My father passed away recently at the age of 85. Many of you have reached out with condolences and I plan to answer all of those texts, emails and Facebook messages as soon as I’m able. Just know that I really appreciate all of the words of sympathy and encouragement from all of you.

My dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease ten years ago. When people find that out there’s always an extra little bit of sympathy.

DEMENTIA

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Dementia in older folks has become so common that almost everyone has had a relative, former teacher, or acquaintance who’s been affected by it. There’s a kind of shared acknowledgment that dementia is an especially cruel twist to add to the experience of losing a loved one. I’d like to offer a slightly different opinion. I’m glad my dad had a long enough life that he got Alzheimer’s.

NOT A NEW DISEASE

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It seems to me that Alzheimer’s isn’t a “new” condition. What we would have called in the past “senility” or “showing one’s age” was actually Alzheimer’s or other forms of age-related dementia. If it seems that these conditions are so much more common now I think it’s mainly because people are living longer than any other point in human history.

PEOPLE HAD IT WAY WORSE 1000 YEARS AGO

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A thousand years ago age-related dementia would have been rare…because living to such an advanced age would have been so exceptional. Before a person in medieval France could have ever reached the age where dementia sets in (usually in one’s fifties or sixties) they would have been much, MUCH more likely to have died of other causes. In the age before anti-biotics a simple fracture, even a cut might have been a death sentence.

MODERN SCIENCE

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Getting kicked by a horse, or taking a fall down some stairs could well have resulted in an injury that got infected and there would have been very little medicine of the time could have done. Injuries and illnesses that we today think of as “non-emergency” could have been “very-emergency” years ago. And it’s been this way for all of human history. People (very lucky ones) could and did live well into their eighties, nineties and beyond for as long as history has been recorded.

So, when I think of my dad’s Alzheimer’s I choose not to feel “cursed” because he got such a horrible (and parts of it CAN be VERY horrible) disease. I choose instead to be grateful. Grateful to have the benefits afforded to us by modern science. Grateful that he got to spend just 15 years shy of a century on earth. Grateful that I had him as long as I did.

ALZEHEIMERS IS NO PICNIC

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Alzheimer’s is no picnic and lots of families have had a worse time with it than mine did. But it sure beats losing a parent to cholera at 27 or tuberculosis at 39.

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