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Alzheimer's is like a one-way sign to nowhere.

Alzheimer's is like a one-way street to nowhere.

When he didn’t remember the water gurgling from the ground on our dream property, I was stunned. Purchased in the late 90s with thoughts of building a country home,  Ken seemed to be without further confusion regarding our future. He still talked about drawing plans as soon as he found someone who could give him the structural details he needed for trusses.  The building site overlooked rolling hills covered with heritage oaks and pine trees extending to a distant lake, and then blending into more misty greens and rolling hills eventually vanishing into the skyline beyond.  Whether we were watching the sunset or just drinking in the magnificence spread before us it was everything we had wanted for our retirement years.  His life-long goal:  to design and build our own home in the country.  Would it still be practical knowing what I suspected?  Only time would tell.

The difficult part about Alzheimer’s is that when you don’t remember something, you don’t remember that you don’t remember. Years ago, Ken vowed he was not going to have the end of his life be like that of his parents.  I have since wondered if he was aware of his forgetfulness – his confusion — aware of how often he had seen the gurgling water which fed the pond.  If he suspected, in the least little way, was he concerned about what might lay ahead for the two of us?  Or could it have been his procrastinating nature, or, as he claimed, was it the difficulty in finding someone to build trusses which caused several years delay in his settling down and actually drawing the house plans.  These kinds of questions can never be answered.

Ken was of the old school of engineering where everyone still used a slide rule, tee squares and a bulky drafting machine. With the computer age looming over the horizon, his firm was just getting acquainted with the practicality of introducing this new “intelligence” into the business.  Desk-size models they were not; their first computer purchase was the size of a king-size freezer chest.  Furthermore, computer-assisted drawings (CADs) to replace the drafting department would be a thing for the up-and-coming generation of engineers, and Ken would be retired before computers became a “must have” in many businesses. No matter; whatever it was that motivated him to get started on the project, his finally doing so came as a pleasant surprise. Could the possibility of finding a truss builder just 60 miles away have given him a jump start?  A new resolve to stop procrastinating, or did he feel a sense of urgency that time was running out?  Nevertheless, he finished the drawings for our proposed building even though it was several years after the water gurgling incident.  His ability to pick up his tools of the trade and accomplish the tedious work of creating accurate drawings was a bit of a reprieve for me (and a novelty to the planning department who were used to seeing only CADs).  Nevertheless, I was more than pleased.  Perhaps we could go forward after all. Yet, I had to acknowledge my observations.   It wasn’t as if there were no more memory-loss incidents.  There were many which I doubt he noticed – or did he?  Troubled, I once said to him, “I worry when you forget things.”  His usual answer was flippant, “I only remember what’s important.”

He made an appointment with our insurance agent whose office was on a familiar street, yet Ken couldn’t find it.  Even parking the car and walking to follow a sequence of numbers he couldn’t find the address.  It was my guess the number he was looking for was across the street and he had forgotten about odd and even numbering, so he returned home.  I also began drawing maps for him to visit friends who lived nearby.  He missed luncheon dates with volunteer committees because he couldn’t find the restaurant although I reminded him we had been there. “There are too many places to eat in that shopping center,” he complained, “so I gave up.”

I felt stymied, and what was there for me to say?  Should I remind him that it appeared he was heading down the same path his parents had traveled?  Was he aware of his own forgetting – his confusion – or was he in denial?  I recognized the signs and most of the time I chose not to remind him and we didn’t talk about it – at least not in depth.  I just continued to allow it to happen.  Isn’t that’s a silly statement?  I wasn’t allowing anything.  There was nothing I could do to stop it.

In January of 2004 we paid our first visit to the neurologist.  I explained what I had observed and added I was trying to avoid the “A” word.  He prescribed Aricept and agreed that, for a while, we could avoid the “A” word and see what happened during the next 12 months.  The following January the doctor told us that Ken did, indeed, have Alzheimer’s. Slowly, our life began to move in another direction, one we never would have chosen: a turbulent, unchartered one-way street to nowhere.

Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/cbroders/5632294511/.

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