Irene Frances Olson writes from passion and experience. She was her father’s caregiver during his struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, and would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Having previously worked in memory care, she was not new to the disease, nor was her family immune. Irene hopes to make a difference in the lives of others by writing novels that encourage and support those who just might need another person in their corner.
By Irene Frances Olson
My extraordinary father died on October 13, 2007 after a relatively short five-year Alzheimer’s journey. It wasn’t one of those short and sweet occurrences, but I am well aware that many patients’ disease journeys take far longer, so I take comfort in the fact that although his experience with Alzheimer’s and my caregiving for him was difficult, many caregivers endure far more difficult situations.
While my father was alive, I didn’t worry about whether or not my brain would eventually take on the tell-tale characteristics of his brain disease, and that’s a good thing. My days and nights were filled with tasks and concerns so overwhelming, there was no bandwidth available to add the fear of succumbing to my dad’s disease on top of everything else.
But when a parent is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia, it is quite normal for the biological adult child to wonder if they too will suffer the same fate. As of this writing, there is still no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and at best, its treatments are lacking. Experiencing a parent’s disease process certainly draws attention to one’s own cognitive fragility.
It wasn’t until several years after my father’s death that I questioned each and every memory lapse and/or inability to come up with the appropriate word for a given situation. It didn’t help that I was put on a medication for an unrelated condition that caused cognitive decline for two years. I thought for sure I was following in my father’s brain footsteps…until I went off that medication and my cognitive abilities returned to pre-medication status. What a relief!
But even without any offending medication on which to blame my now infrequent cognitive abnormalities, I am still hyper-alert to instances where I can’t come up with the appropriate word and end up describing what I am trying to say, instead of using the actual word. I am reminded of when my father turned to me one afternoon and said, “Let’s get in that box where we push a button and go to a different floor and go grab some lunch.” How the heck can it be easier to use numerous words to get one’s point across rather than coming up with the word elevator? I’ve discovered it’s actually quite easy to do so.
Let me tell you how I assure myself I am not on the road to an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
Sure, I forget words, I sometimes use the wrong words, and countless times I walk into a room, firm in my intent, only to get there, look around, and completely forget my motivation for going there, but I still astound myself with being able to logically and intelligently get my point across in one-on-one conversations and in groups. I manage my household’s finances with perfection; I help run a 501 (c)(3) organization that I recently set up on my own as a non-profit (I don’t run it on my own, but I sure got us to that hard-to-come-by financial and legal non-profit status); I make complicated travel arrangements for my husband’s and my trips and even manage to make some solo trips on my own when required by business.
I’ve got it all together…don’t I?
Who the heck knows? The fickle finger of dementia could be having its way with my brain right this very minute as I pound away on my keyboard trying to convince you, and myself, that nothing is wrong with my cognitive and executive functions.
You see, no one has a clue how long we are destined to be on this earth. No one knows whether dementia, cancer, or any number of horrific diseases out there will personally touch us. We can go through life as careful as can be, minding our own business, doing all we can to stay healthy and live long lives, and be struck down walking across the street or driving to the grocery store for that one item on the shopping list we forgot to place in our cart.
Fear of the unknown and worry won’t improve my day-to-day existence, will they?
Nope. So, while doing all I can to escape a dreaded disease in which I was intimately involved on behalf of my father, I will adopt the following philosophy and hope I can live it and not just hope for it where Alzheimer’s and other dementia are concerned.
If it can be solved, there’s no need to worry,
and if it can’t be solved, worry is of no use”– Dalai Lama
Irene’s novel, Requiem for the Status Quo depicts the challenges of caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s but within those challenges, she stands firm that even our failures teach us something grand. Ms. Olson is on the Management Team of the 501(c)(3) non-profit, AlzAuthors, an organization that through a digital platform and community events, uses the art of storytelling to light the way for those impacted by Alzheimer’s disease. For updates on the author’s current projects, please visit www.irenefrancesolson.com, or on Facebook: @RedmondWriter.