Dayton Comment

 Dayton Comment

Jim reflects on his mother and Alzheimer’s disease.

By Jim Bucher

I lost my mom July 15, three days shy of her 90th birthday.

To be honest I lost mom in 2008 when she was diagnosed. Many of you knew “Cookie” Bucher was suffering from the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. She lost the zip in her step and—always the stickler for remembering birthdays, anniversaries and holidays—was all jumbled in a thick sheath of fog. No clue of day or date for that matter.

Some would say that it’s heartless to say “I lost her” a few years ago, but if you too have a family member or friend with this debilitating, mind-robbing, horrendous condition, then you know what I’m talking about and you understand.

The statistics are numbing.

As many as 5.1 million Americans may have Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common cause of dementia among older people.

One of those was mom. You know it’s tough describing your mother in past tense, but more on her later. It’s amazing when this affects your family how quickly you become an expert.

Cause and Effect

Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually even the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. 

Dementia ranges in severity from the mildest stage—when it is just beginning to affect a person’s functioning—to the most severe stage—when the person must depend completely on others for basic activities of daily living.

The disease is named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer. In 1906, Dr. Alzheimer noticed changes in the brain tissue of a woman who had died of an unusual mental illness. Her symptoms included memory loss, language problems and unpredictable behavior. 

After she passed, the autopsy concluded her brain had many abnormal clumps and tangled bundles of fibers. Plaques and tangles in the brain are two of the main features of Alzheimer’s disease.

Although we still don’t know how the Alzheimer’s disease process begins, it seems likely that damage to the brain starts a decade or more before problems become evident. Before long, the damage spreads to a nearby structure in the brain called the hippocampus, which is essential in forming memories. 

Not to sound the alarm, but it will get worse as our population ages.

Christmas 2008

Mom’s journey began with the typical loss of memory—forgetting things, losing car keys, etc. After her diagnosis, this strong-willed woman wrote her annual Christmas letter, but this go-around ended on a sad note:

As I conclude my letter, want all my friends and family to know I’ve been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Not particularly sure what this all entails, but doesn’t sound good. 

Right now I’m living life to the fullest and hope to continue to spend time with my granddaughters and continue my Steele and Stivers High School reunion planning and of course attending church as long as the good Lord will see fit.

But if you do not get my annual letter, you’ll know why.

Before I forget (pun intended) want you all to know I’ve had a great life, full of excitement, pleasure and fun. My 49-year marriage to the best man in the world (Jim Sr.) was something I’ll always cherish. Great kids, precious granddaughters and true friends, couldn’t ask for anything more.

Just hope when you remember me (if I don’t remember you.) that good thoughts and smiles will appear. It really has been a wonderful life.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Love to all…

‘Cookie’

It’s tough to read, and it means more than ever now.

We loved her very much

As for as the disease, currently there is no cure. Scientists are looking to see whether brain imaging and biomarker studies, for example, of people with a family history of Alzheimer’s, can detect early changes in the brain like those seen in those with Alzheimer’s. 

Not sure about you folks, but I rather not know. Nothing you could do about it anyway.

Near the end of this heart-wrenching disease a patient may be in bed most or all of the time as the body shuts down.

Experts say they don’t yet fully understand what causes Alzheimer’s disease, but it has become increasingly clear that it develops because of a complex series of events that take place in the brain over a long period of time. It is likely that the causes include some mix of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors. 

Toward the end, mom’s short-term memory was “shot” as she would say. Cookie remembered her wedding day in 1947 vividly, but would call me half dozen times and leave the exact same message within 20 minutes, sort of like a scratch on a record. What I would give to hear those messages again.

Mom didn’t leave us as the result of the disease, although it was a contributing factor. A few days before her death, and even though her brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders, she remembered and knew we loved her very much.

Fortunately Alzheimer’s didn’t get that opportunity. That is a comforting thought.

Buch

For more on Alzheimer’s, visit alz.org