Top Five Questions Regarding Alzheimer’s

I spent a lot of time making jokes about things in my life that are actually pretty serious. I mean, even after the miscarriage, I pushed myself to find some way to smile. I take the moments that happen with my uncle and I find the humor buried beneath them. I like to laugh. I find healing in laughter. I learned a long, long time ago that laughing at myself was the best thing I could ever do.

Part of the reason the husband and I work so well together is because he has this same humor-loving trait. The most serious of discussions can find the two of us, hands over mouths, snorting with laughter. It’s not that we don’t care. It’s not that we can’t take anything serious.

It’s how we deal with the constant rain of shit life pours down.

It’s our therapy.

So when we buried his father, we cracked jokes.

When his grandmother was dying in the hospital, we cracked jokes.

After the week from Hell I’ve had, we crack jokes.

But sometimes. . .sometimes I need to make it a little more real. Sometimes I need to address things without so much humor. Of course, there will still be some. Because it’s me and it’s practically wired into who I am.

So here are what I believe are the top five questions I get asked most often, the first one being from my children.

1. Why does he yell at his TV all the time?


Part of this disease involves the inability to tell the difference between what’s real and what isn’t. The part of the brain that helps us navigate the world, see the objects around us and be able to identify them, understand the things we see or smell, is eaten away by this disease. The brain is no longer able to tell that the people on Law and Order aren’t actually right there in the bedroom with you.

2. Does he have Dementia or Alzheimer’s?


Dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s are actual all in the same family. They’re practically the same disease, except they affect different areas of the brain. Where dementia is a relatively normal occurrence for most elderly people, due to the Hippocampus (the part of your brain that houses your short term memory) deteriorating. . .Alzheimer’s is an disease that begins in the Hippocampus and then continues over the course of many years to travel through the rest of the brain.

3. Can’t he just take some medicine?


There are lots of medications out there for Alzheimer’s. The problem is that a lot of these medications can cause really bad side effects, like hallucinations (nothing you want to experience with someone with this disease). Also, this is still a relatively “new” disease. We don’t know enough about it and there is no cure.

4. He makes rude jokes and said a few cuss words. He never used to be that way.


One of the first places this disease travels after leaving the Hippocampus is to the part of the brain that houses the language center. Besides the wild mood swings that can come when dealing with a person with Alzheimer’s, they may find themselves unable to form sentences, make jokes or use language they never would have before. The part of their brain that helped them to speak is being destroyed and so whether it’s a “fuck you” or “I love you”, be happy they are capable of still speaking.

5. He seemed perfectly fine to me.


There are days with no incidents at all. Days when I can speak to him and I think he may actually understand what I’m saying. He has definite clear moments and moments where he is certainly more confused. He has Sun-Downer’s, which means he is most awake in the evening. His mornings are hard. He doesn’t do well the first little while after he’s woken up, but then we can have lunch and discuss politics and he’s right with me. Other times, I’ll have to send him back to his room five times to get changed back into his pajamas, because he’s in a suit again and ready for church at midnight.

People ask/say a lot of different things to me, but my mom showed me this video last night and I think it explains it better than I ever really could. Please take a moment to watch.

I’m going to open the floor up here for the next few weeks or so. If you have someone in your life, or have been affected by Alzheimer’s, and want to share their/your story, please get in touch with me.

We should talk about it. We should share.

And we should never be afraid to laugh.

Herstory Lesson: Learn compassion, even for the things you may not understand.


This morning my uncle and I discussed museums. He remembered taking me to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. We talked about parts of it, things that stood out to us. I asked him if he remembered the shoes.

“You were so young. You stood there crying and I remember that I hugged you.”

He remembered. The shoes hit me hard. I’d made it through the whole museum without losing my composure, until I saw the shoes. I stood there on that balcony and sobbed. My uncle had been my chaperone for that trip. We had taken the longest of any group to walk through the museum. Everyone else was headed to the cafeteria while he held me there. We both cried and looked at the shoes.

I cried again this morning. Not for the shoes, but for his remembrance of a moment that meant something special to me.

Advice from Everyone-Knows-the-Answer-Except-Me

I don’t talk about my uncle here much anymore, and part of me is sorry for that, but part of me understands that I’m at a place where I struggle to find humor in the situation. Alzheimer’s is a disgusting, terrible disease, but my uncle and I share the ability to laugh about most things. The last month or so has been hard as we are moving towards the prospect of putting him into the nursing home.

Let me just say that this is never some decision that is taken lightly. While there is a certain kind of relief in the thought, there is also a ton of guilt.

He’s so young to be there.

He could probably hold out here a bit longer.

It’s not that bad, is it?

Yes. Yes it is. And we can’t give him the kind of care he needs here any longer.

But it never fails that everyone else has an opinion on the matter. Let me explain. When you become a caregiver, everyone else knows the answers to all your problems. They’ve all of a sudden got it all figured out. And their vocal. I mean, people will come out of the woodwork to tell you how to improve your life, fix your situation, and best of all, explain what it will be like to care for someone.

Everyone becomes a doctor specializing in Alzheimer’s.

Everyone becomes a life coach.

Everyone knows the answer except me.

So today I’m bringing you the answers, as given to me countless times by people who aren’t in my situation, aren’t caring for a loved one, aren’t dealing with someone with Alzheimer’s, and doesn’t know what the heck they’re talking about.

Thank you, you egotistical jerks for bringing the laughter back.

1. You should come over? I can’t. I’ve got to stay home with my uncle. Oh he’ll be fine. Just let him stay on his own for a bit. He could probably use some time to himself. It’s got to be hard for him with the kids and all around. He’ll appreciate it.

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Yes, well. Let’s just leave the man in the house alone who has hallucinations and sees people that aren’t there. I’m sure he’ll appreciate it when he’s trying to chase the bad guys out of his room alone. Or when he goes up in the attic to try to find his hunting rifles. Or when he gets mad about the invisible people trying to steal his truck. He obviously just needs some alone time. I’ll bring the hallucinations with me so he can get some rest.

2. He’d probably be happier if you let him do some of the things he used to like to do. 


Of course he would. Tell you what, I’ll pack him up with all his fishing gear and hunting rifles. I’ll dress him in camo and you can just have yourself a blast taking him out to do all the outdoorsy things he used to love. Hell, I’ll even let him drive over and meet you there. . .so you can walk around the woods. . .with a man who can no longer recognize his own reflection in a mirror. Happy hunting.

3. Just put him in a home and move on with your life. You’re too young to be doing this.

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Let me just say how happy it makes me to know that most of the people have this sort of advice. These are the future caregivers. “Just throw them in a home and move on with your life.” Gotcha. I’ll toss my morals, ethics, and soul right into a bag with him. I mean, this is such an easy decision to make, right? Sure. You just make sure you call me when you get older and I won’t beat around the bush. I’ll send you off to Shady Pines in a flash. It’s what you’d want.

4. I talked to him the other day and he seemed just fine. He didn’t even repeat himself much.

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Yes, welcome to the wonders of Alzheimer’s. . .you know. . .that disease we know next to nothing about? Moments of clarity are wonderful little rays of sunshine in an otherwise cloudy mind. You got him on a good day. Good for you! Oh, did he just tell you the same story for the twelfth time? Welcome back to reality.

5. Have you even considered trying him back on medication? He wasn’t on it that long. I think it would benefit him to try again.

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You mean the medications that turned moderately controllable hallucinations into episodes that involved knives and the police being called? Right. I’ll get right on that. . .as soon as my super strength returns and my order of Super Healing Potion comes in from FedEx.

6. Do you know what dementia does to the brain? -Proceeds to give me a long lecture on how the disease effects the brain, the short term memory, emotions, etc.-

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Well aren’t you a happy little font of information. After living with my grandfather who suffered from dementia and now caring for my uncle. . .I really had no clue what this disease was doing, or how it worked. It’s a constant surprise over here. The doctors have told me nothing, and I was never one to learn from my past. It really is good you were here to explain all this to me with your extensive medical knowledge. . .Where did you get your degree again?

7. This can be destructive to a family. You need to just find a way to get him out from your inner circle before it causes problems with the core of the family.

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You don’t say? Get him out of my inner circle? I suppose I should just put him down then, like a dog that might bite my children. In fact, why do we even bother to be caretakers for our sick and our elderly? It’s obvious that it could be draining and cause emotional frustration. We should just stick them somewhere away from us and let them die.

So to all of you who like to have these conversations with  me, I just want to share my and my family’s heartfelt thank you. Now shut up.

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*This post includes a lot of sarcasm. I certainly don’t feel like we shouldn’t care for our sick or elderly, or that they should be euthanized. 

**Also, my uncle has never physically hurt anyone, but part of this disease does involve aggressive behavior, anger management issues, and the belief that everyone is out to “get them”.

Herstory Lesson: If there were a quick fix to every issue, no one would have any problems.