My sister and I rolled our suitcases down the sidewalk to the designated area to catch a cab to our hotel. We had come to DC to ask for resources to support NAPA (the National Alzheimer’s Project Act) and seek cosponsors for the HOPE (Health Outcomes, Planning and Education) for Alzheimer’s Act.
“What brings you to DC?” the cab driver asked after loading our luggage into the trunk. He spoke with an accent, which is the norm for Washington 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 as advocates.”
It seems that everywhere I go, I run into someone who has a personal experience with Alzheimer’s.
“My mother has Alzheimer’s,” he said. “Some days she seems okay, but other days she makes up things. She said that my sister and her husband got a divorce, and it wasn’t true.”
“That can happen,” I said. “People with Alzheimer’s get confused and think something is real when it isn’t. Sometimes they think someone is stealing from them.”
“Oh, yes,” he said. “My mother thinks that people are stealing from her.”
“Well,” I said, “she probably misplaces things and can’t remember 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 want to 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 talk to our legislators about research funding.” Alzheimer’s deaths increased sixty-five percent while deaths from other major diseases declined.
Once again, advocates from across the United States were at our nation’s capitol trying to rally our senators and representatives to fund Alzheimer’s research.
“My husband had an Alzheimer’s type of dementia,” I said. “It wasn’t Alzheimer’s but the Alzheimer’s Association helped me so much that I keep coming to DC each year.”
The cabbie continued to 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 that umbrella are a lot of different diseases that cause dementia. Alzheimer’s is the main cause of dementia, but there are a lot of other diseases that can cause dementia, 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 with memory loss and who have trouble performing daily activities. Different conditions cause dementia symptoms, including some that are reversible. That’s why it’s important to have a complete medical workup.”
It always concerns me that someone will assume his loved one’s memory loss is Alzheimer’s when it might be a condition that can be treated.
“The doctor said my mother has Alzheimer’s,” he said. “He said she didn’t have thyroid or a vitamin deficiency.”
“It’s good they checked those things out,” I said. We were pulling up to the hotel. “Be sure to contact your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter. They can help you cope with the changes ahead.”
We settled the tab and as I stepped from the cab, I told him, “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 driver who had shared a slice of his life. His story is repeated millions of time throughout this country and has a predictable ending, at least for now. Maybe someday I can share happier news with strangers I meet.
Copyright April 2012 by L. S. Fisher