A Personal Experience
Gennaro Gallo would like to tell his personal experience in which many of us will recognize ourselves
in order to help all those who have a family member afflicted with Alzheimer's.
I met my wife when we were children and we have been happily married now for 57 years with children, daughters-in-law and grandchildren.
The first signs of the disease appeared 4 summers ago and were certainly underestimated at the beginning, also because I was completely unprepared.
Adriana, a courageous woman, active and lively by nature, always smiling and cordial with everyone, began to become suspicious, diffident, frightened; she suffered from hallucinations and saw intruders everywhere. She was continuously plagued; she feared everything and everyone and hid her money and possessions in places where she herself could no longer find them. She became aggressive. Surely, this was a very painful initial phase not only for me and my family, but also for her who, in her lucid moments, showed herself to still be aware of the "strange things" she did.
Unfortunately, the disease took its course with a steady decline in memory, motor function, speech and reasoning ability. This state of affairs led to a most difficult assistance which my wife refused, still declaring herself capable of taking care of the household. I had excluded the possibility of her being institutionalized from the beginning, because it would have meant missing her affection and presence.
At any price I decided I would keep her at her home.
The pharmacological therapies prescribed by doctors had a tranquilizing effect on her after repeated administration, so the situation had a favorable turn and my wife became calmer and slowly the violent reactions were less frequent. I then could request assistance that required two people on a more or less full-time basis.
It seemed as if the Adriana I knew, fundamentally healthy, who up until 80 years old defined herself as "elderly", saw her present self in the mirror and became aware of her state, an old invalid, defenseless and dependent on help for anything.
From that moment on, her reaction towards the assistants and me became increasingly morbid and even assumed a tone of submission and cooperation, exchanging the "care" and assistance received with smiles, affectionate little kisses and expressions like, "Thank you; excuse me; how beautiful you are; how good you are".
In this way, her kind, innate character re-emerged.
Adriana reserved special treatment for the particular moments when the personnel, supporting her with both hands, assisted her to tour the house as she wished to move and when seated in the armchair would say, "Let's go?" and with a final tour, she would exclaim, "What a beautiful house I have!".
It is obvious that my wife had absolute trust in the two people who took shifts in assisting her. She would recognize them and often call them by name. They, likewise, became attached to Adriana and treated her/spoke with her well. I tried in all of this to best manage this little community. I have my part and must be present as often as possible to reply to her frequent calls of "Daddy, daddy, my daddy!"
The sound of my voice calms her and she repays me with an occasional nice word with a smile, holding my hand tightly for a long time: to rest her foot on my shoe resassures her.
I have also understood by her many minute signals that she understands the daily operational rhythms concerning her and even if they are annoying, she submits to them without protesting. Often evenings when she is tired and wants to be put to bed, she emits a precocious "thank you" which may seem to have no reason, but instead has a precise meaning for whoever knows our situation.
I notice that Adriana gives signals of pleasure if I let her listen to songs of the past that
she liked and if I read small articles about subjects that she knew well at one time.
From all these factors, it seems that I can say that there is a slight improvement in memory in her and that her mind formulates thoughts that then unfortunately cannot be expressed if not with half-sentences, many time incomprehensible.
It is current opinion in fact, that in the advanced stage of the disease, these victims "do not understand", "they don't grasp ideas", so that in their presence, you can move and express yourself freely, even if you speak about them.
I must say, instead, that Adriana comprehends even the most minute nuance
in the tone of voice, facial expression, or look. She notices gestures and with intuition,
maybe in her own way, recognizes situations that disturb her:
the same can be said for animated discussions performed in her presence
or scenes of violence on television.
Family members constitute a valid external support in my case: during their visits, unfortunately, my wife doesn't seem to recognize them, but if their presence is lengthy, she responds to their words with a smile and sometimes she seems to have identified them by saying, "Oh, you're here?"
This is the rhythm of our little community. It is a reality that was difficult for me to accept at the beginning, even for the continual presence of strangers in our house. I am convinced now that being in the house is fundamental for Adriana who finds herself in an environment which she has known for years, surrounded by people who are familiar to her and also for me who has found a precise reason for life in her illness.
Naturally, I miss the dialogue with my wife, dialogue that in each moment, even in difficult times for may years, kept our union together. Even in these conditions, Adriana is very dear to me and keeps me company: her illness even with the comfort of faith, has helped me to grow despite my 87 years.
We must hope that the progress of medical science succeeds in alleviating the suffering of these afflicted and their family members in the near future.