How dare TIME magazine announce: “Alzheimer’s: At last, some progress against the most stubborn disease.” Imagine my disappointment to read merely the same old stuff: It’s hereditary. No drug cures it. Some have side effects worse than the disease itself. We still spend 5 billion a year on cancer research and only 500 million a year on Alzheimer’s. So where’s the progress? Slow in coming. “Ironically, it is the one disease that most of us are likely to get,” says Dr. Peterson, head of Alzheimer’s research at the Mayo Clinic. One in ten of us if you want the exact statistic.
Now I don’t need statistics to tell me my own prognosis is not looking so hot. My grandmother lingered for 13 years in its stranglehold. My mother may well have had it but other ills took her sooner. This week, though, brings another blow: my aunt, the one with the doctorate, who edited my college papers and never let me get away with ‘shallow thinking,’ has just been diagnosed with it, too.
The signs were there: Last year, she sent me a copy of her Will along with a partial recipe for shortcake with the last paragraph inexplicably cut off. The year before, after her recent visit to China, I invited her to visit. She was always independent, so I rented her a car. However, after watching her turn the ignition two more times while it was already running I returned it and kept her with me for the rest of our visit.
I am still keeping her with me though ‘she’ is vanishing fast. The authors that she insisted I read in college: Whitman, Frost, Voltaire, and Shakespeare, still stand tall in my bookshelf. Believe it or not, I can still do a perfect cart-wheel just the way she taught me when I was 12. ‘Now hold your arms and legs into a perfect ‘X,’ she commanded, ‘then roll straight over like a wheel.’ My aunt didn’t just outsmart me at Bridge and Scrabble when I was a kid, but always showed me how she did it. She questioned my answers until my answers became questions themselves and I loved her for it. Still do. Always will. The important thing is that when she was here she was HERE. May the rest of us be so fortunate. (Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” an Alzheimer’s memoir. http://www.helen-hudson.com).