I graduated from nursing school in 1971. Alzheimer’s was even more of a mystery back then. It was often linked with dementia which is primarily caused by hardening of the arteries, while Alzheimer’s has a distinctive feature of a build up of amyloid plaques on the brain, causing brain functions to shut down over the course of time. I am ashamed to admit that in the 70’s, Alzheimer’s patients did not receive the care and attention they deserved. It was assumed that old age harbored dementia and Alzheimer’s patients were listed as such.
The nursing home I worked at in 1972 had no special unit for Alzheimer patients. They were often restrained in chairs and rolled into large solariums to be left there until it was time for someone to feed them a meal. Heavy doses of sedatives were frequently given to healthier individuals who managed to wander outdoors or become belligerent. Some of the patients were ridiculed by young aides who did not know any better. I distinctly remember a teacher we had as a patient. Every morning, she was bathed and harnessed into her chair with wheels and parked near the nurse’s station. She believed she was still a teacher and would often speak to nurses and aides as if they were her pupils. It was endearing to most, but in retrospect, she was worthy of much more care and understanding than she was given.
As for myself, I am angry and frustrated with the disease. It dissolved my mother and devastated my father in ways unimaginable. Their golden years were tarnished with the pain and restrictions caused by Alzheimer’s. We, as a family, were bewildered by the new roles we had to learn. My mother was stolen from me at a time when my own children were growing up while she was forced into a frightening world of delusion.