A Perspective on Alzheimer's: Unpacking New Memories
Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder affecting more than 6.5 million Americans that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out simple tasks. My great-aunt, Hazel, was one of the many affected by this disease.
An interesting phenomenon in Alzheimer’s is that, as it progresses, the patient is often taken back in time, able to recount old memories with great clarity. At one stage of her disease, my great-aunt would often pack her bag at night and let the caregivers know she was headed to the train station to meet her sister, who wasn’t actually arriving. I would come for my evening visit and tell her that the train had been canceled that day due to technical reasons and she could meet her sister at the station tomorrow instead. I was fortunate that this always seemed a reasonable explanation to her.
We would then unpack her bag and chat about what she and her sister were going to do during tomorrow’s visit and she would share memories of experiences they had shared. I loved listening to these stories and trying to picture every detail.
You see, her sister was my grandmother whom I had never met, as she had passed away long before I was born. By sharing these stories, my great-aunt was creating memories for me that I would have never had otherwise. I am one of those people (annoying to some, I’m sure) who is always looking for a silver lining in any situation, so while some people would say to me, “Those memories might not be real, you know,” I didn’t care. Those memories gave me a glimpse into my great-aunt’s relationship with my grandmother and the happiness with which my Aunt Hazel remembered her. I will always cherish them, real or not.
As we acknowledge World Alzheimer’s Day on September 21, we want to celebrate a new advance in this area, noted earlier this year by Billy Dunn, MD, director of the Office of Neuroscience in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research: “Leqembi is the latest therapy to target and affect the underlying disease process of Alzheimer’s, instead of only treating the symptoms of the disease.” This is an important and definite step forward in providing hope for this community. My own hope is that others might also gain a new perspective on some of the “memories” shared by their loved ones currently living with Alzheimer's disease and the solace those memories may bring in otherwise difficult or saddening circumstances.
#KnowDementia #KnowAlzheimers #WorldAlzMonth