Taking the person but leaving the body behind

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    My grandfather was a brilliant man. Many children may say that they want to be a firefighter or an astronaut when they grow up, but not very many of them live up to their young statements. My grandfather however, at the age of five, knew he wanted to be a Veterinarian when he grew up.

    And so he did. In fact, my grandfather skipped two years of school and graduated high school at the age of sixteen. He went straight on to veterinarian medical school and graduated at such a young age that it was not legal for him to practice solo for the first year. Being a veterinarian was just one of the many accomplishments my grandfather achieved. He was also the town major in the town he practiced medicine and resided. Yet, being a town mayor was chicken feed compared to him being in the Minnesota State Senate. My grandfather made a good amount of money, but it can not be credited to doing autopsies in the ally way behind his house, but to the wise financial investments he made over the years.

    My grandfather was not a wonderful man simply for his brilliance alone; he also had a great heart. He believed in helping out others in need. There are many things I miss about my grandfather, like his jokes, stories, and card playing. I am missing him right now as I sit writing. However, some times I miss him the most when I am sitting in front of him and talking to him; reminding him that I am Chelsea. No matter how brilliant my grandfather was, no matter how much money he made, or how many people he helped; there is no way for him to think or buy his way out of Alzheimer’s disease.

    Alzheimer’s disease is defined as, “a devastating illness characterized by progressive memory loss, impaired thinking, neuropsychiatric symptoms (eg, hallucinations, delusions), and inability to perform routine tasks of daily living” (Lehne, 2007, 198). My grandfather’s definition is that, “my brain is rotting in my head.” However, Alzheimer’s disease is a little more complicated than “brain rot”.

    The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not known. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease range from mild to extreme and generally appear in stages. Mild symptoms may include confusion and short term memory loss; disorientation, such as getting lost in familiar surroundings; problems with routine tasks such as inability to perform mathematical problems or comprehend abstract thought; and changes in personality and judgment (which can be a safety concern). Moderate symptoms include, difficulty with activities of daily living, such as feeding and bathing; anxiety, suspiciousness, and agitation; sleep disturbances; wandering, pacing; and difficulty recognizing family and friends. Severe symptoms include inability to perform activates of daily living, such as eating, dressing, and bathing which requires total dependence on a care giver. At this stage, the victim is unable to remember how to walk, toilet, or swallow, and use minimal to no communication (Lehne, 2007, 200).

    My grandfather is in the mild symptoms stage, but also presents some of the moderate symptoms. When visiting with my grandfather last summer at the lake, I left the room to change into my bathing suit. Upon returning not five minutes later, my grandfather asked me who I was. He will often ask if he is at his house in town or if he is at the lake cabin. Several times he has stated that he is on his way to visit his mother at the nursing home—she has been dead for at least fourteen years. But, what broke my heart the most was when he asked my grandmother “are you my wife?” Some days are better than others. Some days he remembers and other days it is like he is in the past, stuck behind a thick fog. I fear for the time when that fog will roll in forever.

    My second semester of nursing school I was assigned to a patient whom I spent an hour chasing around the hospital trying to convince him, then pleading with him to return to his room. He had Alzheimer’s disease, more advanced than my grandfather’s, which scared me because I felt like I was staring into the eyes of the future.

    Treatment for Alzheimer’s disease includes environmental structuring and drug therapy. According to pharmacologist Richard Lehne, this is achieved by using cholinesterase inhibitors, which modestly improve cognition, behavior, and function, and slightly delays disease progression (Lehne, 2007, 200). But until a drug can be created that completely eradicates this disease, people will continue to loose their loved ones, even though their bodies remain.

    References
    Lehne, R. A. (2007). Pharmacology for nursing care (6th ed.). St. Louis, Missouri: Saunders Elsevier.
    Lewis, S. M., Heitkemper, M. M., & Dirksen, S. R. (2004). Medical ~ surgical nursing assessment and management of clincal problems (6th ed.). St. Louis, Missouri: Mosby
    Last edit by HeartsOpenWide on Jan 20, '08
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    3 Comments

  3. by   grinsngripe
    the saddest of all..
    just wanted you know this was read and appreciated.
    god bless all those who love and work with alzheimers patients.
  4. by   ninia214
    nice article...
  5. by   RanieRN
    Alzheimer's is indeed a devastating illness. One of the hardest things we do on our geropsych unit is educating (or trying to) families about the progression of the disease. It's hard to tell which is sadder sometimes, watching the patient progress through the disease or watching their spouse of 50-something years finally accept their loved one will never "come back".

    I hope your grandfather's journey through it is a peaceful one.

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