Every 70 seconds someone in America is diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. I know this statistic because knowing about Alzheimer's Disease is my job. I have spent years learning about the disease, what it does to the older adult with the diagnosis, what it does to the children, to the caregivers. I know what to expect as the memory impaired person passes through each of the four stages of the disease. I have seen first hand the odd behaviors, the embarrassed looks on the faces of their adult children. I have seen a vibrant, loving senior slowly change into a shell of their former self.
I know how to sell memory care communities. I truly believe in the programming offered in these communities. I believe the Alzheimer patient reaches a point where he will maintain his highest level of ability and functioning if a move to a memory care community takes places. I have spent years selling this very specific product to a group of very needy, very stressed, and very guilt ridden customers.
And yet, I never really thought about that statistic. I never timed out 70 seconds and consciously thought about the number of diagnoses given in 10 minutes. In an hour. In a day. I never gave it one single thought. Until this morning.
I sat in a conference room in the gerontology unit of Akron City Hospital, listening to a doctor who just met my mother tell her, my sister, and myself that she had Alzheimer's Disease. I looked over at my mother as this news was delivered. I don' t think that any of us, including my mother, were all that surprised. But I didn't realize until that exact moment that I was really holding out hope that these memory problems that had been increasing at an alarming rate would be due to some easy to fix medical issue. So I was a little surprised, I guess. The doctor continued to speak and my mind immediately found that statistic hidden away in my brain. Every 70 seconds someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. I found myself holding my breath as I counted. There's another diagnosis. breath. There's another one. breath....
Maybe I should take comfort in the fact that this disease affects a family just like ours every 70 seconds. We are not alone. Anyone who has been to a Memory Walk can attest to that. This disease knows no racial, financial, or educational boundaries. It is beginning to blur the age boundaries as well. After all, my mother is only 72 years old.
As I have been writing this blog even more families have been affected by this ravishing disease. And I do not take comfort in that. My young and growing family will never know my mother, not as I knew her. My normally stressed out sister will be even more so, and eventually her daughter will forget the grandmother she used to know. Ironic, really.