It’s usually just a tiny conversation, only a few words long. But every day, millions of men and women stand in their living rooms, their hands clutched to their chests, worry spilling from their eyes. I can’t remember, they say. Three small words. I can’t remember. Usually it has to do with yet one more misplaced item or yet another forgotten event. But even while those small words thud clumsily about the room, there’s not a “senior moment” that isn’t accompanied by a deeper, darker and much more elegantly frightening thought:
What if it’s Alzheimer’s?
We all begin our lives as soft-skinned, fragile little tendrils, reaching upward, asking to be filled with colors and shapes, words and lullabies. We grow. We learn and laugh and discover love and triumph and even certain disappointment amid our days. We marry and continue on and on. Somewhere along the way, we harden into spacious teacups filled with wisdom and comfort to pour out for those we love.
But some of us crack.
Some break apart. Everything stored to this point begins to leak and fall and clatter to the floor. Things get forgotten. Things are repeated. The internal directional compass that had earlier been so easy and effortless to follow becomes impossible. Everyone stands helplessly aside while words whiz by in confounding, befuddling speed. For those who become eventually and irretrievably forgetful, life is a continuous one-way turn until, in the end, there is simply a circle back to diapers and liquids and … wordlessness.
Currently more than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, and 78 million baby boomers are at risk – unless we find a way to change the course of this disease.
Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease that’s not happy with simply killing its victims in a timely or reasonable manner. No. It first takes its victim’s essence … slowly, over several agonizing years, until there is seemingly nothing left of the original person. There is no cure. Although there is promise with gene research and earlier diagnostic techniques, current therapies only offer a short-term delay of the inevitable outward display of symptoms.
That’s why I’m going to participate in the Alzheimer’s Association’s Memory Walk.
On November 13, 2010, I’ll join thousands of others in Phoenix walking to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer care, support and research. I’m doing this for the memory of Dan’s parents. My legs will be filled with the thought of millions of Americans who are slowly dying of this memory-stealing disease. For three short miles, I’ll carry the hope that a cure will be found before we are hopelessly overwhelmed by an aging population of baby boomers ripe for the pickings by this dreaded disease.
If you have an opportunity to either join me in Phoenix or find a Memory Walk in your particular area, I’m excited that you would do that. I’m encouraged that we would all think about what it means to retain our memories and our personalities as we grow older. If nothing more, let’s think of being those beautiful teacups, pouring out the wisdom of our ages and love for our families, and do everything we can to make that our future. If you can, give. If you can’t, maybe light a candle or say a tiny prayer for people who are sick with a very frightening disease. Everything — anything — helps.
As we do with cancer and heart disease, let’s elevate Alzheimer’s disease to the same level of immediacy by giving what we can and doing what we should. Let’s fund research that will find a cure so that — somewhere down the road — should you find yourself or someone you dearly love, hands clutched to the chest, admitting, I can’t remember, it will no longer foretell a slow and agonizing destruction. It will just be a normal “senior moment” to shake off and chuckle over.