Though she doesn’t have Alzheimer’s disease, 57-year-old school teacher ‘Susie’ of Cincinnati, Ohio, certainly knows its ins and outs. She cared for her ex-mother-in-law for a number of years.
The National Institute on Aging website says Alzheimer’s disease starts ‘with mild memory problems and [ends] with severe brain damage.’ It’s the most common form of dementia, affecting up to 4.5 million elderly Americans. The cause is unknown and no cure exists.
‘I married right out of high school in 1967,’ said Susie in a telephone interview, ‘and immediately we moved in with my husband’s parents. They became my surrogate parents, because mine had died. Then when my husband and I divorced five years later, I stayed on to live and care for my ex-mother-in-law. She helped me raise our child.’
Susie stayed there for the next 25 years in part because the older woman needed her assistance. Her ex-mother-in-law couldn’t drive, had a great deal of trouble handling personal finances, and needed Susie’s income to help make mortgage payments.
In the early 1990s, the ex-mother-in-law, ‘Missy,’ began having difficulty remembering certain words, and then she would become angry when Susie couldn’t produce the words for her. In 1993, Susie’s own health mysteriously started spiraling downward at about the same time Missy’s Alzheimer’s disease symptoms worsened.
‘(By 1997) she was accusing me of stealing from her,’ said Susie. ‘She was wanting to get in bed with me at night because she was afraid of burglars. She pushed me down a few times. She was having trouble figuring out how to open doors and was leaving the stove on. One night she thought I was trying to poison her and therefore she wouldn’t eat. At one point she was wandering the street knocking on doors. The neighbors called the police.’
In late 1997, Susie learned her own poor health was caused by a cantaloupe-sized uterine fibroid tumor. The day she left for surgery was her last caring for Missy, who ultimately ended up in an Alzheimer’s facility before dying.
Susie advised, referring to caring for an aging relative, ‘When something like this happens, you have to realize that now you have to be the parent. It’s a terrible disease.’ In hindsight, she said she should have alerted Missy’s two sons a lot sooner.