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A Blonde’s Perspective: Is it a normal part of aging, or early onset?

Do you ever think you may have early signs of dementia?

In this edition of the Senior Perspective, I wrote a story regarding the Brainerd Lakes Area Walk to End Alzheimer’s to be held in Brainerd on Sept. 26. I met with the event’s planning committee and also interviewed a few members who have a loved one with the disease or they work or care for people with Alzheimer’s. As a writer, I’ve done several stories on the disease that is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. – a disease with no cure.

In the past year, I took a hiatus from writing feature stories for this newspaper after writing stories nearly every month for the past 12 years. I wanted to write this column instead, as it doesn’t take as much time, I don’t have to travel many miles to do an interview, and I’ve had many blonde blunders (or aging moments) to share in this column. But when Pam Wachholz, the chairperson of the planning committee, asked me to do a story on the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, I did not hesitate to say yes. Three years ago, I wrote a story on the Wachholz family. Pam’s husband, Duane, was diagnosed with the disease nearly seven years ago.

I’m probably not the only one who jokes that I must have Alzheimer’s due to being so forgetful as I age. After not being on the stage for 11 years, last fall I played the role of Mamie Eisenhower in a community theatre comedic production of “Ladies First” in Pine River. I had a difficult time memorizing my lines. I forgot a line or two in each of the three performances, which I can’t ever recall doing when I was in many plays before. But I was able to ad lib, or the younger actresses on stage with me, who weren’t even around when Mamie lived in the White House, covered for me – thank goodness!

The following month during my annual wellness check, I mentioned my frustration in memorizing my lines and the lapses in memory on stage to my doctor. She proceeded to ask me three questions – repeat an address, draw a clock with the time of 1:50, and the third question, which I have forgotten. (See what I mean?) However, I did pass the test, but there are still times that I wonder, do I?

My Aunt Judy has Alzheimer’s, which she told me several times she hoped she would never have. After several falls, the disease has progressed rapidly. She’s 10 years older, but was like a sister, especially when I stayed with her on weekends while attending junior college during the 1960s. She’d make popcorn and we would talk and giggle late into the night. When I was in junior high, she gave me some of her pointed bras that I was never able to fill. She made the best hamburgers by mixing spices and Worcestershire sauce into the beef before making the patties, which I started doing only after she was diagnosed with the disease . . . strange.

She enjoyed reading as she wanted to keep her mind active so she wouldn’t get the disease. She memorized all the state capitals and also had a goal to learn the capitals of all the countries, a goal never reached. She played the organ beautifully, but couldn’t read a note. Request a song, and she figured it out “by ear.” She loved birds, and she and her small parrot, Penny, would carry on a conversation. I loved watching them interact! Her Christmas cards always included a feather from Penny.

I visited my aunt earlier this year, but she didn’t converse. She has lost a great deal of weight and no longer walks. She sat in her wheel chair at the nursing home with her eyes closed and head hanging down. But her daughter, Dawn, said she was able to hear. So as Dawn and I spoke and laughed about our younger days and what we thought our mothers didn’t know about us, I asked my aunt, “I bet there’s a lot you do know about us, right Judy?” At that moment, she lifted her head, opened her eyes which focused right on me. Her mouth turned up slightly as if to smile. But then her eyes closed and her head hung low again.

We laughed with excitement to her response, and I told her, “You are in there, Judy! You know what we’re talking about!” There was no response. Tears welled in my eyes as I said good-bye to her, wondering if it would be the last time. But she is still with us and I hope to see her soon before the snow flies, but I’ll never hear her giggle again

I hope and pray I am never diagnosed with this disease. I don’t want my children or grandchildren to see me in that state of living in another world.

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