FRAYING AT THE EDGES
Reflections on The New York Times Special Section, May 1
The New York Times published a Special Section on May 1 of this year. Fraying at the Edges is about Geri Taylor, a New Yorker, newly retired, aged 73. If she lived in the Boston area, she certainly might have been a BOLLI member. Her appearance, career, her interests, and her marriage(s) all easily correspond to our own. Geri is a woman in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, and what distinguishes her from others with this disease is that she has taken a pro-active approach to coping with her failing memory. She knows full well the trajectory of Alzheimer’s, but right now, in the beginning stages of her disease, she and her husband find strategies that enable them to cope with their new realities, to plan for the future, and to each find pleasure and satisfaction in the here and now.
Geri is aware of her growing deficits, her need to plan ahead, her slowing down, and her physical changes—like walking in her sleep, like having an unsteady gait, like having less of an appetite. She said, “Alzheimer’s brings on apathy is what I find. Years ago, I definitely had more of an ego. Now I don’t have an idea of myself. And so I have less of an ego. Frankly, I don’t care what people think of me. I’m more in a survival mode, one foot in front of the other. Don’t spill the coffee.”
After participating in a support group for several years, Geri and a few other members advocated for a new kind of group, workshops where people with Alzheimer’s could “swap strategies” for living with early-stage memory loss. (There ARE simple strategies that work, like putting glass doors on kitchen cabinets so one can see where particular items are stored.) Advocating for and initiating a workshop is an amazing accomplishment for people whose executive functions and memories are slowly but surely deteriorating. But it DID get started. This new workshop, with the sponsorship of the Alzheimer’s Association in Connecticut, is called GAP, Giving Alzheimer’s Purpose.
The “Times” supplement is well worth reading. Geri is a remarkably positive role model. The article, indirectly, also shows how friends and family can help someone with Alzheimer’s maintain a sense of self.
After all, according to this article, “Alzheimer’s is a disease that strikes an American every 67 seconds.” It may not strike you or me, but, almost inevitably, it will strike someone we know and love.