It's the disease we dread the most, isn't it? We fear how Alzheimer's wreaks minds, steals memories and personalities. We don't want to be condemned to wandering in a fog. We translate a diagnosis to mean "the end."
But in fact, many people live 10 or 15 years with the disease. A diagnosis is just the beginning, and author John Zeisel argues that Alzheimer's is not the end of the world. His book, "I'm Still Here" (Penguin, $24.95) explains how to connect with someone who has dementia. Music, art, facial expressions and touch are abilities that don't diminish with time and can be the foundation for connection.
More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's (which represents from 60 to 80 percent of all dementias), and those numbers are set to explode as the Baby Boomers begin celebrating their 65th birthdays next year. So, the practical advice Zeisel offers is assisting a growing number of caregivers.
Though it makes perfect sense, how many of us think to introduce ourselves when greeting a loved one with Alzheimer's? This is done by sitting down next to the person, holding their hand, looking in their eye and saying, 'Hi, Mom, I'm your daughter Miriam, and I love talking to you about Oakland, where you were born.' This is in place of the "test" question, 'do you know who I am?' which may frustrate those we care about and will most certainly crush our spirits when we are reminded that, no, they don't.
Zeisel, who has a background in sociology and architecture, explains in his book how to build memory cues into living environments. He gives advice on preparing for visits with someone who has lost the knack for conversation. And, he reminds us of the importance of telling people with Alzheimer's that we love them.