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Chronicle No. 11

Alzheimer's disease

The look, the word, the touch

How can you help someone whose parent has Alzheimer's disease, a disease that slowly and insidiously destroys our brain cells? I first discovered it through a close friend. His mother had started by welcoming us by saying: "Hello, gentlemen", as if we were strangers. Then we went to the restaurant.

"What do you want to eat?" I asked him.

She wanted grated carrots. I went away for a moment to fetch him some from the buffet. When I returned with her plate, she asked her son: "But what is this machine you brought me?" (She was talking about me.)

She still knew it was her son at that exact moment, but that wasn't always the case. As for me, seeing my black jacket, she had had the same reaction as the first time she had met me, twenty-five years earlier: "But what is this machine... "

Then we walked her home. The nurse sat down next to her. Then the patient began to caress his arm for a long time. She instinctively recognized this person who took care of her every day, but no longer really her son.

I also met a man who hadn't spoken for months, but who always smiled tenderly at his wife when she stroked his cheek.

In my own family, there was a woman who had always been very cruel to her daughter. When she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, her daughter came to see her regularly. One day, this mother who had never known how to hit her, caressed her cheek for a long time. The girl told me that this moment had been prodigious. It seemed to her that everything she had endured in the past had faded away.

Soon millions of beings concerned
It was in 1901 that Alois Alzheimer observed a patient suffering from mental disorders that medicine at the time could not explain. In 1906, he described for the first time the process of such a disease. The name "Alzheimer's disease" will only be used in 1912 by Emil Kraepelin in his treatise on psychiatry.

More than eight hundred thousand French people are now affected, but there are more than two hundred thousand new cases each year. Many millions of us will one day be affected. There are many risk factors for Alzheimer's disease: aging, genetic susceptibility, social and cultural environment, vascular diseases, etc.

The testimonies today fill pages and pages of magazines and scientific journals: this woman who at first had problems remembering names, then localization, to the point of returning home one day on foot because she no longer knew where she had parked her car; those long-time retirees who get up and get dressed at 6 a.m. to leave
at work…

The disease quickly leads to more significant disorders: loss of sense of orientation in space, in time, disorders of judgment, language, unidentified objects of daily life... Patients irreversibly unlearn.

This woman witnesses the slow degradation of her husband who no longer recognizes her, to the point of asking her if she is married. When she answers him: "Yes, with the man who is in front of me", he starts laughing... as if it were a good joke. Their memory is a sweater that unravels.



(*) Born in 1935 in Rochefort-sur-Mer, Guy Gilbert was ordained a priest in 1965. Returning from Algeria where he took care of street youth, he settled in the 19th arrondissement. from Paris. He continues his work as a specialist educator with marginalized people and creates in Rougon, in Haute-Provence, the “Bergerie de Faucon” where “zootherapy” is successfully applied.


(All rights reserved ©  SPRING 2008)



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