Alzheimer’s disease—Who and Why?

Alzheimer’s-Disease
A few weeks ago I took a trip to East Texas. Among the things I did during the trip was to attend a funeral, attend a mini “Class of 1965” high school reunion, and, visit with my 96 year old aunt and several other elderly women that I have kept in touch with over the years. After I left the reunion a friend dropped off a car for me to use and I began my visitation rounds. Because of the constant rain my plans to visit the cemetery where most of my relatives are buried was cancelled in order to spend time with the living.

My first stop was to see “Mrs. Williams.” I have known her for years and have always admired her gardening and food canning skills. After my father’s funeral in 2007 we stopped by her house to change clothes before heading back to Amarillo and she gave us several jars of her homemade canned pear and peach jelly. Mrs. M is now around 86 and is a widow after her husband of over 60 years passed away a year or so ago. Out of nowhere one day he got a gun, shot at her, but missed, then shot himself in the head. He died several weeks later from his injuries but not before he was committed to an institution for mental disturbance—some type of dementia that had been evidencing itself for years—and ignored.

My next visit was with a long time friend who updated me on a lot of local happenings that I was not aware of. After an hour or so of visiting I headed down the road to visit my aunt Dorothy. Aunt Dorothy is my father’s sister. She turned 96 two weeks after my visit. Down through the years I have visited Aunt Dorothy who always had a piano in her living room. One of my secret wishes going back years was to play Aunt Dorothy’s piano—and play it well. Aunt Dorothy’s husband passed away about three years ago after 70 years of marriage. They had 10 children. Aunt Dorothy was one of 11 children. Aunt Dorothy is now legally blind, but she looked great, as pretty as ever. As we began talking we reminisced about so many things from years ago. Her mind was still clear as a bell and her memory had not faded one bit. I wrote a cookbook years ago entitled, “Duddle O’Joe” in honor of my Aunt Dorothy because this is the phrase she used for using leftovers to make yet another meal. We finally moved to the living room where I played assorted hymns for her. She enjoyed the songs and we had a nice lunch together with the best pound cake ever. After a few hours I regrettably said goodbye to Aunt Dorothy and headed to my next stop to see Mrs. Davis.

Mrs. Davis, who is now in her late 80s, taught elementary school in Shamrock, Texas back in the early 1960s at the old segregated Dunbar School. Her husband, now deceased, taught high school and was the principal. After the school integrated they moved to East Texas where they continued teaching. Mrs. Davis always played piano and when I was around 12 and babysat for her children I started playing her piano. Mrs. Davis was home when I arrived at her neat brick house. Her son opened the door and remembered me well. Mrs. Davis was sitting on the sofa in a very neat living room. She was nicely dressed and very friendly—and so glad to see me. I reminded her of who I was and that I once lived in Shamrock when she taught school there. She said, “Shamrock? Where is that?” Her son then told me that she had Alzheimer’s. Over the next three hours of my visit with Mrs. Davis we talked as she used perfect grammar. She repeatedly asked “if that car outside was mine” to which I responded yes. She repeatedly reminded me that it was a pretty blue color. She asked this same question and made the same comment about the color at least 15 times. I then asked her if she still played her piano—a large upright in her living room. She said she didn’t play anymore but told me I could play it. I sat down and played some hymns and she said that was nice playing. I told her she had taught me music years ago. She responded, “I did?” I then went to the car to get a bottle of water and as I returned I heard the piano playing. It was Ms. Davis playing the hymn “Down at the Cross.” I stood beside her and sang along. I told her with much delight that she still played piano very well. She then asked if I wanted to hear another song. She then played the hymn “I Shall Not Be Moved.” Over the next hour she asked if I wanted to hear another song and each time I said yes, and each time she played either Down at the Cross or I Shall Not Be Moved—at least 10 times each. Each time I clapped with delight and praised her as if I was hearing it for the first time. She flipped through a old hymn book and ran upon the song, “Are You Washed in the Blood.” She asked me why anyone would want to be washed in blood. I responded “Well, I see your point.” She could no longer read any music, but again she played from memory, Down at the Cross and I Shall Not Be Moved.

Over the course of my three hour visit with Mrs. Davis she told me that she had no children—she has three. We sat on her porch watching the birds and squirrels and she repeatedly asked who that man who inside the house. It was her son who has been her caregiver for over 20 years. She told me she was waiting for someone to pick her up and take her to Brushy Creek where she now lives. She described exactly what road to take to get to her house in Brushy Creek. She has lived at the same house for almost 50 years—not in Brushy Creek. She even told me that Indian Creek also ran near Brushy Creek. She repeatedly asked me if I knew where Brushy Creek is—to which I responded yes. She told me had one sister. She asked me if I knew her sister. I said yes, truthfully, because I remembered Anna Lee who died 10 years ago. I asked her about “The Ponderosa” some farm land they bought outside of town. She said they still owned the Ponderosa. There was an address sign hanging on a post in her front yard with her late husband’s name on it. She asked me who that was. I finally said I had to go get something to eat and would return—she said please come back and that she would be waiting for me.

No one knows what causes Alzheimer’s Disease or AD. No one knows who will get it or who won’t. If you search any description for AD you will find the same general description—that it is degenerative and incurable. The latest research says the disease is caused by some type of plaque forming on certain brain cells. AD was once believed to be age related—affecting people over 65. There are some cases of the disease starting much sooner. When I lived in Los Angeles years ago my next door neighbor had AD. She was a twin—her name was Ella, her exact twin was named Della. They were in their late 70s when I met them. Ella would put her underwear on her head, grab a broom and go outside and sweep trash in the middle of traffic. I once visited her and she asked me “What is this?” She handed me a loaded pistol pointed toward me. I would take her out riding to try to help the family to keep her from driving. I took her to the Santa Monica Pier one day and, as we sat looking out at the ocean, she told me that someone needed to cut the faucet off because water was running everywhere. During that same outing she asked me why “that airplane is flying backward.” She would put sticks of butter in the toaster oven and try to drink the bleach thinking it was milk. Della on the other hand was always going to Las Vegas or on some other type of senior citizen bus trip. She did not have any signs of AD.

Copyright 2014 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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