The 9 Dec issue of the New York Times Magazine recognised screening for Alzheimer’s disease (may require registration) through a test administered on the telephone as one of the year’s best ideas. That got me thinking.
I think I first came across anything like Alzheimer’s in Dean Koontz‘s Watchers*. This was in my teens. The protagonist of the book, a dog with human-level intelligence, is stricken with distemper. His friends, a couple he essentially matchmade, are sick with worry that second-stage distemper would bring brain damage, and that the dog – his name is Einstein – would live his life in a kind of greyness, knowing that there is something missing and yet not quite knowing what it is.
I imagine Alzheimer’s to be something like that.
A few years ago, an aunt described to me the devastation Alzheimer’s wrought on her dad and her mum. He would wake up in the middle of the night in the house he built and has known for years and years and ask where he was. He would ask for the thermostat to be turned up, complaining it was freezing cold, only for his wife and daughter to see him not dressed. Her mother struggled to take care of him and eventually – not without guilt – let others take care of him away from his home.
I imagine that, when he died, those who loved him were relieved.
I recently read a New York Times article titled “Love in the Time of Dementia”, and it opened like this:
So this, in the end, is what love is.
Former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s husband, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, has a romance with another woman, and the former justice is thrilled – even visits with the new couple while they hold hands on the porch swing – because it is a relief to see her husband of 55 years so content.
I imagine that love that comes with shared experiences – mundane, intense, everyday, momentous – is a special kind of unity; even when you are alone, what you experience is shared with her, your reactions spiced and sprinkled with her own; you know her that well, and she matters that much.