This is courtesy of the Wichita Eagle

Every time I realize I've forgotten something important, I catch my breath.
People I tell this to say, "What's the big deal? You're just busy and have too much to remember." They don't understand that forgetfulness is a big deal to me.

My mom has Alzheimer's disease, and I've been living with it every day for five years now. And every single one of those days, I've asked myself what kind of horrible disease this is that would steadily take away her mind piece by piece until one day, she won't be herself at all.

If you met my mom and talked with her very briefly, you would think she was "pretty good" for an 82-year-old. That would last about five minutes -- maybe. Then she would ask you the very same questions she asked only a minute earlier: "What are you doing today? How's the family?" And if you stayed with her 15 minutes, you would have heard and answered those questions over and over and over.

While this disease has been brutal to my mother, it hasn't been all that kind to me. I have been forced to become my mother's mother, a role I never wanted.
I make decisions for her -- big decisions such as where she is going to live, how she is going to spend her money, what doctor she will go to, where she will go on her one weekly outing from the nursing home. I'm even second in line to God to say when she will die, because my signature is on an order related to her end-of-life medical care.

I also get to make not-so-big decisions -- what she will eat for lunch when we are together, what brand of underwear she will be most comfortable in, what she wants to give her children and grandchildren for Christmas and birthdays.

And yet I am so lucky. My mom took $50,000 she inherited when my dad died 30 years ago, invested it conservatively and lived very frugally. That $50,000 grew to $150,000, which, combined with her own retirement and Social Security benefits, allows her to live in the finest of long-term care facilities. I can't even imagine what life is like for those who care for loved ones 24/7.

I hope that Ronald Reagan's death has given us more awareness and reminded us that no one is exempt from this horrible illness. Not doctors, not teachers, not former presidents of the United States. Money, status, knowledge -- none of these prevents Alzheimer's.
Let's join Nancy Reagan in her fight against Alzheimer's. Let's raise money and push for research. Let's put an end to Alzheimer's -- or at least slow it down.

Jan Mead lives in Wichita.

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