My sister and I rolled our suitcases down the sidewalk tothe designated area to catch a cab to our hotel. We had come to DC to ask forresources to support NAPA (the National Alzheimer’s Project Act) and seekcosponsors for the HOPE (Health Outcomes, Planning and Education) for Alzheimer’sAct.
“What brings you to DC?” the cab driver asked after loading ourluggage into the trunk. He spoke with an accent, which is the norm forWashington DC taxi drivers.
“We’re here for the Alzheimer’s Forum,” I replied.
“Is it for research?” he asked.
“We’ll hear about research,” I said, “but we are here asadvocates.”
It seems that everywhere I go, I run into someone who has apersonal experience with Alzheimer’s.
“My mother has Alzheimer’s,” he said. “Some days she seemsokay, but other days she makes up things. She said that my sister and herhusband got a divorce, and it wasn’t true.”
“That can happen,” I said. “People with Alzheimer’s getconfused and think something is real when it isn’t. Sometimes they thinksomeone is stealing from them.”
“Oh, yes,” he said. “My mother thinks that people arestealing from her.”
“Well,” I said, “she probably misplaces things and can’tremember where she put them so she thinks someone has stolen them. Of course,there is always the chance that someone could be stealing from her, so you wantto make sure it isn’t true.”
“They don’t have a cure for Alzheimer’s, do they?” he asked.
“No, they sure don’t. That’s the reason we are here. We talkto our legislators about research funding.” Alzheimer’s deaths increased 65%while deaths from other major diseases declined.
Once again, advocates from across the United States are atour nation’s capitol trying to rally our senators and representatives to fundAlzheimer’s research.
“My husband had anAlzheimer’s type of dementia,” I said. “It wasn’t Alzheimer’s but theAlzheimer’s Association helped me so much that I keep coming to DC each year.”
The cabbie continuedto ask questions about the disease affecting his seventy-seven-year-old mother.He told us his mother had come to the US from Somalia.
“What is the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?”he asked
“You can think of dementia like an umbrella and beneath thatumbrella are a lot of different diseases that cause dementia. Alzheimer’s is themain cause of dementia, but there are a lot of other diseases that can causedementia, like Lewy Body disease, vascular dementia, or frontotemporal dementia.”
“Like an umbrella.” He nodded his understanding.
“Yes,” I said. “Dementia is a general term for people withmemory loss and who have trouble performing daily activities. Differentconditions cause dementia symptoms including some that are reversible. That’swhy it’s important to have a complete medical workup.”
It always concerns me that someone will assume his loved one’smemory loss is Alzheimer’s when it might be a condition that can be treated.
“The doctor said my mother has Alzheimer’s,” he said. “Hesaid she didn’t have thyroid or a vitamin deficiency.”
“It’s good they checked those things out,” I said. We werepulling up to the hotel. “Be sure to contact your local Alzheimer’s Associationchapter. They can help you cope with the changes ahead.”
We settled the tab and as I stepped from the cab, I toldhim, “I wish you the best with your mom.” He smiled and thanked me.
As I closed the door, my heart went out to the cab driverwho had shared a slice of his life. His story is repeated 5.4 million timethroughout this country and has a predictable ending, at least for now. Maybesomeday I can share happier news with strangers I meet.