Alzheimer Athlete in Training by David Kramer, M.D.
The Alzheimer’s Support Network in Naples, Florida has asked me to write about my approach to training for when my disease progresses. I am 59 years old and am at least in stage three (maybe inching up on stage four) of this complex disease. As a retired physician, I have researched the hell out of Alzheimer’s and have a pretty good idea of what is heading my way. It’s not pretty.
Tiffany, my wife and caregiver, and I both want me to live at home for as long as possible (at least I think she does). I have no desire to be a burden on her and certainly do not want her to have to put up with the challenging symptoms of the later stages of the disease. I always want to treat her well and be loving to her. I never want to hurt her or make her life difficult. She didn’t sign up for this disease and I can’t stand the thought of her being in pain (either physically or emotionally).
One of the common issues that arises as Alzheimer’s progresses is the inability of the patient to take care of his activities of daily living (ADL’s). That simply sucks, to put it mildly. Although it is significantly more difficult for an Alzheimer’s patient to learn new things, there is substantial evidence that it can be done. It takes more time and energy, and lots of repetition, but it is possible. So I am like an athlete in training. I’m working on developing the “muscle memory” to do my ADL’s (and everything else) without having to think about them.
Routine is key. I make sure I am doing things the same way, in the same sequence every time. When I brush my teeth, I cover every surface in the same order each time. A random approach, while fine for the normal brains among us, cannot be counted on for those of us with Alzheimer’s disease. When I shower, I make sure to clean everything in the same order every damn time. Hit and miss just won’t cut it. My “at home longevity” depends on me making it as easy as possible for Tiffany to put up with, I mean take care of, me.
Routine certainly extends beyond the ADL’s. I put everything in the same place every time. Even my chores (which I love to do, honey) are routine and sequenced. Towels folded. Laundry put away. Dishwasher filled, soap added with measuring spoon conveniently stored on top of box, “on” button pushed, “start” button pushed, dishwasher emptied, contents put away in same order and same place each time. What a pain in the ass. I mean what fun! The key is to make it all routine, everything on autopilot.
Well, there you have it. With any luck I will be a finely tuned Alzheimer Athlete; ready to live longer at home and not become a burden on my wife. To be safe, let’s call me a work in progress!
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