LOSING A LOVED ONE TO ALZHEIMER’S

Someone to Watch Over Me“– starring Tom Rodriguez (as TJ) and Lovi Poe (as Joanna) — is a GMA-7 drama series that tells the story of a young couple who had a wild and passionate whirlwind romance, fell madly in love with each other, got married, had a child, and were living a happy and comfortable life until something terrible happened that could shatter them, and their love, forever.

The young man, TJ, was diagnosed with Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Initially, he became noticeably forgetful and increasingly irritable. Then, he would get lost while driving along a commonly traveled route. He also became paranoid, which was adversely affecting his relationship with the people around him. This forced him to quit his job. Soon, he would become disoriented, losing his sense of time and place. He was constantly terrified of what memories he would lose next and this drove him to bouts of depression. He also became erratic and violent.

The one thing he and his wife were dreading happened when there came this one time when all he could remember was his past, momentarily obliterating his memory of his present life. He couldn’t recognize even his wife, their son and his father. He got imprisoned in a time when he was still in love with another girl, when his mother was still around, and when his relationship with his father was still broken. This episode soon became attacks –unprovoked sometimes- that would come on an alarmingly increasing frequency.

Too tragic, right? That can’t possibly happen in real life.

Sadly, though, it can.

And it does.

Alzheimer’s is an irreversible and degenerative brain disease. It causes a decline in thinking, memory and reasoning abilities. It is known to affect adults 65 years and older, though about 5% of Alzheimer’s patients show symptoms between ages 30 and 40. This rare occurrence is what is known as early-onset (or younger-onset) Alzheimer’s disease.

Presently, there is no cure yet for Alzheimer’s. Some interventions may slow the progression of the disease, but the continual decline cannot be stopped.

Mommy Marieta Tan was 68 years old when she got lost in the public market she used to frequent. She couldn’t remember where she was or how to get home. (It was a good thing she was recognized by some neighbors who helped her out.) Her children also noticed their mother avoiding the kitchen —which was odd because, as a Kapampangan, she loved to cook and she was always preparing all these delicious and elaborate meals and snacks for her family.

It turned out that she completely forgot how to cook!

She became afraid to even try to work in her kitchen again. She grew depressed and would often find herself in her room, shying away from any kind of social contact.

She completely shut down.

When her children brought her to the doctor, she was asked some very basic questions about the day, date, month and year. When she couldn’t correctly answer, she was diagnosed with mild Alzheimer’s disease right away.

It took her some time to adjust to her health condition—and to the ensuing reversal of roles that all the members of her family had to adapt to.

Mommy Marieta was used to staying on top of things around the house. Their home was her domain, the domestic chores her area of expertise, and serving and taking care of her family was her ultimate mission in life. So when Alzheimer’s started to rear its ugly head, she was inevitably distraught. Her home became a constant reminder of the things she could no longer remember and the tasks she could no longer complete on her own. Instead of providing solace and refuge as it used to, it transformed itself into a long, dark, menacing alley where all kinds of dangers may be lurking in the shadows. Her chores that were once a familiar source of joy and comfort for her became a confusing labyrinth where she could easily get lost in. Where she was used to serving her family before, she became a “burden” to them because of Alzheimer’s.

In her effort to understand and help her mom, one of the daughters, Marites, tried to learn everything there is to know about the disease.

 

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Mommy Marieta with one of her daughters, Marites

Mommy Marieta’s condition requires that she has a constant companion, so Marites brings her to the grocery store which she manages for the family. That way, she could look after her mom around the clock. She also learned that, to help Alzheimer’s patients maintain their mental function, control their behavior, and slow the progression of the disease, they have to stay mentally engaged and socially active as possible. So Marites lets her mother manage the cash register under supervision. She also encourages her to talk about the past. Marieta could still vividly remember her childhood and her wedding. She also enjoys talking with the employees and customers, stacking up displays, and helping tidy up the place.

It is important that Marieta stick to her daily routine.

Also, Marites makes sure that her mom regularly takes her medicine and eats only healthy foods. She enrolled in cooking classes to help her provide her mother with a wider variety of dish choices. She also put up a Facebook page, Mom’s Recipes Deleted by Alzheimer’s, in honor of her mother’s culinary genius that is now forever lost to her dreadful disease. Marieta relishes and takes pride in the fact that Marites and another daughter are quite good in the kitchen. Her children hope that their efforts somehow alleviate their mother’s guilt at not being able to cook for them anymore.

Since there’s still no cure for Alzheimer’s, the best that the Tans could do for their mother is to see to it that she feels loved and that she is constantly surrounded with affection.

All her five children and five grandchildren pay Marieta a visit as often as possible and spend as much time with her. In the face of her short-term memory loss, they show her only patience. Even if they are aware that Marieta would, one day, forget all of them and all their happy memories together, they want her to enjoy the moments of here and now because, after all, that is the only thing guaranteed in this world not just for the Alzheimer’s patients, but for all of us. And Marites and her family are just grateful that they are given this chance -this extended time- to shower their beloved mother with all the love in the world

….before Mommy Marieta is finally, completely and irrevocably claimed by the identity and memory thief, the Alzheimer’s disease.

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