Story by Peggy Liker.
I’ll never forget the day in the fall of 1987 when I received a call from a sister who lived near our mom. I had already been working as an RN for 14 years, so my blood ran cold as she told me of some very uncharacteristic behavior our mother was displaying.
The woman who loved to shop would no longer go to the mall (she became very agitated and anxious). She sent checks to her grandchildren, signing them with newly poor penmanship. She loved to drive fast, having competed in drag racing when we were very young but was getting lost going to familiar places. She put things away that later she could not find. My sisters brought her up to where I was, so the cardiologist I worked for could evaluate her. He confirmed with simple tests what we feared; we then saw a neurologist, all in the name of “getting her a good check-up.” After ruling everything else out, he diagnosed her with advanced Alzheimer’s Disease at age 54. We didn’t tell her.
We told her she just had normal forgetfulness. We knew that the worse she got, the less aware she would be. She was SO relieved that it wasn’t “that Alzheimer’s or something.” (Aricept was still on trial). We (her children) helped her realize her dream of going to Hawaii, then to Graceland due to her love of Elvis. She also got to go on a cruise before her symptoms worsened. It was just a few years before she had to go to a nursing home for her safety and care.
She, being otherwise healthy, lived for 15 years until she was 69. But we had lost her already when she forgot who we were, so we lost her twice. She was robbed of meeting most of her grandchildren, and we were robbed of her love, presence, and her memories. Watching her deteriorate mentally and physically was so very painful for us. No one should have to experience that. Working to end Alzheimer’s is a labor of love for myself and our sibling walk team, Jean’s Genes. As my sister put it when she was told purple must be her favorite color, she said, “purple chose me.” We work in the hope of eliminating this disease forever.