A quick (and vastly oversimplified) lesson in the mechanics of Alzheimer’s:
As the disease progresses in the brain, neurons and synapses become blocked and inaccessible. In essence, they die. This neuronal death is a very normal part of daily life; just like your skin (or any other organ) brain cells die and are replaced constantly. With Alzheimer’s, however, the brain’s ability to generate new tissue is compromised, and these regions of the brain begin to shut down. This used to be considered permanent and irreversible. Traditional medicine still believes that. Still, as available brain storage decreases, the mind must select the most important things to preserve. This is basic survival; preserving the aspects most important to continuation of the organism. Thus, for example, retention of a beloved childhood experience may be sacrificed so that the ability to speak is retained. A common analogy pictures the brain as a massive house: as the disease progresses, more and more rooms are locked off. Eventually, no access remains beyond the entry and vestibule. The lights are all off and the doors locked.
Yesterday, I marked an unmistakable example of a light coming back on, and it may be the single most thrilling moment of the last year.
One wouldn’t typically share this sort of information about one’s wife, but as we set forth on this path, such concerns take a back seat to telling a very important story. Context matters.
Since her hospitalizations late last winter, Jacquelynn has been very uncomfortable wearing underwear. It simply feels too close and triggers her no-longer-latent claustrophobia. As a result, she doesn’t wear it around the house, and not often outside of it, either. Unless we’re going somewhere like a doctor’s office or similar, she just finds them too uncomfortable and is unable to relax or focus on anything else. As an inevitable side effect of this, she occasionally spots or stains her pants, though she’s never really been aware of this. Until now.
This is going to seem very odd, I realize. But it is from such seemingly insignificant moments that great strides come.
Beginning just yesterday, Jacquelynn became concerned with the fact that she was perceiving a bit of spotting/moisture in her pants after going to the restroom. She would clean herself properly, but would still feel little drops of “water” in her pants a moment later. As I said, these spots had been there all along, but now, a couple of months into the treatment protocol, the part of her brain which notices such things and assigns a level of priority to them has awakened. Lights are coming on in rooms that have been dark for quite some time, and that is very exciting indeed.
It took some talking to convince her that what she’s experiencing is quite normal for women staring down the barrel of their approaching sixtieth birthday. Wearing underwear and maybe a little bladder-pad would put her on even ground with a LOT of women her age.
When I explained that she had been essentially ignoring these things happening to her all along, she was a bit surprised, of course. She understood (after I explained) why I hadn’t pointed it out to her at the time, but was frankly at a loss as to why she’d not made note of them herself. So I elucidated for her as I did above for you. As she realized where I was going, yet more light came up behind her eyes. As she begin to understand how significant a sign of her recovery this was, and as I teared up talking about it, her eyes also filled with tears.
Yes, we held each other and wept joyful tears, for a good three or four minutes, over pee.
And, she wants to expand her experience a little and trying to endure underwear again. Baby steps, of course, but still steps.
So, yeah. Good weekend.
Coming up soon, I’m going to update you all on how Dr. Ross altered Jacquelynn’s regimen following all the labs. Where was she weak, and where was she stronger than we maybe expected? How do those results allow us to focus her treatment further for her specific situation? All that is coming later this week. Stick around for that, please.