My Alzheimer's Fight: Adjust, Adapt, Push On
A former newsman chronicles another chapter in his struggle with dementia
My right thumb has developed a mind of its own.
Quite without warning it began to beat a rat-a-tat-tat drum solo. I watched, fascinated.
Could I will it to cease? No.
Could I make it speed up. To my delight, yes.
It held me enthralled. It seemed to be contagious, spreading through the hand and then jumping over to the other hand, as though doing backflips.
Amazing, absolutely amazing. I was so absorbed that I never thought to think it might be something dangerous.
The man in the white lab coat has the answer.
Involuntary contractions of the muscles.
What causes this? Fatigue, he says. Stress. Any number of neurological possibilities.
I have gone my whole life without tremors, and then one day it's dropped in my lap, an unwanted package. Who could wish this annoyance on me?
My nemesis, Alzheimer's.
Another Consequence of 'Al'
Yes, confirms the man in the white lab coat, in all likelihood it's connected. But he calls it a "fine motor tremor," not what's known as the high-amplitude tremor of Parkinson's. And, he adds, this isn't Parkinson's.
It is not life-threatening. I'm to watch it. Let him know if there are changes. Beyond that, learn to live with it.
That's the key.
Don't concede an inch to Al.
So now we face life with tremors. The shakes. Mostly it's a series of inconveniences and frustrations.
Like, say, soup.
I recall a poem: Many a slip tween spoon and lip.
Al has a ball with my shakes. My 2-year-old great-grandson watches with interest from his high chair as I have a large bib draped over me. Pop-Pop and Liam, side by side, reenact the closing of the Circle of Life. He offers me one of his French fries.
A tip: Avoid peas. You can't balance them on your spoon and when you try to spear them with your fork you chase after them like the Flyers madly pursuing the puck on a power play.
When the shakes came, I was embarrassed to eat or drink in public.
Spill a glass? Upend a salad? No thank you.
Look like a drunk? Have people point and stare? No thank you.
Try to balance a tray while trying to negotiate the dreaded buffet line? No thank you.
I can do quite nicely without being a public spectacle, thank you very much.
Ah, but I will not be allowed to wallow in self-pity. They gang up on me. A wife of 52 years. Two sons. Two grandsons. A great-grandson. I am blessed with a support group that is close at hand and ever vigilant. You did for us, they tell me, and now it's our turn to do for you.
I felt a catch in my throat and a familiar moisture in my eyes. They are attentive but firm.
Remember the mantra: Adapt. Adjust. Never give in.
Take that, Al.
And pass me a bib. Extra large, please.
With your tremors tap-tap-tapping at warp speed, try to tie your shoelaces. Thank you, whoever invented Velcro.
Of course that still leaves the socks. And the assumption that you have the right foot where the right foot goes. And the left foot — look, I'm happy if I can average three for 10. That gets you in the Hall of Fame, right?
It seems to be hit or miss. One time I may be able to zip right on through, capturing and taming the dancing buttons and slipping effortlessly into both armholes. And on the very same go-round, I try to cram both legs into the same leg opening and end up doing a hip-hopping Peg Leg Bates impersonation and narrowly avoid serious injury to certain delicate portions of the lower anatomy with a zipper gone wild.
The shakes, I reflect, are educational. You learn new words.
And I wonder, could we charge admission to watch me try to dress?
Once upon a time, and not so very long ago, I prided myself on my penmanship. I told myself it was a harmless bit of vanity.
And then gradually, it began to wither and die. No matter which one I tried, pens were enveloped by the shakes. My notes, long a source of pride, slowly dissolved and shrank and began to look like the Dead Sea Scrolls, finally becoming virtually unreadable.
Even with a high-powered magnifying glass, no matter how I squinted and strained, I couldn't decipher what I had written.
I resorted to printing. In large capital letters. And even then that arrangement left me teeth-grindingly frustrated.
The man in the white lab coat spoke with urgency as he recommended that I hand over check-writing and all the financial attendants to someone else, someone trustworthy, someone familiar with our plight.
At our age, he said, we were vulnerable to making mistakes that could be devastating. Also, we are inviting prey to fast-talking predators who are selling beachfront property in Arizona.
A Little Help
So we took his advice. Our son John, who already had our power of attorney and our living wills, is now in charge. There was a twinge of — well, of what exactly I don't know — when we made the transfer.
But almost immediately I felt a sense of enormous relief. The checkbook is balanced. The bills are paid on time. And that dark cloud of dreading another round of check-writing and bill-paying has been lifted. I'm free.
And now when the smooth talkers call to tell me I have won a sweepstakes lottery I never entered and all I need to do to collect my prize is give them my Social Security number, I sic 'em on Al.