Monday, 5 September 2011

Coping with Alzheimer's

We went to visit one of my wife's old neighbours yesterday. The lady of the house was okay but the husband was suffering from Alzheimer's. We've heard so much of Alzheimer's but unless one gets to know the people who are care-givers, it is almost impossible to understand the psychological stress and anguish they go through.

For one thing, the person with Alzheimer's needs a 24-hour care and frankly, nobody but a tender loving spouse will have the patience to look after the patient. There is almost no time for anything else but to keep a watchful eye and see that he inflicts no harm on himself.

"I also have to be very careful with the knives in the house," she told us. There was an occasion, she related, when he was eyeing a knife on the kitchen table just as she was doing some housework. She had heard some horror stories before, of how some people have had an Alzheimer's patient use a household utensil to threaten the care-giver. So she quickly removed the knife and locked it away.

Her husband, she said, had been suffering for several years already. She suspected that part of the reason for anyone to develop this disease was the mental and physical inactivity once a person reached retirement age and had nothing to do.

She was also wracked with some personal guilt, fearing that she could have contributed to the onset on this disease in her husband when she stopped him from smoking suddenly. "It was too drastic, I suppose, when I forced him to give up smoking completely. He had absolutely nothing to do after that."

So where had she been taking her husband for treatment, we asked. Initially, they went to the private hospitals but to spend something like RM900 monthly on medication quickly became very taxing on their resources. Then someone suggested the government hospital instead. Initially there was some trepidation but finally, they went. "The specialist at the government hospital was very patient with us," she recalled. And then she was greatly surprised that the medication proved to be the same as the ones given by the private hospitals. "We're thankful for the government hospital. All that specialist care for only RM5 per visit," she said.

I suppose Alzheimer's would affect each person differently. I have another friend who is similarly afflicted, but so far his wife tells me that only his memory is affected. His short-term memory is almost gone. Yet he wants to pick up a newspaper to read, only to put it down after a few seconds of staring at a page.

As for this present lady's husband, he would get pretty excitable and animated when too many friends come round to their house, and would try to go out. Even the presence of all their grown-up children together could prove too much for him and set off his confusion and aggression. The only remedy was to take him for a short drive around the neighbourhood, even at one o'clock in the middle of the night.

So it had been a rather sobering afternoon for us as we left that old couple. Although not proven, inactivity could be a cause of Alzheimer's. Inactivity could also be the cause for the onset of all kinds of health problems. The lesson, we realised, was that we must keep our minds actively working for as long as we were able. Perhaps, I should start playing more chess after all instead of keeping an arm's length from local chess competitions.

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