After each time a neighbor takes his late '60s Mustang for a run, he complains about the lack of reaction and romance the vintage vehicle has. It doesn't run like it used to, he moans.
It's sort of an example of "automobile Alzheimer's" because many of us exhibit the same emotion when dealing with relatives and friends with or developing the dementia disease. We go into denial when we watch our parents' personality slipping away leaving only a carcass that once held the persona of people dear to us.
And folks contracting the disease face not only a growing forgetfulness but frustration by the people around them.
It seems we're quite willing to put up with the emotional scars inflicted by an autistic child but totally impatient with moms and dads who no longer act with the authority we expect of them.
When "wait a minute, I'll get it" moments occur to children and teenagers, we think of them as hare-brained. In one's 20s, we accuse them of not being able to keep their minds on anything.
For people in their 30s, we apologize for them by saying they have so much going on in their lives. We make excuses for people in their 40s--more important things to worry about, we allow.
When it happens to folks in the 50s, we whisper that they're starting to lose it. In their 60s, it's time to go. And when it happens in their 70s and later, they've lost it, we say.
This labeling may help us get through life, but it doesn't help if you or someone close to you is affected by Alzheimer's disease.
You can build a few defenses of your own against this most pernicious and persistent form of dementia.
Regular exercise normally is identified as a way to maintain your body strength and functions as you age. But the physical activity also pumps blood into your brain to keep it healthy and deter deterioration.
So staying physically healthy also keeps your brain healthy in its battle against other factors, such as depression, high cholesterol, vascular disease, and hypertension, that can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's.
Exercises can include walking, running, swimming bicycling, gardening, weight-lifting, yoga, shooting basketball hoops in your driveway or at a nearby park, horseshoes, lawn bowling, anything that you enjoy and can do regularly.
Recent research indicates that as much as 80 percent of Alzheimer's has genetic roots so, if your family has a history of Alzheimer sufferers, and remember that not all aging forgetfulness and brain-function loss is Alzheimer's disease, you can still keep your mind active and agile.
You should check with your doctor for remedial steps he or she suggests. There are several ways to sharpen your mental acuity: do crossword puzzles, learn how to play bridge or operate a computer or play the piano, take up a new language, attend cooking classes, go to lectures, learn how to play horseshoes, read, visit friends regularly, or teach yourself how to write with your other hand.
The worst thing you can do is put your feet up and vegetate after you retire. You may not fall victim to Alzheimer's, but your brain will probably go just as dead.
And the worst thing you can do if someone near and dear to you shows signs of this impersonal and maddening disease is to label him or her as brain dead.
Refusing to accept the fact that the person cannot remember who you are at times only adds to your frustration, which transmits anxiety and restlessness to the other person.
Both your job and their lives can be made easier if you help rather than hinder them in their constant search for who they are, where they are, and where they're going.
Around the house, mark off the days on a large calendar. Have a large clock in the family area. You might even label the rooms, like "Bathroom," "TV Room" and "Grandma's bedroom." Tell him or her what time the next meal will be served.
Instead of arguing about where they are and where they are going, just tell them again. Keep it simple, for them and for yourself.
Help them put together scrapbooks that revive old memories, which they are likely to remember more readily than what they've just eaten. Play their favorite music and sing along with them. Or play simple games like checkers and put together jigsaw puzzles that aren't too difficult. Take them for walks. Just like you would do with a toddler.
You need at least the same understanding and patience. The difference is, you have to realize that the person you're caring for is not learning, like a child, but slipping away. n