I was totally unprepared when my father, Seymour Friedman, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2006. At first there was disbelief, because it did not seem that his memory loss went beyond what is normal for an 83 year old senior adult.
However, as the disease progressed, my disbelief finally turned into reality. In the past six years, I have watched my father change from a tall, robust individual into a shell that sits in a wheelchair every day, his head bowed with little or no recognition of his family or the rich, fulfilling life he had led.
So, several months ago, when I met the volunteer coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Association, I jumped at the opportunity to volunteer for that group, mostly because I wanted to learn as much as I could about this dread disease, for which there is no cure, which has stricken 5.4 million Americans and is now the nation’s sixth leading cause of death.
I also wanted to know, as I age, what the difference is between normal memory loss from aging and Alzheimer’s. Was forgetting where my car is parked, or where I left my cell phone normal, or part of the disease? I believe my father’s mother also suffered with the disease, but at the time of her death over 50 years ago, it was called senility, so there is a family history.
As I trained to become part of the Alzheimer’s Association I learned that losing things from time to time is typical for a 67 year old man.
I also learned the difference between dementia, from which my mother in law suffers and Alzheimer’s. Dementia is an umbrella term, much like the word cancer and may be caused by a variety of diseases, of which Alzheimer’s is one.
Armed with the knowledge I have gained, I feel better able to cope with my father’s condition, and know the warning signs. Equally important is my ability to now educate other men and women about the disease, its symptoms and the treatments available.