A personal examination of Alzheimer’s disease

Written by Marcella Moore


One cold and dismal evening, sometime past in Webster County, buzzards flew from the loft of Mrs. Tallie’s dilapidated barn and hovered over Blondy’s body. Blondy, a horse, had died a few days ago in the grown up pasture around the barn. Mrs. Tallie’s house needed a lot of repair, and the window pane in my room was broken with only a “clip board” to keep the rain out. The old 1960 Belair Chevrolet still remained in the old shed where her husband, David, had parked it fourteen years before he died. “Anna, pour Lee a cup of hot chocolate for breakfast,” said Mrs. Tallie. I knew that Lee wouldn’t be there because her son was imaginary. Mrs. Tallie is a victim of Alzheimer’s disease. It causes people to be senile, they have a personality change, they can be harmful to themselves, they lose control of their body, they are vulnerable to other illnesses, and the expense will be endless.

First of all, Alzheimer’s disease causes one to become senile. The problem won’t be too bad at first. Patients become a little forgetful, they misplace things, and they can’t balance their checkbook. When Mrs. Tallie first got the disease, she would drive the bus station each day to get a friend. She waited two hours, and when her friend didn’t get off the bus, she would go back home. During the first stages of the malady, a patient shouldn’t drive a car. Sometimes they will forget their way home. One night Mrs. Tallie made syrup sandwiches, wrapped them in paper towel and put them in the porch. The bugs got all in them. Later, she thought that she heard someone at the door. When she opened the door, she saw the syrup sandwiches. Mrs. Tallie couldn’t imagine where the sandwiches came from. She finally said that David, her dead husband, put them there to keep her from being hungry.

Second, there will be a personality change. This is one way that a person can know if they have Alzheimer’s disease, also known as Primary Degenerative Dementia. Most people, when they get older, will get senile to some extent, but their personality doesn’t usually change. If a person’s personality has been sweet, they will usually be mean. During this change, some patients think that everyone is trying to harm them. Mrs. Tallie kept an ax, hedge trimmer, and scissors in her bedroom at night to keep people from harming her. She thought that she could see men walking through her house. One Christmas, her Christmas tree disappeared four times. She thought that some men from the barn had gotten it. During this personality change, some patients have paranoia. They won’t let their family help them with their laundry or other things that need to be done in their home.

After the dementia has taken over, the patients will neglect personal hygiene. Since Mrs. Tallie wouldn’t let her family help her, I went to her house and helped her with her chores. She thought that her imaginary characters helped her. If she couldn’t do something, she would tell David or Lee to do it. When no one could find her dirty clothes, she would say that an old man put them on and wore them home. Mrs. Tallie often packed her dirty clothes in a suitcase because she thought that she could wash them once she got home. These patients never think that they are home; they are always trying to go there. Since Mrs. Tallie wouldn’t let her family help her, her bed linen was black with dirt. She would say that Lee, her son, jumped in the bed with his dirty feet.

Third, Alzheimer’s disease will cause a patient to be harmful to themselves. Matches must not be left where the patient can have access to them. If they smoke cigarettes, they should be encouraged to stop. Matches were taken from Mrs. Tallie, but she would tear pages from her telephone book, and would use her stove to catch them on fire. She used this torch to light her gas heaters. One winter day after her frozen pipes have thawed, water ran all over the kitchen floor. Mrs. Tallie had walked in the water and had pulled the fuses from her switch box. She later went to bed, was asleep, when someone went to her home. All she could say was that David pulled the fuses. There is also a chance that a patient with the malady may fall down a flight of stairs, or fall on an icy walk.

In addition, patients with Alzheimer’s disease will eventually lose control of their body. Some patients have to be tube fed, while others lose their peripheral vision. They can see only the central area of the visual field. The degree of visual field constriction correlates with the mental ability of the patient. Mrs. Tallie lives in a nursing home in Grenada, Mississippi. She wears a straight jacket, stays tied in a wheelchair, and is completely robbed of her mind.

Next, patients with this horrible disease are more vulnerable to have strokes and to have heart attacks. Mrs. Tallie had four stages of the disease. She once had a stroke because the disease wasn’t kept stable by medication. She was given sedatives, so that she could sleep at night. If she didn’t take them, she would wander outside her house at night and look for David or Lee. Eventually, her face would turn red, and the veins in her neck would swell. Someone had to be with her at all times to give her this medication to keep her from having a stroke. At one time she complained that her heart bothered her. She cried for Lee to come and help her.

The drug pramiracetan, which has been used in recent tests, seem to offer the most good. Dr. Robert Hodges said, “We showed measurable improvements in a number of factors—psychological behavioral, overall pattern as measured by doctors and families.” Dr. Hodges is vice president of scientific and medical affairs at the Warner-Lambert Pharmaceutical Company in Ann Arbor, Michigan…Researchers are still working on a treatment.

Last of all, the expense of having the disease will be endless. Neither private insurance companies nor Medicare absorb the cost. Only after a family becomes bankrupt, does Medicaid step in. The grim picture may change since more research is devoted to the ailment. Most of the funding has come through The National Institute of Health….In 1983, at least twenty million dollars of public health funds were spent for Alzheimer’s research. The Chicago-based A.D.R.D.A. has begun to chip in as well. In 1982, it granted $1,000,000 for research, and in 1983 it shot for $250,000. Mrs. Tallie’s family sold her farm, so she could go to the nursing home. Many times the elderly have to sell their belongings to get the money to enable them of the medical care that they need.

While I was working with Mrs. Tallie, I wrote this little poem, and I dedicated it to her. I think that this is the way she saw her life. “You’re in my mind night and day, who’s to say that you’re not there with me? No, not you or they-for eternity through, all of life’s misery and hope for my dreams are real, including you, my son.”

Mrs. Tallie died around 1987. Names have been changed to protect the innocent. I worked for NMMC—Eupora for 22 and ½ years. Sometime after I took care of Mrs. Tallie. I saw several Alzheimer’s patients, all of them were different.