Maybe it’s a frustrating, momentary lapse of recall that you shrug off as a “senior moment.” It could be a prolonged inability to recall something that you have always been able to instantly access, like a name or date. It could be something as simple as staring at a word you have known how to spell since first grade, and wondering if you got it right. Or maybe you are writing or speaking and the exact word or phrase you want to employ, one you have routinely used all your life, is just out of reach.
These types of events, in all candor, scare the hell out of us who have reached a certain age, whether we sense it in ourselves or notice it happening with troubling regularity to friends or loved ones. Because as much as we would like to attribute faulty memory to the natural aging process, we also live in fear of the “A” word: Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia. As fear begets denial or embarrassment, we may also live in ignorance of what is happening to ourselves or others close to us.
At the root of that fear is dread that we will lose our sense of self, that we will fade away into a barely sentient shell. None of us knows what is really going on inside the mind of someone with advanced Alzheimer’s — are they somehow cognizant and unable to convey that in a way the rest of us can comprehend, or they are utterly adrift, bumping into the safe shoreline of memories like an unmoored boat and then being dragged back out into the disorienting storm?
So imagine the strength and faith it requires to not only accept and plan a strategy after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, but to also talk about it openly, honestly and generously.
That’s what Don Reddington has chosen to do — share his experiences with Alzheimer’s, talk about how he and his wife, Ginger, are coping, reveal the personal, financial and communication issues that come with the progressive disease, and help the rest of us understand what he is going through.
Don will be doing all of that in the pages of the Methow Valley News over the next year or so in a series of personal articles, which will be written with the assistance of the Reddingtons’ friend Raleigh Bowden, a retired physician who is involved in health care issues through the Lookout Coalition at Room One in Twisp.
I told Don last week that I think his commitment and courage are a gift to this community and that we are grateful to help deliver it.
Don is in the early stages of Alzheimers; his friend Jerry Bristol, also a Methow Valley resident, is in a more advanced stage. They have formed a supportive friendship, calling themselves “two brothers in arms” against the disease. Jerry’s experiences will also be part of Don’s stories.
Don and Ginger have been very forthcoming about their acceptance of the disease and their plan for dealing with it. Don believes that an “insider’s perspective” can help the rest of us understand Alzheimer’s impacts. In a letter to his family, Don said that “the goal is to educate our community and address some concerns of patience and care-giving. We want to emphasize that a big barrier to quality of life is the denial of the patient and those around him/her and a lack of open, healthy discussions.”
We are honored to be part of this intensely personal journey, which begins this week with an introductory story on page A1. Please join us with an open mind and caring heart as we follow Don on that journey.