Often, one column I write leads to others. Barbara Toney reads this column in the Lebanon Reporter (Indiana). She emailed recently, asking if she could correspond with a person I had featured a month ago who was heavily involved in caring for his father with Alzheimer’s disease.
After learning she had an interesting story, I interviewed her, too.
The Alzheimer’s Association website says this progressive, gradual-onset, fatal brain disease affects five million Americans. It causes memory, thinking, and behavior difficulties, and is our nation’s sixth-leading cause of death.
“About five years ago, I began noticing his short-term memory problems first,” said 71-year-old Toney of her husband, Tom. “He’d ask what day it was two or three times a day. Then he would go down to his woodworking shed and not remember what he was supposed to do when he got there.”
When Toney sought treatment for him, for whatever reason, one doctor after another ignored Alzheimer’s disease as a possible cause and began zeroing in instead on major depression, which Tom had experienced since 1970 after his son’s death.
“But over all those years, I’d been around him enough to know there was a difference between the depression and these other symptoms,” said Toney, a former medical transcriptionist.
She added, “Then he started having panic attacks. He knew something was wrong, didn’t know how to voice it, and just retreated. He’d always been a people person.” To complicate matters, Tom also had rheumatoid arthritis and had survived 15 surgeries in life, including two for cancer.
Three years ago, they moved to Lebanon, Indiana, to a place “where the (complex owners) take care of everything,” she said. Tom was no longer able to do outdoor tasks at their old home. After the move, his mental confusion worsened.
Again, along the way, at least four doctors had failed to diagnose her husband with anything other than major depression. She finally grabbed a doctor’s attention after learning more about Alzheimer’s disease herself, and when Tom verbally began demanding an answer to his difficulties.
This doctor eventually diagnosed Tom with Alzheimer’s disease and prescribed medicine. “Two weeks later, I began seeing a huge change in him,” she said. “He still has short-term memory problems, but his speech is better now and he can get his words out.”
She advised people frustrated by doctors to never give up hope.