PCG. Bless her heart .. she has truly earned her place in Heaven. She has the patience of a Saint and takes really good care of Dad. Only God knows what the future holds for any of us now, especially my beloved Daddy. But, as always, I have placed this all in God's hand -- His Will Be Done.
If you have grandchildren or children whose grandparent has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, I very highly recommend the book "What's Happening to Grandpa" by Maria Shriver. I bought it for my young nieces plus a copy for myself. It's a short, illustrated book which explains Alzheimer's on a child's level, although I found it helpful to me too.
For more in-depth information -- including "The Ten Signs of Alzheimer's Disease", "Behavioral Symptoms", local Alzheimer's Chapters in your area, etc. -- please visit the Alzheimer's Association website
There is also a 24-Hour Support Line -- 1-800-272-3900.