When I was in my late 40s, though, my dad’s best friend was diagnosed with the disease (yes, it is classified as a disease).
Now here was someone I knew quite well. His second oldest daughter was the first one I ever kissed (on the cheek), at age 7, and dreamed of romance blossoming, perhaps, one day.
He got a job as an engineer at what was then Thiokol, not ATK, and they moved to Brigham City – a long ways from where my family then lived. But we would visit each other often, and kept a strong bond.
Will (I never called him that out of respect) was a very talented man. He possessed a beautiful tenor voice, and my dad often accompanied him on the piano or organ when he sang solos.
My dad, Bill, and Will got to know each other when they were both about 18. That friendship grew into something cast in more than concrete, and never wavered.
This quiet, able-to-fix-anything kind of guy was also fit as a fiddle. He remained slender and agile, and I often assumed he would live forever.
But then, Alzheimer’s struck him, just as it had his father, who I only knew as a young boy.
Sometimes, during my dad’s occasional visits, Will would be as lucid and “normal” as he had ever been.
Other times, he would sit, even quieter than he ever had been, and only utter something once in a while – not necessarily connected with the conversation or goings-on at hand.
There was the time, I’m told, when Will looked at his old tool box, and said words to this effect: “I know that I used to know how to use these (tools). But now, I haven’t a clue as to what to do with them.”
As is usually the case, his wife and mate of more than five decades, Virginia, became his primary caregiver. And yes, she was assisted by a nearby son and daughter, as well as others.
But Will was her husband, her mate, her lifelong companion, so she wanted to do whatever she could to make his life as pleasant as possible, and as safe as possible.
That meant taking the car keys away, or trying to keep him from leaving the yard. He liked to get some exercise by talking a walk.
Fortunately for Will, his dear wife outlived him by several years. Perhaps as some reward for all she’d willingly done, willingly endured, the good Lord let her pass away in good health, in her sleep.
This story probably isn’t that different from the real life situations that face thousands of Davis County families, and millions across the country.
Thank goodness for these wonderful caregivers. And thank goodness for such organizations as the Alzheimer’s Association of Utah – which has set up a branch office in Davis County.
That’s due, in large part, to the foresight and hard work of a Davis County Gala Committee in 2009. The 30,000 some-odd dollars raised through that function were matched by the Alzheimer’s Association, which, as part of the package, agreed to open an office. It’s housed in the new North Davis Senior Activity Center, next to the Health Department Administration Building in Clearfield.
But I’m assured there are plans to “take the show on the road,” that is, have regular visits and programs taken to Autumn Glow and Golden Years Centers, as well.
More support groups and programs will be put in place. And, hopefully more funds will be devoted to research and development of a cure for this disease, which impacts millions – and will only touch the lives of many million more as the overall population ages.
I’m reminded of all this because of a visit last week by the new State Alzheimer’s Task Force to Davis County. That six hour “visit” included a chance for caregivers and many others to share their concerns, aspirations for help – even just a listening, understanding ear.
Let us not put a blind eye or deaf ear to this disease. After all, we never know who in our lives it may touch.