Nine years ago, my wonderful nan was diagnoses with Alzheimer's. In spite of a good 18 months plus of knowing in our hearts that the 'A' word as we called it, was the cause of nan's forgetfulness and confusion, her diagnosis was still a shock, if not a surprise.
My grandad is a strong man, a hard-working and committed family man who will do anything for those he loves and that is why, for the time prior to nan's diagnosis and for 8 years following it, he was her main carer.
Media coverage in recent months will inform you that Alzheimer's affects more women than men but also that 60% of those caring for a loved one with the disease are women. Do those statistics matter? Does it make it easier for my grandad that he's in the minority? No. Do male patients matter more or less than female ones because they are a minority? No.
Alzheimer's is bloody awful. It strikes men and women, it strikes the rich, the poor and anywhere in between. It robs patients of their most treasured memories and friends and family of their loved one. Without discrimination or mercy it rages through a person's entire being, stealing not only their memory but their faculties. To anyone who thinks that Alzheimer's is as simple as memory loss, I implore to keep reading. As the disease takes a hold it strikes the ability to learn, to eat, to walk, to talk. Wires in the brain become crossed so that kisses suddenly become bites and and swallowing becomes choking.
My dear, sweet nan has bitten. She has wandered aimlessly and would have done so into potentially dangerous situations had my faithful grandad not remained on 24 hour alert. Not just one 24 hour period, but every single one, each 'shift' beginning the moment the last one ended.
No, statistics of how many males versus females are affected mean nothing. The reality of being responsible for the person you love on a relentless and continuous basis, of watching as bit by bit Alzheimer's takes over them and destroys everything you love about them, of having no choice but to find a nursing home for fear of one day not waking up in time, not getting there quick enough, not having the strength. That is what matters, male or female.
There is support and there us ongoing research. I recently ran my first ever 10k to raise money for the Alzheimer's Society and I will continue to do fundraising for them, but when push comes to shove, this country is ill-equipped to deal with the rising life expectancy of its people and the health needs that come along with older age. The majority of care for Alzheimer's patients falls to their loved ones and it is those carers who need the emotional support. If you know someone who is caring for someone with Alzheimer's then please, offer them a break, offer them a meal, offer them a listening ear. Let them know they're not alone.
The best way I can describe seeing a loved one slowly fade away because of Alzheimer's is that it's a continuous grieving process. Every time something about them dies, you grieve all over again. This can potentially go on for years, decades.
It is emotional torture.
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