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Farewell to the Long Goodbye
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The best man I’ve ever known suffered the worst fate I can imagine.

My dad was everything a husband and father should be. He not only loved and provided for his family, he also led and taught us. He was a vital and smart man who was keenly interested in everything from baseball to literature. Throughout my childhood, he was my idol. As an adult, I cherished his gentle wisdom and fierce loyalty. 

But things began to unravel for him when he was 74. At first, we noticed his mild confusion and difficulty in following lengthy conversations. As time went on, he lost the ability to read his treasured books. Little by little, his personality dissolved.

 

 Eventually, the calm and humorous man we once knew became deluded, depressed, and sometimes hostile. By the time he reached 80, it was no longer possible for my mother to care for him at their home. We then suffered with him throughout his two-year stay in a nursing home, painfully witnessing the slow evaporation of his remaining mental abilities and the draining of the last ounces of his bodily energy. For those of us who loved him, perhaps the most difficult aspect of the ordeal was our inability to tell how much mental anguish he experienced.

My dad had Alzheimer’s Disease, the most common type of dementia. It’s progressive, incurable and ruthless. It currently inflicts an estimated 5.4 million Americans, including about 80,000 Kentuckians. It also forces countless family members, powerless to change the plodding and insidious course of the disease, to swallow an emotional stew of prolonged grief, fear, exhaustion and rage. This cruel disease, nicknamed The Long Goodbye, is devoid of justice and mercy.
 
    What’s more, this malady is increasingly prevalent in our country. At present, it’s the sixth leading cause of death across all ages in the United States; for those aged 65 and older, it’s the fifth leading cause of death. And, alarmingly, the number of Alzheimer’s-related deaths continues to increase, even as other major causes of death (such as stroke, cancer and heart disease) are on the decline. Statistics published this week by the Alzheimer’s Association project that the total number of new cases of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia will likely double in America by 2050, due to the increase in the number of people over 65. It’s anticipated that during the next fifteen years alone, the number of Kentuckians having Alzheimer’s will increase by about 20%, to around 97,000.
 
    The precise causes of Alzheimer’s Disease remain unknown. And no treatment is available to substantially slow, much less stop, the disease’s progress. But the news isn’t all bleak. Researchers around the world are working on a number of treatment strategies that might change the course of the disease. Studies also show that if the disease is detected early, medical intervention can extend the period during which patients and their families can enjoy a relatively high quality of life.
 
    It’s imperative that we all join the battle to eradicate Alzheimer’s. Please take the initiative to learn more about the disease and the actions that might reduce the risk of dementia and help you manage it if it develops. (An excellent place to start is the Alzheimer’s Association’s Web site: www.alz.org . Or you can contact the Association’s local chapter at 502-451-4266.) Please also consider contributing to the Alzheimer’s Association, whose important work depends on donor support. And, of course, please contact your elected representatives and advocate increases in governmental funding for Alzheimer’s research and treatment.
 
    Let’s work together to reach the day when we can celebrate the final farewell to The Long Goodbye.
 
                                                                          – Jay Gilbert

     
   


 

Alzheimer's Association

Our vision is a world without Alzheimer's
Formed in 1980, the Alzheimer's Association is the world's leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer's care, support and research.