Perhaps the cruelest aspect of Alzheimer's is that it robs families of their loved ones before they are truly gone. Loss of memories and physical abilities frustrates patients and pains family. Every health professional who works with Alzheimer's looks forward to the day when patients can be told there is a cure.
I had one last thing to do in London before going home to my parents in Hampshire, and that one thing is to visit my mother-in-law. My MiL is in the grips of Alzheimer's disease. She does not recognise me. She lives in a world where her parents are still very much alive, where she still goes to work. I no longer exist in her world.
We're living longer. In just the last two decades, average life expectancy has risen by four years. But living longer doesn't necessarily mean living healthier: half of these extra years of life are marred by pain and trips to the doctor due to chronic conditions like diabetes, cancer, joint pain, asthma, osteoporosis, stroke and heart disease...
Progress is urgently needed in understanding Alzheimer's disease and in finding effective treatments. Available drugs can help stabilise memory loss and confusion for a few months in about half of patients, but no preventative treatments exist and none that slow the inexorable development of the disease.
When I sang old tunes, such as "What a Wonderful World," Herb would calm down and smile. At the end of each song he clapped loudly, even though I told him he didn't have to do that. Through music we were able to make a meaningful connection. I thought this was a small miracle, but what followed was even more unexpected.