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A very well behaved 6-year-old left our house recently. She had been with us since Nov. 1 or so. She was polite, funny, did not get in anyone’s way very much. Somethings she did very well some things she needed help with. Like many kids she had favorite foods and things she liked to drink. She would eat her meals in an almost dainty fashion, and on occasion, she would sneak sweet treats.

She would wait at the table until she was excused and go back to the living room to watch TV. She went to bed every night at about 9:30. Like many kids, once in awhile, she slept in late to 10 a.m. or so. Yet our well-behaved 6-year-old is almost 89 and my mother-in-law.

I am no authority on Alzheimer’s or dementia. I don’t know why our brains leave us or if they can be returned. You may watch on TV the wide range of memory enhancement supplements and other over-the-counter medications, but all of them say in the end “has not been shown or approved by the FDA to treat or manage any disease.” So I guess you could say be it ground up jellyfish or cod liver oil — the effect is achieved when the manufacturer separates you from your money.

In her time my mother-in-law was a vital, outgoing woman. She raised five children, including one daughter who was a special needs child. She traveled the world and generally set the course of the family. The one time I heard my father-in-law disagree with her was when she wanted to go to China. He told me there was no way he was going to China. That was a bridge too far for him.

My daughters, while they were growing up, spent one week each summer at her house. They rode the milk routes with their grandfather and enjoyed their grandmother’s chocolate chip cookies. My mother-in-law loved having them around the house; they enjoyed their grandparents. She perhaps was an excellent grandmother, like many mothers are — maybe that is a universal truth.

When my father-in-law passed away in 2007, my mother-in-law carried on for a few years. But she gradually began to drop family holiday functions and occasions. She grew quiet and did not speak up or participate in conversations. When she was 81 she tripped while working in her garden with my wife and broke her right arm. After that, it appears she withdrew further from the world. She still retained her sense of humor and enjoyed seeing her grandkids but everyone knew things were different. Some people said that was the final straw after my father-in-law died and that she simply gave up.

One of the great mysteries of Alzheimer’s and dementia is how the memory works. My mother-in-law, when I asked her if she was related to someone in Colby who had just passed away, told me without a second’s pause: “Yes he was my first cousin on my father’s side.” This from a lady who could not remember channel 80 on the TV.

Another time, while visiting my grandmother-in-law at the nursing home, we were discussing some recent events. My grandmother-in-law looked out the window and in earnestness said “It looks like rain, did you put your horses in the barn?” She lived on for several more years getting a bit more “confused,” but took a shot of Old Crow each day to keep things going.

Why does my mother-in-law has dementia but not her sister? No one really knows. There are many theories on dementia and Alzheimer’s; hopefully with science and research a cure will be found. My best guess as a layman would be that genetics plays a large role in the disease with some outside influences.

Meanwhile if you or a loved one need assistance in dealing with this disease please call your county Aging and Resource Disability Coordinator. It is a first step; one that you will not regret taking. Reach out to people who can help. In caring for someone you can only do so much yourself.

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John R. Andersen of Lake Hallie is a former state employee who remains active in the fields of fire prevention, government and education.

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