For John MacInnes, the beginnings of Alzheimer’s disease were startling. The
retired executive and former pastor in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., first realized
something was wrong as he was delivering a PowerPoint presentation to a
community group. “Then in mid-sentence, I had problems,” he says. “I had a
well-rehearsed script in front of me, but I couldn’t get the words right,
couldn’t get them out. That kind of shook me up.”
Memory loss and impaired thinking are hallmark symptoms of this disease. But
MacInnes was fortunate in one respect. He was diagnosed at an early stage,
which enabled him to take steps to cope with memory loss, organize his daily
life, and plan for his future by making his express wishes known to loved ones
who can carry them out.
There are about 10 million people in the U.S. -- mostly women – who have chosen to take care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a grueling job in itself, but many aren’t only caregiving. They’re also raising kids of their own -- and maybe working – at the same time.
“You’re already a parent to your children, and then suddenly you have to become a caregiver to your parent,” says Donna Schempp, LCSW, program director at the Family Caregiver Alliance in San Francisco. “It’s very hard to...
Shortly after that unsettling presentation, MacInnes, who was 80 years old
at the time, consulted his doctor. He was having trouble managing multiple
tasks, something he had always been able to do well. He also became confused
while driving in new areas. After being evaluated, he learned that he had
Alzheimer’s, a progressive brain disease that destroys brain cells and causes
memory loss, confusion, thinking problems, and personality changes.
Like many who receive an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, MacInnes felt fear and
sadness. “I went through that struggle for several weeks, feeling sorry for
myself and asking why did this have to happen to me? In the middle of that, I
wrote myself a little poem -- something I had never done before -- and I
titled it, ‘ALZ Is Not About Me.’ Looking back, that’s probably the point when
I began to concentrate on leaving self-pity behind me and focusing on learning
more about Alzheimer’s.”
As he writes in his poem, “My shining days may be dimming, for sure, but
life for me is not done/May God grant me peace, whatever those sunset days may
Despite his new attitude, the gradual loss of independence has been
frustrating, says MacInnes, now 82. For example, he can no longer drive long
distances, but must limit himself to short drives to familiar places.
Alzheimer’s Memory Loss
In the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, patients have mild
decline in mental functioning. For example, they may read something but retain
very little of the information. Or family, friends, and co-workers may notice
that they struggle to recall words or names.
In mid-stage Alzheimer’s, major memory and thinking problems emerge. People
may forget important information, such as their address or phone number, and
they may become confused about their whereabouts.
In the severe or late stages, some patients become agitated, depressed, or
have hallucinations. They lose their ability to speak and control movement and
become incapable of responding to their surroundings. People can live from
three to 20 years with Alzheimer’s, but on average, they die four to six years