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Senior Spectrum Newspaper
October 2018
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Senior Spectrum Publications

Eclectic Observer
by Janet Ross
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Dementia and Alzheimer's

Janet Ross
Janet Ross

Dementia and Alzheimer's are not happy words. As a diagnosis, both are devastating. The prognosis is bleak, without hope of successful treatment or recovery. In either, a self eventually disappears to be replaced by a stranger.

Wendy Mitchell was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's at the age of fifty-eight. Physically active – a runner and mountain climber – a single mother to a pair of adult daughters, Wendy had a demanding career as an administrator with the British National Health Service. Life was good for this resident of Yorkshire, England.

Wendy's first clues to something being “not quite right” were occasional periods of a foggy brain and unexplained falls while running. When she finally sought medical help for her vague but disturbing symptoms, the diagnosis was presented without guidance for what was to come, or the offer of any treatment options.

Life has never been easy for Wendy, but she never shied from a challenge, priding herself on coping and improving the situation.

Alzheimer's was a major challenge, but never an excuse to sit back and indulge in self pity. Finding no help from the medical community, Wendy went to work locating Alzheimer's/dementia focused groups, educating doctors, caregivers and the public about this insidious disease. Her personal coping methods include creating a 'memory room' of identified photographs in her home. She used her camera to photograph unfamiliar travel routes so she could find her way on trips to new places. Postit notes were written as reminders, especially those on her microwave to let her know there was oatmeal cooking inside. Wendy used her phone's alarm clock to alert her to necessary chores, everything from brushing her teeth, taking pills, to keeping appointments.

Driving became too much of a challenge; for some as yet undiscovered reason, making a right hand turn was impossible. The same peculiar inability surfaced when Wendy chose a bicycle for alternative transportation. Panic would ensue when Wendy waited for an ordered taxi; she'd call the firm multiple times (much to their dismay), until she let them know of her condition and they were able to reassure her the taxi would be on time and she hadn't double booked.

Phone calls became impossible. People spoke too rapidly for Wendy to process what they were saying. Email provided a better method of communication for her as she had sufficient time to understand the message. While Wendy had problems with her own speech (primarily the loss of words), she was still able to communicate with ease using her computer keyboard. (You can reach her today via her Twitter account: Twitter:@WendyPMitchell, or read her blog, “Which me am I today?”)

As Alzheimer's and dementia patients and their caregivers know, the foggy brain returns to “normal” now and then, but it also blanks out completely on occasion.

Wendy Mitchell still has Alzheimer's. Her disease is not getting better and each day she loses a little more of the self she used to be. Still, Wendy fights on making the most of living in the moment and appreciates the woman she is, was, and will be. Her inspiring book – Somebody I Used To Know – a memoir – is available from book stores and Washoe County Libraries. It is a painful, educational, uplifting and inspiring read for everyone whose life has been touched by Alzheimer's or dementia.

cost of alzheimer's disease