With Alzheimer's Disease, Facing Your Fears Is Key

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • During a visit to San Antonio in late 2001, I joined my friends, Monica and Debbie, in one of our favorite rituals – going to a movie. The two avid movie fans suggested a film that was newly released at that time. Ever game for new experiences, I agreed to the selection, which starred Judi Dench and Kate Winslet (two of my favorite actresses).

    Yet as the movie’s plot unfolded in that darkened theater, I had a feeling of trepidation in viewing what my future might hold. The movie was Iris, the story of British writer Iris Murdoch who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and who died in 1999. Having watched my maternal grandmother’s gradual plunge into undiagnosed dementia 20 years earlier, I worried that I was starting to see similar signs with my mom. The story on the movie screen reinforced these fears.
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    The movie shows Iris Murdoch (played by Judi Dench) realizing something is going on with her mind when she loses the ability to write and eventually to spell. You watch her rationalize why she can’t remember the Prime Minister’s name when quizzed by a doctor. “Not knowing the prime minister’s name is not a capital offense,” Iris exclaimed to her husband after the doctor left.

    My mom would utter similar remarks for the next four years until she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. “It’s just old age,” she would say as she rationalized why her memory had faded. She would avoid any contact with neurologists and have emotional outbursts if someone made the suggestion that she should have her memory tested.

    In the movie, Iris said, “We all worry about going mad. How will we know?” Looking up at her adoring husband, the writer said she hoped that people would broach this delicate subject with the afflicted. Unlike Iris, the sad part in Mom’s case is that she put off getting a diagnosis because she was afraid to face the disease. I wonder what her condition would be today if she had been placed on the proper medications earlier and if we had developed a better support structure.

    I would encourage anyone who feels that they are suffering from memory lapses to face their fear and to visit with their doctor. Knowledge is power. For friends and family who are equally concerned, I would suggest that you visit with the person and encourage them to get a diagnosis. Offer to go to the doctor with them; don’t leave them on their own during this very stressful time. If the diagnosis is Alzheimer’s, know that treatments are available to slow the progress. As Iris said, it often falls to loved ones to help the person admit that something’s not right – and that help is needed.

Published On: May 24, 2006