"It's on the top shelf," she called back.
I looked again at the top shelf. But it wasn't there. I looked in a couple of other cabinets. Then B came in and searched around the kitchen. "I don't know," she said. "Maybe I left it in the car."
"Don't worry about it," I said. "We have enough coffee for this morning. We can check the car later."
"No I'd rather do it now, while I'm thinking about it." Then, a few seconds later she asked me: "Do you have the car keys?" They weren't in their regular place.
|Where's the coffee? No joking matter.|
The coffee wasn't in the car. B came back inside. "Did I buy the coffee?" she asked herself. "I'm pretty sure I did." She checked her Costco receipt. It was there. And finally, a minute later, she found the coffee, behind a big jar of pretzels and a bag of cookies sitting on the kitchen table.
Does this scenario sounds familiar? Do you forget things? Last night we were talking and the movie Sophie's Choice came up in conversation. Who starred in Sophie's Choice? We could both picture the actress, but couldn't retrieve her name. Until later, when it finally came to us: Meryl Streep.
Then the same thing with Sex in the City. An hour later, while we were doing something completely different, B suddenly blurted out: "Sarah Jessica Parker!"
The early stages of Alzheimer's disease? Well, despite the evidence, I don't think so. I recently read a long New York Times story called "Fraying at the Edges" about a woman who, at age 69, walked into the bathroom, looked herself in the mirror ... and didn't recognize her own face. She'd been having some problems. She'd lost her train of thought at a meeting and someone else had to bail her out. She kept getting confused over which string to pull to raise and lower the blinds in her bedroom. One day she got off a train, and couldn't figure out what she was doing there.
She saw a neurologist who administered a cognition test -- count backward from 100 in intervals of seven; say the phrase "No ifs, ands or buts," remember three common words for later (she recalled one) -- and the doctor did indeed diagnose early-stage Alzheimer's.
Alzheimer's is "degenerative and incurable, and democratic in its reach," as the Times put it. Worldwide, 44 million people have Alzheimer's or related dementia. It is most common in Western Europe, with North America close behind. More than 5 million Americans are believed to have it. The disease affects women more than men, mostly because it's primarily a disease of old age and women live longer than men. People on average live with Alzheimer's about 8 to 10 years, though some of course live longer.
The doctor put this woman on a drug, Aricept, and she later was included in a trial for a new experimental drug that did seem to slow her decline. She joined a support group. The people shared their stories, played memory games, talked about ways they and their families coped with the disease.
She found she started relying on her iPhone to make notes, keep her schedule, even to take pictures of places where she had gone so she could remember them. She leaned on her husband, who watched over her schedule, made sure she didn't get lost ... and who drove her around. She had to give up driving after she had a couple of minor mishaps on the road.
What helped her most, though, was finding a new purpose in life. She and her husband began to talk to groups about living with Alzheimer's. They worked with several organizations to develop strategies for coping with the ravages of the disease. They fought against the stigma of Alzheimer's -- how so many people are in the closet because they're afraid they will be dismissed by friends and colleagues, dropped from social situations, considered no longer relevant.
Today, five years later, the woman, now 74, is still dealing with the everyday challenges of Alzheimer's. But she is still very much alive.
Hopefully, neither B nor I will have to face these issues. B's mother is losing the mental sharpness she once had. But B's mother is 100 years old, going on 101. Otherwise, we have no history of dementia in either of our families. But if we ever do become afflicted with Alzheimer's, or any other disease or disability, I hope we will be able to still find some purpose in life, as this woman has found a new meaning in Alzheimer's -- which, after all, is a challenge for all of us retired people, in sickness or in health.