World Alzheimer's Day: A personal testament

Posted by ap507 at Sep 20, 2017 10:25 AM |
Our Professor of Old Age Psychiatry Elizabeta Mukaetova-Ladinska describes impact of devastating disease
World Alzheimer's Day: A personal testament

Elizabeta Mukaetova-Ladinska

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September is World Alzheimer’s Month and today, September 21, is World Alzheimer’s Day.

Elizabeta Mukaetova-Ladinska, who started as Professor of Old Age Psychiatry at the University this week, has written a powerful personal testament about the significance of the Day:

21st of September is the World Alzheimer’s Day, and marks the culminating point of the World Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. As many as 850,000 people currently live with dementia in the UK, and their number is expected to rise to nearly 2,000,000 in the following 30 years. In the East Midlands alone, there are over 60,000 people with dementia, with the majority of them having the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. In the words of Jarod Kintz, ‘Alzheimer’s disease is the cleverest thief, because she not only steals from you, but she steals the very thing you need to remember what’s been stolen.’ Its devastating consequences are not restricted only to the affected individuals, but have a profound effect upon their families: it interferes with daily life and routines, brings sadness and loss, false memories and beliefs, distorted experiences and emotional distress.

By the time you have finished reading this paragraph, someone somewhere has developed Alzheimer’s Disease. By the time you reach the end of this article, one person would have been diagnosed with this disease. The disease does not choose its victims: men and women, builders, doctors, workers and architects, writers and politicians, we are all at risk as we age. And all of us face the prospect of being carer to a relative with dementia.

My mother-in-law became reclusive in her later years. ‘She is depressed’ - relatives and friends said. She was getting easily tired of company, became afraid of darkness and being alone at night. The food stayed untouched in the fridge. Anxiously, she would be repeatedly calling her neighbours for help, or keeping us, her son and myself, locked out. Her handwriting deteriorated and she was no more able to draw. ‘I am fine, just tired’ was the excuse we kept on hearing a lot. One day I became an imposter, another day her son was her late husband. We would be woken up frequently by her favourite play, ‘treasure hunt’, or called out to help her find the imaginary stairs going ‘up’ believing that she was in her parents’ home.

We all cheated the carers enjoying the forbidden chocolates and G&Ts. Her taste in music moved from the Magic Flute and La Bohéme to Rod Stewart and Il Divo. Her speech and walking gradually deteriorated and she ended bed bound. And we all changed with her: we learned to understand her impoverished speech, to accommodate her tantrums and incontinence, and have sleepless nights.  We cherished every ‘thank you’, wave of her frail hands and smile, whilst battling our own emotions.

The first day after she was gone, disturbing silence settled in. Carers left, her bed was covered, and loneliness wrapped around us. My husband and I were the only two remaining survivors of the long and troubled journey the three of us travelled together.

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