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Feb 06 2007

Alzheimer’s and Grey’s Anatomy

When I wrote the other day about last week’s Grey’s Anatomy episode that addressed chemo and toxicity from herbal remedies, I seem to have started something. So many of you were interested in that question!

Not surprisingly, many are looking for more information, too, about Meredith Grey’s mother “waking up” from Alzheimer’s Disease. And a few people wrote to ask if it’s possible.

This is a tough one for me, because my mother (and therefore my whole family) is a victim of Alzheimer’s disease. We first noticed Mom’s problems almost 10 years ago. In early 2005 we moved her to a memory center in Sarasota, Florida. Dad, who has health challenges of his own, spends time with her everyday. She still recognizes him, and when we visited her in late December, she recognized my sisters and me, although she didn’t know our names. It just absolutely breaks my heart.

And that’s actually the reason I didn’t/couldn’t/avoided writing about it. In the story line, Meredith’s mother actually “comes to”. She remembers everything with great clarity prior to the past five years, including all the emotions and attitudes that went with her life ‘before.” Her personality recovered along with her memories. And in the case of Ellis Grey, that’s what was so off-putting.

I looked it up — the concept of recovery from Alzheimer’s. There is no such thing. Period. At least not today. There is misdiagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease — a couple of possibilities that either cause dementia, or that dementia is a symptom of. And there is the typical Alzheimer’s trait that memories of the past can come forth (for example, Mom has always loved to sing, and remembers the words to songs that nobody has heard since the ’40s and ’50s!)

I should mention that for the past 8 months or so, Mom has had improvement in her symptoms. Whereas prior to that, she would sleep through her days and her chin was always dropped to her chest, for these past several months she has actually been more vital, with a smile on her face and the ability to enjoy her environment. Even the doctor and nurse practitioner can’t explain it. But — it’s not the same as regaining her personality — not by a long shot.

Nowhere in my research could I find anything that says an Alzheimer’s patient can redevelop the clarity that Ellis Grey did on the TV show. Not if that patient truly has Alzheimer’s disease. And we have to remember that the only way Alzheimer’s can be positively diagnosed is after the person has died. A pathologist can look at a dissected brain and determine it was Alzheimer’s. Until then, we have only symptoms to base a diagnosis on.

So, for those of us with a loved one who suffers from this horrid “long good-bye” — showcasing the concept of recovery, even if it’s short-lived, is like holding out a carrot we have no way of grasping. It’s just one more frustration.

To anyone who reads this blog and is hoping I would have some magic silver bullet to offer — I wish I could. Believe me, the moment there is such an animal as a cure for Alzheimer’s, my family will know it. We camp on every word that’s published and follow all the Alzheimer’s news. We donate. We participate in the “walks” to raise money.

And mostly we feel like we grasp at straws.

I love you, Mom.

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  1. Gloria

    Hi,

    My Mom also has dementia, so of course it affects her and everyone who loves her. It wasn’t important to me that “Grey’s Anatomy” was not completely factual about the way they portray Meredith’s mother and her dementia. In many ways, it is too painful to really watch it, and I’m not sure it would make for good TV to see the physical and mental deterioration that a person like our mothers experiences.

    Like you, I am happy if/when we get the occasional moment(s) when Mom is back with us. I miss turning to Mom for advice, I miss her support and love, I miss the little things she would to show that she cares, and most of all I miss Mom.

    Thanks for giving us an avenue to vent.

    Gloria

  2. Trisha Torrey

    Gloria,

    I’m so sorry to hear about your Mom.

    My objection to the “carrot” on Grey’s Anatomy is that I think it subtracts from the horror of the disease, and therefore the understanding of it. Unfortunately, when misinformation is put out there, perceptions get skewed.

    Did you know that Bush’s proposed 2008 federal budget cuts funding for Alzheimer’s research? Is it possible that one of the budget developers/recommenders is a fan of Grey’s Anatomy? Can’t say for sure, of course, but again — perceptions can get skewed.

    Here’s more info about the budget cut:

    http://www.alz.org/join_the_cause_4730.asp

    Best of luck to your mother and your family, Gloria. I wish you all well.

    Trisha

  3. michaelm

    Trisha-

    I lost my mom almost 2 years ago to Alzheimer’s and read this post with interest.
    Knowing what I know about physiology, the vast wasteland of a brain riddled with tangles and plaques could never recover. Had I seen the episode of Grey’s Anatomy I probably would have thought , “Shame on you, Hollywood,” for giving people like us false hope. It’s not fair in the best interest of the scripted storyline.
    My mom love to sing as well. It’s been explained to me that AD doesn’t affect the part of the brain that supplies words and lyrics associated with a song. Ironic that my mother couldn’t remember my name but new every stinkin’ word of Jingle Bells.
    Maybe it’s just God’s way of letting us know they’re still ‘in there’.
    I found you through the WP tag ‘Alzheimer’s’. I will be back.
    Wonderful post.
    ~m

  4. amyh

    I am experiencing an awakening right now with a client. He has been suffering from AD for many years and I have been caring for him for four years. The main effects are his short term memory, it only last about 30 seconds. On a friday morning he was his old self, sitting, and needing to be reminded to do ADLs and still not knowing me. When I returned in the afternoon he was totally lucid. Had called his family found out he had AD and was calling everyone he knew. He hadn’t made a phone call in about 3 years. He could tell you every detail back to you of every person he spoke to. This lasted for 2 1/2 days then he lost the ability again for 1 1/2 days, and now he came back and is as sharp as a tack. I got him to his doctor of many years so he could witness this phenomenon. Will it last? who knows. Should you value the time while it is happening? Absolutely. I don’t think anyone can say that this is not AD because this doesn’t happen with AD when it is a disease that we are still in need of so much research.

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