Friday, November 14, 2008

Touched by Alzheimer's Disease

Since November is Alzheimer's Awareness Month, the topic of the 60th Carnival of Genealogy is the impact that Alzheimer's Disease (dementia) has had on your family history. An estimated 5 million people in the U.S. are living with Alzheimer's Disease. Alzheimer's robs people of their memories and all that they could have passed on in the way of family history.

For many of us researching our families, it is difficult to determine if they had dementia or some other mental or physical illness if it is not noted in a death certificate or an obituary. I think that the term "old age" given in many records and articles probably encompasses physical disabilities and mental disorders.

The one case I know of in my family that was clearly dementia was my dear grandmother (I just teared up writing that - she is just so dear to my heart even after 30 years), Emily Kemp (Auble) Carringer (1899-1977). She suffered a stroke in the 1960's but seemed to recover quickly, lost quite a bit of weight, and was her prim, proper, happy, optimistic and loving self into the 1970's.

She became fairly forgetful, repeated herself, and did tasks repetitively during the 1970's. When her husband, Lyle Carringer, became ill with colon cancer, was hospitalized and then died in November 1976, she was alone in her home on Point Loma for the first time in her life. Dear Emily started wandering at night in her nightgown or just her slip - she would go about 100 yards down the street and stop outside a neighbor's garage and call out "Lyle, Lyle, are you in there?" The neighbors would call my parents, who would have to go over in the dead of night to take her back and get her settled back in her home and bed. The wandering became more frequent as time went on.

My parents lived 10 miles away, but my mother didn't drive, and my father avoided going to the house because she always berated him for something or other. My mother insisted on going over at least once a week to check on Emily and the house (are the toilets flushed? are dishes piled up? is there food in the frig? is the heat too high? are the clothes washed? is the trash out? is she clean? endless questions). When my father wouldn't go, my mother asked us to go. We usually made an outing of it - taking the girls to see their grandmother and great-grandmother. Emily doted on our two little ones, and served us Squirt! every time - Lori thought it was great, but Tami was still a baby. It was good for Emily to look forward to these visits, but I feel guilty that we didn't go often enough.

My mother was thinking about placing her in an assisted living care facility, but Emily was adamant about living in her own home. However, the predictable happened. We took my mother over and knocked on the door, and there was no answer. My mother used her key, and we found Gram on the floor next to the couch in the living room. She was alive, and semi-conscious, seemed paralyzed, and couldn't speak - just clicks, it seemed. The paramedics came and took her to the hospital, but she died the next day, 19 June 1977, the 59th anniversary of her wedding to Lyle. She had had a stroke, probably several days earlier. My mother felt very guilty about not checking on her more often, or not doing more for her.

The other example in my extended family was my cousin, Dorothy (Taylor) Chamberlain (1904-1992), who lived in San Diego. After her second husband died, she had a stroke in about 1988 and her daughter, who lived in San Jose, placed her in a series of care facilities. Linda and I made a point to take her out for a ride and lunch about once a month, and she really looked forward to our visits, although she couldn't remember them from one month to the next. I had just started my genealogy research, so I used these visits to learn more about her family history (and mine too, since she was my father's cousin). I asked about different people, and she told us stories about them. She often repeated stories, which we encouraged. We looked through her photo albums and talked about the people - she knew who they all were, but couldn't remember our names some of the time. She had definite symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease, suffered a major stroke in 1992 and died soon after in a convalescent hospital that was really the pits.

Needless to say, I am very sensitive to signs of memory loss in myself, my wife, our family and our friends.

1 comment:

lorna vanderhaeghe products said...

It's difficult for family members to adjust when an elder is struck with the disease.