Saturday, October 19, 2013

Alzheimer's: Road closed ahead

When a loved one is in the early stages of Alzheimer's, one of the hardest things for families to adjust to is how the brain can work fine one day (or one hour, or one minute), but be totally off the next. It feeds right into our human tendency to want to deny the disease: "How can he have Alzheimer's? Look, he just fixed the broken dishwasher!"

But, if you consider the nature of the disease, this is pretty normal behavior for a brain with Alzheimer's. This is a simplification, but think of your brain as a super highway, with many, many roads feeding off of it. You can get anywhere you want to go, any time you want.

Now, think of Alzheimer's as a road-work crew. (This not hard for those of us living in Pennsylvania. There's an old joke that says we have two seasons: winter and construction.) Each day the crew closes down several roads, but doesn't open any new ones in their place.

For a while, you can still find your way around. It may take you longer, but you will reach your destination at some point.

This is early-stage Alzheimer's.

After a while, though, it begins to get harder and harder to find new pathways. You meander around, back up, turn around, drive in endless circles, have a few fender benders...until you finally find a route you can take.

Or not. Eventually, it's no longer possible to get from Point A to Point B.

This is late-stage Alzheimer's.

And in-between? There are a lot of hits and misses. And as the disease progresses, of course, the latter becomes the norm.

So the next time you feel yourself becoming frustrated because yesterday Dad could feed himself, but today he won't, or yesterday he could brush his teeth, but today he can't, remind yourself of this: through no fault of his own, someone closed the road he was on, and he can't find his way back.

Be the Inn at the side of the road and give him care, comfort, and a place to come in out of the dark.

He doesn't like being lost. Would you?

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