'I have Alzheimer's disease'
Gerald Sewell is a freelance journalist. In 2008, then aged 66, he was diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s disease.
‘It’s old age.’
‘Oh, he/she is losing it.’
Such comments said sometimes in jest sometimes with malice and sometimes said as a helpful hint, can be hurtful, should not be ignored but taken as necessitating remedial action.
So it was that one day, after much consideration I visited my GP.
‘I must be getting old,’ I told him jokingly after the completion of his examination relating to other health matters.
‘What do you mean,’ he asked in his usual considerate and accommodating manner.
I explained that I was finding difficulty in remembering minor details, things of no immediate significance. He asked me to elaborate. After further questioning and consideration (in which he said it was no joking matter, referring to my earlier statement), the GP referred me to the local NHS mental health clinic for the aged where a specialist team, working under a NHS psychiatrist provide for patients suffering from dementia at all levels.
The initial visit to the mental health clinic was a far from un-edifying experience, bearing in mind one’s natural antipathy, fear, (ignorance?) of such places.
Minor memory loss
I was met in a most reassuring manner by the psychiatrist and a mental health nurse. The session began with questions about my medical history, my family’s health history, were there any inherent mental health problems? It was explained to me that my GP had referred me to the clinic in order to determine the cause of my (minor) memory loss. A memory test followed which showed that I fell short of the required number of points needed to eliminate further medical examination. The psychiatrist explained that a brain scan would show brain cell loss (if any) relating to memory loss, thus removing (any) doubt of the onset of dementia.
The Wessex Neurological Unit at Southampton General Hospital provides specialist care and carries out research into neurological disorders. It was to this unit that I presented myself for a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) session. One has to lie perfectly still in a tunnel (not recommended if you are claustrophobic) for twenty minutes during which time you are subjected to ‘banging’ noises, presumably the resonance bit.
For two weeks, whilst the doctors, specialists in nuclear-based imaging technology, pored over the pictures of my brain, life continued as usual. I can state honestly that there was no sense of foreboding, no heart-fluttering moments whilst I awaited the results.
Red 'splotches' on my brain
On a pre-arranged appointment I presented myself again to the psychiatrist and the mental nurse. Following the niceties, the results were presented in a ‘matter-of-fact’ and ‘no-beating-about-the-bush’ type of manner. I despise the niceties of ‘bedside manners’.
To a simple non-medical type of bloke, of which I am, the results showed a picture of my brain with red ‘splotches’ indicting cell loss.
The psychiatrist explained that the results merely confirmed her suspicions of the early on-set of Alzheimer’s disease.
So what now? A life sentence of prescriptive drugs in tablet form and taken once daily will, I have been informed, retard the inevitable advance of the disease. Bi-annual visits to the mental health clinic which comprise of a memory test have to date not shown any further reduction in cognitive behaviour.
But what of the future? What lies in store for a person who currently displays skills in numeracy and above average literacy? A hesitant foray into freelance journalism, a book to be published in mid-2011, one in a two-book form and a third currently being written are a result of a commitment, over the years, to apply pen-to-paper. One of the questions asked of me by the mental health nurse is ‘Am I still motivated in my writing endeavours, am I becoming depressed with life?’ I would not recognise ‘depression’ if it hit me in he face, I only recently learnt how to spell it!.
Yes, motivation or lack of it is becoming a noticeable feature of my commitment to write. In the mechanics of sentence construction I find myself searching for words which would normally come naturally and searching the dictionary for the spelling of certain words, some of which to discerning people form part of the daily vocabulary.
Upon the conclusion of the meeting with the psychiatrist and the mental health nurse where the full extent of disease was disclosed, I returned home to confront my wife with the news. Work commitments had prevented her from attending the clinic. My darling wife is the epitome of stoicism. ‘Well’ she asked as she walked through the door ‘what was the result?’
I told her.
A slight look of resignation crossed her face, that was that.
To those who know me there is no perception of change to bearing, distinctive characteristics, speech etc. Several acquaintances have expressed surprise upon the disclosure of my affliction. My wife (I think in jest) sometimes asks of me ‘Are you losing it?’
I have no illusions about what the future holds for an Alzheimer’s sufferer. In spite of the medication and as the years progress it can only become worse, to what extent though remains at the mercy of medical technology in the form of new and better drugs with which to combat the disease.
Of those whom I love dearly, my wife, daughters and grandchildren, the prospect of fading recognition is inevitable unless some wonder cure appears over the next ten-fifteen years.
I will offer this advice to those of whom memory is a problem slight or otherwise, be you young or old. Pray, do not ignore it, seek advice. It may be nothing serious but it may also be the beginning of something which could require immediate attention.
Do not ignore
And to you medical practitioners, yes! Advice from a simple non-medical person such as me: do not ignore the signs of memory loss; do not be dismissive with a hypochondriac who maintains he/she cannot find their hairbrush in the morning. I am very fortunate, I have the best GP in the world. Without hesitation, he referred me for treatment which subsequently confirmed his suspicions. Conversely the memory tests could have revealed me to be a normal person with memory problems associated only with age. The MRI scan was the deciding factor.
- Dementia FAQS
- Barbara: 'We rarely watch TV as Martin believes events on the screen are happening in our home'
- Alzheimer's Society
- Out of the Shadows - Author Terry Pratchett who also has early onset Alzheimer's disease.
- Photo shows Gerald Sewell with his wife.
Page created on May 11th, 2011
Page updated on May 19th, 2011