Tag Archives: Alzheimer’s

Running From the Devil: My Race to Beat Alzheimer’s

Do I have Alzheimer’s disease? No, not yet. At least I haven’t been diagnosed, but I have reasons to believe I’m at very high risk. My father, who recently passed away, had full blown Alzheimer’s and Dementia. My maternal grandmother wasn’t diagnosed, but was showing signs of it shortly before she passed away. Having a family member who had Alzheimer’s doesn’t automatically mean that you will get Alzheimer’s.

About 6 months ago I did the 23 & Me genetic testing. At the time, I wrote about my results in THIS POST, but  I only wrote about the fun stuff. What I didn’t write about then was that the testing showed that I have the APOe4 gene, meaning that I have a 30% chance of developing Alzheimer’s after age 65. This did not surprise me. It’s why I did the testing. I know, some of you are thinking, “A 30% chance and nothing to worry about until 65? What’s the problem?”

The problem is that with Alzheimer’s, there are usually subtle signs and symptoms that appear long before a diagnosis is made. Most people ignore or hide those symptoms, or attribute them to getting older. I see those symptoms in myself. If I’m cleaning up from dinner and holding a container of chip dip that needs to go in the fridge in one hand and the salt shaker that should go in the cupboard in the other hand, over 50% of the time, I reverse them when I put them away. Yes, I know that as we get older we all have more forgetfulness, but in mine I see a pattern. It’s not just putting the chip dip in the cupboard.

I  lose my big words more than I’d like. The multi-syllabic 50 cent words that impress people often escape me. It makes me feel quite lugubrious, when I want to say something and I know that I know a word for what I want to say, but I just can’t find it. (Yes, I’m trying to intentionally use big words as I talk about losing them) It’s a tangible feeling that I’m rummaging around in my head for the word and there’s a blank spot is where the word I want should be. And I can’t think of a simple synonym either! It’s like my brain has completely lost something. Sometimes the sentence I’m saying trails off or I just don’t finish it. Trust me, there are several other examples, but I’m not going to list them all. I know when something doesn’t feel right. I wonder if that might be why my blog, that I used to post to five times a week, has become something I just do occasionally now. Losing one’s sense of humor is a symptom.

If I do get full blown Alzheimer’s some day, I hope this is me.

So what am I going to do? I’m going to exercise regularly and I’m going to try to stimulate my brain to create new neural connections by learning. I intend to resume piano lessons, learn to speak Spanish,  join a chess club, post to both my blogs at least once a week, and resume table tennis, which was a passion of mine when I was younger (I once beat a guy who played in the over 40 World Championship tournament.)

Does anyone remember this movie? Balls of Fury (2007) Or was I the only one who watched it?

In addition to doing those things, I’m going to embark on a lifestyle/diet program that is supposed to have remarkable effects on preventing and reversing some of the cognitive losses of Alzheimer’s. If the results are as good as the book says, I will be very happy. Here’s the book:

Don’t worry, my blog isn’t going to turn into me preaching about Alzheimer’s, I’ll still try to write funny stuff, but I’m hoping to write about it and my journey here occasionally with sensitive humor. My dad losing his mind to Alzheimer’s over the last fifteen years, and me thinking that I might go down that same path is sobering. When I Googled “Alzheimer’s funny” to find some pictures for this post, I didn’t find the memes as funny as I thought I would. Some seemed mean or sad. Hopefully I’ll avoid that if I poke fun at myself in the future. Thanks for reading. I hope you’re having a great weekend! ~Phil

 

The Jigsaw Man Ran Out Of Puzzle Pieces

Some of you may or may not remember a post I wrote about 13 months ago titled The Jigsaw Man. If you missed it, it was about my 83 year old father who had Alzheimer’s and dementia. I thought of him as The Jigsaw Man because that’s what his brain, his memories seemed like to me, a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces didn’t fit or match up with each other anymore. He had bits and pieces of information in his head and it seemed as if he were constantly trying to grasp them but they would slip through his mental fingers. Even his memories of who I was seemed out of his reach over the past couple years.

Yes, he passed away about ten day’s before Father’s Day. What was interesting to me was that my memories of him changed with his passing. During his last several years he wasn’t the man I grew up with. Initially I thought that to be very sad, and it is, but the process of laying someone to rest requires sorting and sifting through their whole lives. Ironically, and maybe intentionally, my dad saved pictures going back through his entire life, possibly knowing when his memory was fading that he would need these to remember who he was. He missed the internet revolution, so all of his pictures are of the printed out, Kodak film type, that never got a single like on Facebook.  Something about that makes them seem a little more special.

It was good fortune that he did, because it was a wonderful reminder to me of who he was over the course of his life, and it softened the painful memories of the last 5-10 years.

One thing that my father’s disease and passing has given me is an appreciation of the here and now. We always think we have more time. My dad, who was 84 when he passed, lived a pretty long life, but from day to day, he didn’t remember most of it for the last several years. He lived in the moment because it was all he had. On my last visit with him at the memory care facility he’s lived in over the past year, in the moment all he wanted was to sit in the courtyard and feel the sun on his face. So that’s what we did, and he smiled.

Here’s to hoping that in the afterlife he’s finally getting the internet and can read this. Thanks for everything dad. ~Phil

The Jigsaw Man

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon… ~Harry Chapin

The Jigsaw Man is my father. I call him that because he has Alzheimer’s and Dementia. I don’t actually call him that, but if I did he wouldn’t remember it five minutes later.

Why I think of him as The Jigsaw Man is because now his brain seems to be filled with puzzle pieces of his life, and none of them fit together any longer. It’s as if he has a hodge podge of pieces from different puzzles and he has no idea how to put them together again.

Every summer my family went camping with my dads parents and his brothers and sisters families. Every summer I watched my big brother and older cousins water-ski. I was dying to water-ski. I wanted to get out on the water and do all the cool tricks that the big kids were doing. 

When I was eight years old, my uncle took the boat out, letting out the tow line behind it. My dad sat back in the water holding the handle at the end of that rope with the tips of his skis poking out of the water. Then I climbed up on my dad’s shoulders and wrapped my arms around his neck. The motor roared to life and seconds later I was riding my dads shoulders at thirty miles an hour. That’s one of my puzzle pieces. I wonder if it’s one of his.

Oh, crumpled bits of paper
Filled with imperfect thought
Stilted conversations
I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got ~
The Living Years, Mike and the Mechanics

On Friday I had my dad placed in a memory care facility. He needs constant supervision, otherwise he might wander off. I know it’s hard to think of putting your parent in a locked facility, but it’s a very nice place and I’m comfortable with it. For years he had been cared for by his long time girlfriend who was at her wits end. Despite her emotional exhaustion, she had a harder time with the decision than my siblings and I. 

One thing that will forever make me think of my dad is the TV show Two and a Half Men. No, my dad didn’t love the show. In fact, I’d be surprised if he knew about it at all. In the picture above, see the higher one of the two framed posters on the wall? It’s a poster of Earl Hines, a legendary American jazz musician. I wish that I could have found a better picture of it. That poster was on the wall on that set every year that Charlie Sheen was on the show. When Ashton Kutcher showed up they redecorated. (How many of you even knew that in the last couple seasons they replaced Charlie Sheen with Ashton Kutcher?)  You may not know of Earl Hines, but in jazz circles he’s still famous enough that when my son went to college a few years ago they were still teaching Earl Hines songs to the jazz ensemble. So, why does a famous jazz musician remind me of my dad?

On a snowy December night in Syracuse, N.Y. in the early to mid 1970’s my dad was on his way home from working late and he saw a car broken down by the side of the road. It was Earl Hines and his manager. My dad gave them a ride to their hotel. For a few years after that they remained in touch and whenever Earl Hines was playing in Syracuse, he’d meet my dad for dinner and my mom and dad might go to the show if they could get a babysitter. That is one of my puzzle pieces. I wonder if it’s one of his.

Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose
Nothin’, don’t mean nothin’ hon’ if it ain’t free, no no
And, feelin’ good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues
You know, feelin’ good was good enough for me
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee ~
Janis Joplin

Me and Bobby McGee. He used to walk around the house playing his guitar and singing it. That is one of my puzzle pieces. I wonder if it’s one of his.

They say you grow up to be your parents. If someday I become a Jigsaw Man, I wonder what my puzzle pieces will be. 

Have a great Sunday! ~Phil