Monday, February 23, 2009

A Cruel Disease

My Dad is a mess. There is no other way to describe it.
Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2006. Actually, he has Early Onset Alzheimer’s also referred to as Familial Alzheimer’s Disease.
Dad is now 66 and has no recollection of the past 50 years or more. He doesn’t know anyone and every five minutes seems to be a new day.
I think the reason Dad’s health declined so much, so quickly is due to the fact that he rode bulls for years. He was big into rodeo and suffered head trauma on several occasions. You can imagine what being thrown from a bull (with no helmet and no pad on the neck and shoulders) over and over will do to you.
My sister and I certainly hope that is the case. It is a daily worry for us just as it is with those of you who have family members with the disease.
Dad is a shadow of his former self. His motor skills decline monthly. He’s weak and slender. He can still speak, but I imagine that too will be coming to an end.
Dad now lives in Memphis Convalescent Center. They have an Alzheimer’s Unit there and I cannot describe the peace-of-mind they allow us to have.
He was a resident at Childress Healthcare Center for a few months. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s patients require unique attention and a lot of it. They usually end up in a facility geared to handle them, hence the need to move him.
For those of you who feel like you or a loved one might be at risk of developing Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, doctors around the world recommend incorporating strategies which can delay the disease’s rapid progression. It’s nothing fancy - just using your mind more.
Here are some suggestions I found at
• Take up a new hobby.
• Read more and wider.
• Reminisce.
• Become part of a discussion group.
• Research things you’ve always wanted to know.
• Take up chess, crosswords and other thinking pastimes.
• Write about your life.
• Concentrate more on what is happening around you.
• Go on cultural outings (museums, art galleries, concerts, etc).
Beyond stimulating your brain in new ways, there are also ways to improve your memory. They include:
• Make a conscious effort to increase your concentration while trying to absorb new information.
• Where possible try to use all your senses (sight, sound, touch, smell and taste) to form a memory.
• Keep a positive ‘I can do this’ attitude.
• Avoid distractions.
• Be patient. It’s okay to learn things bit by bit.
• Constantly go over what you have learned in your head or in conversation till it becomes automatic.
• Find a way to connect new memories to old ones, this works well with word/visual association.
Finally, I would suggest loving those around you as much as possible. I cannot possibly fathom a day when I cannot remember my sons, but there may indeed come such a day. Trust me, I’ll do all I can to keep it from being the case, but this disease is on the rise.
That being the case, I will hold my family until I can no longer lift them and I will do the necessary things to keep myself as sharp as possible. If you are worried, I suggest you do the same. The loving part is guaranteed to make your immediate life better if nothing else.

Copyright Christopher Blackburn 2008


Amanda KP said...

i am so sorry you are having to watch your dad go through this...
thanks for this heartfelt post!!
i am praying for you and all of your family!!!!

Sharon said...

Great post honey! I love you!

Christopher Blackburn said...

Thanks so much for the kind words.

Shawn Stone said...

Well done, Chris. I love you!

Christopher Blackburn said...

Thanks Sis

Denise said...

Hi old friend,
Remember me (Denise Wilks)from your grandfather's day's at the Index? We had some fun times!

I have enjoyed reading your column in the Wellington Leader. It is neat to see the "grown up family man" that the friend of my 20's has become.

I am very sorry to hear about your dad's disease and about losing you mother. I remember that you were very close to your family and I can't imagine how difficult it would be to go through both things in such rapid succession.

You have a beautiful family. Your boys sound like a lot of fun. We have 3 girls so boys are pretty much a mystery to me.

Take care, Christopher!
Denise Saltz

Christopher Blackburn said...

Denise - of course I remember you! Thanks for the sweet words. I'll be honest, my wife and sons give me a strength I could not otherwise muster.

So glad to hear from you and about your life. I always thought you were most deserving of such!


PS: Girls are a mystery to me. Boys are a snap. Sometimes with I had a little Daddy's girl though - that would be amazing!