An Anniversary I Won’t Forget

Ten years ago today, Kate was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. That led to the most significant life change we’ve ever experienced. That night I made the first entry in the journal that became this blog . I have posted it below with a few of my present thoughts about “Living with Alzheimer’s.”

JANUARY 21, 2011 BY RICHARD CREIGHTON

Getting the Diagnosis

Today Kate and I met with Dr. Reasoner to get the results of Kate’s PET scan. She had gone in for the scan a couple of weeks earlier following a routine appointment with Dr. Reasoner. I went with her for that appointment to give my own impression of Kate’s lapses of memory and to hear what Dr. Reasoner had to say.

Dr. Reasoner suggested that she have a PET scan and a behavioral evaluation by a neurological psychologist. Kate had the scan about 2 weeks ago. On Wednesday of this week, January 19, she had an initial visit with the psychologist. Kate is scheduled to have her evaluation on Wednesday, February 16, at 12:30. She has been told this will take as long as 5-6 hours.

Kate and I have not talked much about the PET scan and the potential results. We both knew what was possible, and I think neither of us wanted to drag ourselves down in worry of the worst news. For the past few days I have had some trouble sleeping and have found myself thinking about how she and I would react if the test came back positive. I am sure that every cancer patient would understand this reaction.

As we went to the appointment, I kept telling myself that we might get good news that the test was negative. That was not the case. Dr. Reasoner presented the results matter-of-factly but not coldly. She said the test did show signs of “early onset Alzheimer’s.” She went on to explain what that meant (the tangles in the brain) and how it can be addressed (initially with Aricept and after a few weeks another drug that has, in the past, been used at later stages of the disease).

Dr. Reasoner told her the average life expectancy for someone who is diagnosed early (the starting part was not and, I suspect, cannot be known) is about 12 years but that she could live much longer. She also gave a few examples of people she had known whose quality of life was good even with the memory loss. She is especially interested in Kate’s behavioral evaluation. That evaluation will determine whether the disease has affected other things than simple memory.

Kate handled the news with a good bit of control and later in our meeting, she said that in some ways, she actually felt relieved to know what was causing her memory problems. Her greatest concern is having to depend on family or professional help to take care of her personal care, something that she feels could be required for a long time should she live as long as her parents.

I tried not to give in to the emotion I felt on receiving the news. At one point as we were discussing Kate’s care in the future, I reached for her hand and tried to assure her but choked up. Dr. Reasoner gave me Kleenex to wipe my eyes.

After leaving Dr. Reasoner’s office, we went to Casa Bella, a restaurant that holds a special place in our hearts. We were introduced to it in the early 70s by one of Kate’s best friends. In the last 10-15 years, however, we have eaten there more frequently. We came there after both of our dogs died. She got her veal piccata and amaretto cheesecake that she loves so much.

We talked briefly about having to decide when to tell our children and friends. We both agreed that now is not the time. We know that once other people know they can’t help but treat you differently, and she doesn’t want that. We are just going to take it a day at a time right now and trust that we will know when we should let it be known. This is going to be very hard for both of us as there are people we might look to for support, but there will be a time for that down the road, hopefully a long time down the road.

At that time, I had no idea of what the future held. We were just determined to make the most of whatever time remained to us. I’m grateful that we’ve been able to do just that. We’ve not only enjoyed life but each other as well. Kate can only live moment-to-moment now, and I mean that literally, but I continue to focus on that initial goal. It has served us well in the past, and I am optimistic that it will do so in the future.

I am mindful that we haven’t done it alone. I’m grateful to a host of people who have lightened our load in numerous ways. They include our healthcare professionals, especially her doctors and their associates, but they extend far beyond them. I’m thinking of family, friends and even strangers who have boosted our spirits so many times in so many ways. I am thankful to those of you who are readers of this blog. You, along with my Twitter friends and fellow AlzAuthors, have given me a focus beyond that of being a caregiver. You have played a key role in keeping me going. I consider all of you as members of my “Caregiver Support Team,” and I thank you.

I also recognize there are many others “Living with Alzheimer’s” who haven’t been as fortunate as we have. Some of you reading this post may be among them. My heart goes out to you. My wish is that you will find your own ways to experience moments of peace and joy in the midst of the inevitable challenges that face all of us who travel this road.

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