Alzheimer’s disease is not something that makes itself apparent right away. It moves slowly, disguising itself before showing its true nature. When planning is not enough will your family be ready? The story of Geri Taylor, aged 72 is one like any other, moving through life happily until one day she didn’t recognize the woman looking back at her. For most, Alzheimer’s will come as a shock, but with the right amount of support and the right amount of planning, it can be somewhat of an easy transition.
For Geri, the support came from her husband and family, finding ways to keep her memory from fading. In her own words, “Those who learn they have the disease often sink into a piercing black grief; try to camouflage their symptoms from a dismissive world as they backpedal from life.” Alzheimer’s is commonly misidentified as a memory disease, yet it is more of cognitive function impairment. Through repetition and some medical assistance, the period between diagnosis and Alzheimer’s, sometimes referred to as the grace period, can be prolonged. Read the New York Times article below for more information on ways to plan and support loved ones affected by Alzheimer’s.
By N.R. Kleinfield – New York Times
IT BEGAN WITH what she saw in the bathroom mirror. On a dull morning, Geri Taylor padded into the shiny bathroom of her Manhattan apartment. She casually checked her reflection in the mirror, doing her daily inventory. Immediately, she stiffened with fright.
She didn’t recognize herself.
She gazed saucer-eyed at her image, thinking: Oh, is this what I look like? No, that’s not me. Who’s that in my mirror?
This was in late 2012. She was 69, in her early months getting familiar with retirement. For some time she had experienced the sensation of clouds coming over her, mantling thought. There had been a few hiccups at her job. She had been a nurse who climbed the rungs to health care executive. Once, she was leading a staff meeting when she had no idea what she was talking about, her mind like a stalled engine that wouldn’t turn over.
“Fortunately I was the boss and I just said, ‘Enough of that; Sally, tell me what you’re up to,’” she would say of the episode.
Certain mundane tasks stumped her. She told her husband, Jim Taylor, that the blind in the bedroom was broken. He showed her she was pulling the wrong cord. Kept happening. Finally, nothing else working, he scribbled on the adjacent wall which cord was which.
So, yes, she had had inklings that something was going wrong with her mind. She held tight to these thoughts. She even hid her suspicions from Mr. Taylor, who chalked up her thinning memory to the infirmities of age. “I thought she was getting like me,” he said. “I had been forgetful for 10 years.”
But to not recognize her own face! To Ms. Taylor, this was the “drop-dead moment” when she had to accept a terrible truth. She wasn’t just seeing the twitches of aging but the early fumes of the disease.
She had no further issues with mirrors, but there was no ignoring that something important had happened. She confided her fears to her husband and made an appointment with a neurologist. “Before then I thought I could fake it,” she would explain. “This convinced me I had to come clean.”
In November 2012, she saw the neurologist who was treating her migraines. He listened to her symptoms, took blood, gave her the Mini Mental State Examination, a standard cognitive test made up of a set of unremarkable questions and commands. (For instance, she was asked to count backward from 100 in intervals of seven; she had to say the phrase: “No ifs, ands or buts”; she was told to pick up a piece of paper, fold it in half and place it on the floor beside her.)
He told her three common words, said he was going to ask her them in a little bit. He emphasized this by pointing a finger at his head — remember those words. That simple. Yet when he called for them, she knew only one: beach. In her mind, she would go on to associate it with the doctor, thinking of him as Dr. Beach.
He gave a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment, a common precursor to Alzheimer’s disease. The first label put on what she had. Even then, she understood it was the footfall of what would come. Alzheimer’s had struck her father, a paternal aunt and a cousin. She long suspected it would eventually find her.
Every 67 seconds, with monotonous cruelty, Alzheimer’s takes up residence in another American. Degenerative and incurable, it is democratic in its reach. People live with it about eight to 10 years on average, though some people last for 20 years. More than five million Americans are believed to have it, two-thirds of them women, and now Ms. Taylor would join them.
What were some of the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s that you noticed in yourself or someone you know?
The disease, with its thundering implications, moves in worsening stages to its ungraspable end. That is the familiar face of Alzheimer’s, the withered person with the scrambled mind marooned in a nursing home, memories sealed away, aspirations for the future discontinued. But there is also the beginning, the waiting period.