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  • Writer's pictureRichard Portugal

Alzheimer's: A Dark Despair

Imagine descending down a ladder into a limitless well, a darkened abyss whose

depth is unknown and whose bottom is a chaotic mystery. You do not wish to

descend, but you are powerless; your feet continue to gingerly step on each lower

rung, as if they had a mind of their own -- but not your mind! Each lower rung

brings greater disorientation and desperation. Fear and confusion rule while sanity

silently slips away as sand through a grate. A pervasive dark engulfs you as light

and sound escape your ability to recall; your chaotic thoughts and senses no longer

aid you to navigate this world, but rather are a harbinger of a complete loss of

identity. Your mind is destroyed; your sense of self vaporizes into the ether. Your

human soul evaporates as your feet continue to descend the ladder into mindless


Alzheimer’s is this thief of souls; it sits at the bottom of the well beckoning its

helpless prey, laying claim to its domain through each mind it destroys. The

disease is not satiated with the souls that drown in its mire, but insidiously spreads

its destruction to the very families and caregivers of the afflicted. It destroys the

very structure of the mind and consumes the very foundation of the family. It is a

disease like no other; it has a mind of its own!

Yet, are we helpless against this disease? Is its ability to destroy inexorable? Can

we not as a society offer aid and assistance to those who are sinking? Can we not

prepare at all for this unremitting pit as Baby Boomers and Gen X’s age?

We have some, albeit scant, knowledge of this carnivorous beast. Research centers

on the neurons in the brain and their synopses. Amyloids are proteins produced by

the human body, yet research suggests they are intimately involved in the disease’s

progress. They form plaques which build up in the spaces between nerve cells and

act almost like glue in preventing electrical impulse’s normal flow. Another

protein called tau builds up inside the nerve cells causing twisted fibers called

tangles. This abnormal amount of proteins, it is thought, causes Alzheimer’s

memory loss and ultimate death of billions of brain neurons.

The truth, however, is that we know relatively little about Alzheimer’s causes and the medical community to date can offer no cures. And so we shake our heads and proffer sympathy for those afflicted and their families. We wring our hands and offer prayers for those who tell of their descent down the well’s ladder.

A couple has been married forty years with three children and five

grandchildren, one only six months old. The husband was diagnosed with

Alzheimer’s ten years ago and has recently expressed uncooperative and

threatening behavior. He no longer knows his wife, his children or grandchildren.

He no longer knows himself. Just last week, awakening beside his wife at 3 AM, he

rose and violently berated his terrified wife and threatened to kill her. The family

can no longer leave him with his six month old grandchild nor trust him with any

activity, from getting dressed, going to the bathroom or even eating. The wife has

difficulty finding qualified health care aides and simply cannot afford, either

monetarily or emotionally, to institutionalize her husband. There is little help from

the medical healthcare community whose resources are stretched precariously

thin. The husband is climbing down the ladder into the dark beyond and his wife

and family are succumbing to the pull from the well.

A favorite aunt was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s three years ago. Never

married, she chose a career path that led to CEO status at a large corporation.

Forgetfulness and erratic behavior necessitated her retirement and her savings

went into her care management. It has cost her family over $150,000 per year to

care for a person who has no memories of herself, of her glory years or of her

family. Everyone is a stranger, including the reflection in the mirror. She is an

empty shell of raw emotions; of fears and uncertainties; of reservations and

doubts. Within a minute’s time, she can display 10 mood changes from laughter to

violent lashing out. She is firmly entrenched in the quagmire that is at the bottom

of the well. There is no escape, no relief and no answers.

A man grew up in Texas and spent his life riding and ranching—an authentic

cowboy who was tough, independent and the modern day equivalent of the Western

hero we all admire. Yet, with this malicious disease, he could not draw his gun for

defense or tame this bucking progressive diseased bronco.

He now sits in a healthcare facility, cared for by concerned relatives and brave caregivers, yet having no memories of herding cattle, camping around a campfire on a starry night, or wearing chaps and belts with gleaming buckles. He has forgotten how to ride a horse and his ranching days have evaporated into the ether. His ladder has reached the bottom of Alzheimer’s well. He can only sit, not knowing himself or

others. So how do we as a society respond to these poor souls? How do we as a society prepare ourselves for the increasing onslaught and growth of this disease?

How do we lift the ladder from the well?

We require far more research! To help those afflicted and their families, we need

far more societal involvement; we need far more support to those affected; we need

far more trained caregivers; and we need far more institutional strength to

overcome the tremendous power of the well. Every moment we delay, another

ladder is lowered into the well. The next ladder could belong to your family!

Submitted by Richard Portugal, Fitness Senior Style, LLC, 201-937-4722

Copyright © 2018 Richard J. Portugal All rights reserved.

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