Your parent is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia and as their biological child you wonder, “Will that be my fate?”
An article of mine, Me Worry? Not on your Life was recently published on the CogniHealth website, a company that in partnership with Alzheimer Scotland, developed a caregiver aid for those – especially family members – providing care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia.
I chose the topic of whether or not dementia might be passed along to biological family members because as a daughter who witnessed the decline of her father as a result of dementia, I certainly had an opinion on the matter. Does one need to worry their entire life about the chance of acquiring Alzheimer’s disease?
I hope you will read my article that while transparent and painfully clear, also provides many rays of hope and encouragement for those in similar circumstances.
At the very least, I am certain you will come away with a clearer understanding of how little value worry contributes to ones’ life.
by Sue Anne W. Kirkham
How it all began:
It was late October when my husband, Jack, and I showed up at my father and stepmother’s townhouse to walk their two dogs—a duty we’d taken on several months earlier, after they announced they no longer felt up to the task. At 84, my father suffered from respiratory and circulatory problems; at 81, my stepmother showed early signs of dementia, with some Parkinson’s-like tremors erupting, just to keep things interesting. I was determined that they not be forced by these circumstances to give up their pets. On this day, Dad greeted us at the door with another shocker. “We have to move into assisted living.” No hello. No how ya doin? Just this stark declaration.
Dad and Zelda had always been younger than their years in every respect. He continued his career as a psychologist into his late 70s, and the warm, witty, delightful woman he married in 1972 had always been active and ready for a new adventure. Each enjoyed absorbing hobbies, and they eagerly traveled the globe together for most of their 32-year marriage.
As Jack and I herded the pups that chilly autumn day, I remained troubled by the prospect of a radical change in lifestyle for my beloved father and stepmother. So I hatched a plan: leave my dreary clerical position and devote myself to lightening their load and injecting some sparkle back into their lives. I would carve out a new weekday vocation as companion/housekeeper/social director/exercise coach/assistant cook.
I kept a journal from Day One as, over the next 18 months, Zelda suffered incremental losses of mental acuity. Less noticeably, my father’s COPD was cranking toward a dramatic climax that none of us anticipated. While I focused on finding enough fingers to plug the ever-multiplying holes in the home-front dike, Dad’s staunch self-sufficiency propelled him through his own physical deterioration. Meanwhile, I watched Zelda—former organizer of Fourth of July kitchen band marches—fade into confusion. To be at her side through the slow, agonizing loss of her Self would prove to be the most affecting experience of my life. It soon became clear that the course I was chronicling was strewn with striking contrasts: moments of high hilarity and wrenching despair; snapshots of the struggle for dignity in the face of decline; arcs of mood between fear and optimism, gratitude and resentment. Hobbling my efforts to navigate these troubled waters was the crushing blow of friends and family members challenging my motives, questioning my trustworthiness.
This enterprise had much to teach me about life and death, human limitations, faith, and endurance. The struggle, as they say, was real. But the joys and rewards were every bit as genuine.
Why I wrote about it:
As my time with Dad and Zelda ended, a fresh commitment shaped my mission: I had been seeking a book topic I felt passionate about. This was that subject. I would share our experiences, unique amidst all the universal similarities, to promote understanding and support others confronting the challenge of caring for those who once cared for us. I chose the memoir format because, as dementia robbed Zelda of her voice, my journal became the story; it painted a complete and authentic picture for readers. Memoir also allowed for the interweaving of family history, a fleshing out of characters, and a means of affirming through narration the individual’s continuing worth, untainted by the loss of physical and cognitive abilities.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sue Anne Kirkham is a freelance writer who blogs atwww.yourrecipesforlife.com. She has published print articles on aging and family relations as well as online profiles of inspiring everyday heroes, and essays on health-conscious living and the peculiarities of contemporary culture.
FOLLOW THE AUTHOR:
FOLLOW THE AUTHOR:
Author website: www.lovingzelda.com
Author Facebook page: @LovingZeldaCaregiving/
LinkedIn: Sue Anne Kirkham
In a recent interview with Oprah Winfrey, New York Times columnist and author, David Brooks, eloquently responded to Oprah’s statement where she said, “I hear that authors write the books they need to read.” Mr. Brooks’ response:
We writers are beggars who tell other beggars where we found bread.
He further explained that statement by saying:
We found it here, we want to share it with you.
That is what the more than 200 AlzAuthors have in common. Each author may describe their quest or mission somewhat differently, but no doubt many of them would agree that the impetus to write about their personal experiences was a call to action they could not ignore.
As a member of the AlzAuthors community, I personally feel that the more mainstream the conversation surrounding the Alzheimer’s and dementia experience becomes, the more the AlzAuthors’ vision will be realized:
Our vision is to lift the silence and stigma of Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
May you find sustenance within the AlzAuthors community.
AlzAuthors is a community of more than 200 extraordinary authors who have written about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia. Today I am spotlighting those books written by the community’s supportive management team, of which I am a member. Please take time to visit the six books spotlighted below. I truly believe you will be glad you did. Let AlzAuthors light your way through Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Alzheimer’s Daughter – a memoir by Jean Lee. A poignant accounting of a family’s life after both parents were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease on the same day.
Blue Hydrangeas – an Alzheimer’s love story by Marianne Sciucco. A touching account of a couple’s journey into Alzheimer’s and of the love that never succumbed to the disease.
Somebody Stole My Iron: A Family Memoir of Dementia by Vicki Tapia. This engaging memoir offers useful information from experts within the field of Alzheimer’s research, personal lessons the author learned along the way, and ideas and tips for managing the day-to-day ups and downs of dementia.
Weeds in Nana’s Garden by Kathryn Harrison. A heartfelt story of love that helps explain Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias geared toward the children in our lives.
Motherhood: Lost and Found – a memoir by Ann Campanella. A memoir of the ordinary and extraordinary courage of those who endure debilitating and even crushing illness, and those who suffer with them when they do so.
Requiem for the Status Quo by Irene Frances Olson. A novel that explores the delicate balance of families upended by Alzheimer’s disease and how they manage their loved one’s needs with their own.