Prepare for the worst

My grandmother’s mind did not age gracefully. I am not sure if it was the result of a painful divorce and subsequent isolation or a genetic predisposition but it wasn’t pretty to watch. She would rattle on, she was officious, and she would often respond quite emotionally and give these mini-finger pointing lectures. In short, she was difficult to be around. She was still a loving person, but something had changed with age. She never devolved into a state where she was dependent on others, but I think with time that certainly would have happened. My mom has started showing the basic signs of this and it scares me. She is still pleasant, but I do wonder what will happen in 10 or 20 years. I also see the same signs in myself. I am absent-minded. I feel disengaged. I don’t focus. I feel like my mind is slowly getting hazy. It all makes me a little nervous, especially since I base so much of my identity and happiness on my ability to learn and discuss with others.

In this talk, Alanna Shaikh talks about her father’s Alzheimer disease. She says we typically have two responses: denial or believe we will cure it. She says we should have a third option – prepare for it. She says she is doing everything she can to prevent onset: exercise, a good diet, and keeping her mind active, but that “if the monster wants you, it will get you.” There is nothing that can 100% prevent the disease.

Here are her three steps to get ready:
  • Change what she does for fun
  • Work on building up her physical strength
  • Trying to become a better person

Hobbies: When you get dementia it becomes harder and harder to enjoy yourself. You can’t sit and have long talks with friends, watch television or read. She says it has been difficult to find things for her father to do and feel happy. She has resorted to letting her father fill out forms as he would have during his days as a college professor. As preparation she has started folding origami and started to knit. She feels it is important to have things to do that can keep you occupied and make it easier for caregivers to watch.  

Physical Strength: She has started yoga and tai chi to maintain balance. She says most people do not realize that Alzheimer’s has a physical element. People lose muscle tone and balance. She hopes to make these aspects second nature. If she succeeds it will make it easier for people to care for her. 

Being a better person today: She says her father has always been a kind man, and even though all his faculties are gone, his ”naked heart” still shines through. That alone has made it easier for her and her family to care for him. More importantly, if it doesn’t happen before onset, she won’t have time to change later. At the UU there is an old lady that comes, who is in her nineties. Her mind is gone and she only has a few stories, that she will repeat on loop. However, her happiness and smile have not gone. I always speak with her when I see her and let her tell them to me. She is always so animated and happy when she does. She seems happier than a lot of people who still have all of their faculties.

This story is a nice union of the two adages "Do not do tomorrow what you can do today" and "Tomorrow is never promised"