Thursday, November 7, 2013

Lawn sprinklers and Alzheimer’s

sprinklers_05_0710-lgOur lawn sprinkler has always given us trouble.

My husband tells me it has something to do with the manifolds, the things that have electrical wires connecting the faucet to the valves that control each sprinkler station.

I guess if it weren’t for a faulty manifold though, we would not have discovered until much later that my father-in-law, Danny, had Alzheimer’s.

Danny was a licensed electrician. Before retirement, he worked for Fort Monmouth Army base in New Jersey.

When my husband and I were first married, Danny helped us renovate our 80-year-old fixer-upper in Red Bank, N.J.

He was so handy. He helped Peter install 18 windows in our home over one long weekend. We installed a brand-new bathroom together.

So when Danny and his wife, Mary, came from New Jersey to visit us in California for a few weeks many years later, we assembled our fix-it list.

Right at the top was the sprinkler system.

Soon after father and son got to work on that troublesome manifold, my husband came in the house and told me something was wrong. Peter said his dad could not remember which wires were connected to each other—something that would have been embedded in an electrician’s brain.

That night when we asked him what happened, Danny told us he was “not thinking straight,” that his “thoughts were jumbled and his mind was fuzzy.” He said he’d felt that way for a while and it was getting worse.

We searched the Internet for symptoms and signs of dementia, and went through the checklist. Mary said Danny had been having difficulty remembering things, like how to find his way home when he was only a few miles from the house. He was repeating a lot of the same stories over and over, and he was losing track of the month and the season.

Not knowing what to do, we handed the checklist to Danny to read. I remember him sitting on our couch, holding his head while moving it left to right— almost as if to say “No, no, this is not happening to me.”

We made them promise to take Danny to the doctor as soon as they got home, but in hindsight we do not think they did. Danny continued to drive—in part, because he did not understand he shouldn’t, but also because Mary encouraged him to.

Mary and Danny had immigrated to New York City from Ireland in their early adulthood. They married and made a home in Manhattan.

Early on, Danny worked as a chauffeur, taking great pride in his driving ability. Mary never learned to drive.

So when both retired in their late 70s, Danny was Mary’s only source of transportation. Realizing something was wrong, she helped him to compensate, remembering routes for him, pointing out curbs he was about to run over and reminding him to shut off the engine.

Then he had his first accident. Danny’s car was damaged, but he did not know how. The second accident involved his jumping a curb and hitting a fence. The third damaged the neighbors’ yard, and they called the police.

Summoned to court, they offered Danny a compromise. Fines would be dropped if he surrendered his keys and never drove again. He did. His beloved Town Car sat in their driveway for almost two years before it was given to a grandchild.

Danny is gone now. He waged a seven-year battle with Alzheimer’s but in the end died of cancer.

He was such a kind man, always helping others with whatever project needed fixing.

I am guessing there are lots of folks out there wondering if their forgetfulness is just a normal aging change or an early symptom of Alzheimer’s.

This month is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month.

In conjunction with the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, Senior Concerns will be hosting a Memory Screening Day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sat., Nov. 16 at its offices at 401 Hodencamp Road, Thousand Oaks.

The program will include a presentation on the difference between normal aging changes and signs of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as brain fitness activities and memory screenings by appointment.

To make a reservation and schedule a screening, call (805) 497-0189.


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Categories: Elder HealthNumber of views: 1729

Tags: signs of Alzheimer's disease

Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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