But I Already Have My Lipstick On:  Our story of dealing with Alzheimers

Chapter Nine

During 1996, after two years of memory and ability issues and an obvious decrease in Belle’s overall functionality, which forced us to create methods to monitor her and assist her, we decided that the doctor that Belle had been seeing for years did not want to believe she could really have a problem.    Even with repeated office visits and her inability to follow time and answer questions posed of her, no additional tests were ordered or conducted.  We no longer believed the behavior we were witnessing was normal aging. Scott decided to seek a second opinion and we discussed the potential change in doctors with Belle.  She was aware something was ‘wrong’ and was willing to visit with another doctor if Scott thought another doctor would be able to help her.   So Scott set up and accompanied her to the appointment.

Based on Belle’s abilities, the doctor recommended several tests, physical and mental.  It was obvious she had reduced abilities and it was important to rule out a physical reason.  Over the next few weeks, the requested tests were performed. When all the results came in, the answer was consistent with what we had begun to fear.  There was not a physical reason for her loss of memory and function.  It was not normal aging.   It was dementia of an Alzheimer’s nature. 

With a diagnosis in hand, we now needed help with retaining and maximizing her abilities. We located a doctor that specialized in geriatric issues that was located not to far from our home and made an appointment for Belle.   Scott and I accompanied her to the appointment.

I know this may sound outrageous, especially after listing all the problems we had witnessed with Belle’s memory and function, but this appointment really opened my eyes regarding how far down the path of ability decline and memory loss Belle had traveled.  As one can ascertain by all the previous chapters, we knew something was wrong and we had created systems to protect and assist Belle in every way that seemed to be required.  But sitting with Belle in the doctor’s office that day, for moral support from my point of view, listening to the simple questions asked of Belle and watching her struggle with answers to questions that were specific to her life and family history, I was surprised and dismayed. 

As the doctor and nurse began to ask questions about Belle’s life and medical history, the problem became the elephant in the room that no one wants to mention.  It was very clear that she could not recall information she had always known.  How many children do you have?  Four she said and then glanced at me for confirmation.  Five, I whispered while holding up my hand to display the number five.   How old are you?  She couldn’t recall and guessed a few years younger than she was.  Personal medical history, family medical history of heart problems, memory problems, etc.   No problems that she knew about, followed by a glance at me with a beseeching look.   Both her parents had medical problems that she was well aware of and certainly had known in the past.  As the doctor completed the standard questioning in a calm and reassuring manner, we stayed in the room with her as she incorrectly answered or did not offer an answer for each question posed.  Sometimes she offered a nervous laugh as a response versus a verbal reply. We provided the answers to the questions she could not provide and corrected information when her answer was impartial or not correct.   I felt defensive during this process, feeling the need to protect Belle from the doctor and his questions.  It became difficult as the questions progressed to allow her to attempt to answer at all.  We began to answer for her to save her the strain.  It was one issue for her to be confused in private with people who cared for her and could protect her, but quite another for her to be confused and unable to answer questions in this, more public and unprotected, manner.   It was a personal reaction to Belle’s plight I had not expected of myself. 

Over the next few weeks, Belle worked with professionals for memory and task testing and had numerous other diagnostic tests completed. The doctor recommended she be placed on a memory medication commonly used for Alzheimer’s patients and that we were told might help to stabilize her abilities. We agreed.  For us, the diagnosis and subsequent report of her abilities was confirmation of the worse possible outcome.  We thought we had a good idea what the diagnosis meant.  We were naïve and although we did not know it at the time, unprepared.