HOMEPAGE: www.danieljvance.com




By Daniel J. Vance


  Dale Barnes of Cincinnati now points to an evening more than ten years ago playing the "Umbrella Game" as the first time his mother's Alzheimer's disease surfaced.

  "In this game everyone begins with ten pennies and sits in a circle around an open umbrella turned upside down," said Barnes, 57, a retired purchasing manager of a large corporation. "While playing with a dozen family members, my mother couldn't keep anything straight in her mind. Sadly, we were all laughing at her. Later we realized something began going wrong that night."

  From there, his mother Mildred's short-term memory worsened. Often she would turn on the kitchen stove and forget doing it, which led to one minor house fire. She also couldn't remember what recently had been said, but could remember details of a distant childhood. In her home she imagined people talking. One night she left home without informing her husband and wandered more than a mile down a busy Cincinnati thoroughfare before being found.

  "Because of her running away," said Barnes, "we had to put locks on doors to keep her in, which frustrated and angered her. It was apparent my dad never could understand [Mildred's] condition because he often tried reasoning and sometimes arguing with her. My brother and I didn't realize until after his stroke at age 92 the tremendous amount of attention she needed and how hard caring for her must have been on him. They lived at home until he was 92 and she 84."

  Adding to his father's stress was Mildred's habit of being up all hours of night.

  In hindsight, Barnes said, "My dad didn't want to leave home. Maybe we should have talked to him more seriously about their entering assisted living together. The stress of caring for her likely contributed to his stroke. Perhaps we could have handled it differently."

  Alzheimer's disease was named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German who discovered tangled fiber bundles in a deceased woman's brain tissue in 1906. It's the most common form of dementia among older Americans, affecting perhaps four million. Researchers don't know its exact cause and there is no known cure.

  Barnes said, "I wish that just once I could have felt better after leaving her (nursing home) than going in. Alzheimer's probably is hardest on family because the person with it usually doesn't understand what's going on."

  For more, see www.danieljvance.com or www.alzheimers.org