The Alzheimer's Side Effect Too Hard To Talk About
Senses gradually decline, but common sense, wisdom, and the ability to make reasonable arguments and judgments are unaffected by normal aging. Ask any grandchild! It might be harder to recall things, scientists believe, because of how much is stored over time (much like a full hard drive) but the brain is still useful.
Everyone becomes senile if they live long enough. Not everyone gets Alzheimer’s disease. Yet somewhere along the way the two became synonymous with each other. I am sure that the person who thought it would be funny to rhyme Alzheimer’s with "Old Timer’s" didn’t know that their cleverness would eventually create widespread confusion in the minds of everyone.
Unlike senility, Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the US and kills more people than Breast and Prostate Cancer combined. Like Diabetes, no one dies from it directly. Death certificates list them both as underlying or contributing causes of death. Translation: people die from complications of the disease.
In the case of Alzheimer's disease, when humans can't recognize anything, including themselves and others, they die. They don’t die because their brains shut down like in a coma. They die because of what happens when they forget to eat or move. They die of infections, bedsores, or pneumonia. That's what happens when we are reduced to a state of fight or flight, 24-7, for months, even years.
If you are a glass-half-full type, thinking "Well, at least they can't remember they're facing eminent death," think again. Terror comes from being alive.
Men, women, and children watch mothers, fathers, grandparents, and spouses live in fear, waiting for them to die from complications so they can finally have peace.
Then there's the side effect no one wants to talk about, and it affects both the patient and caregiver. Their dignity, or birthright, which makes them a part of a human family that shares the same senses, needs, and universal experiences becomes compromised.
Alzheimer's disease can take away the ability of caregivers to recognize their patient's dignity, dehumanizing them and themselves in the process. This becomes a standard of care that justifies detachment, an inability to connect with others on an emotional level, as well as a means of coping with anxiety by avoiding certain situations that trigger it; known as "emotional numbing" or dissociation rather than connection. It happens without them even knowing it.
An Alzheimer's caregiver, of all caregivers, needs a special kind of education and support that encourages and empowers them with dignity consistently so they can uphold, protect, and demand dignity for those who can’t do it for themselves—because they are the ones who will remember how they treated others, and will have to live with it.