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.

Posted in: Medical and Research Studies, Patient Advocacy, Patient Empowerment

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  1. Shelley Cummings-Giles January 30, 2011

    It happened yesterday. it was friday evening and I got a call from the nurse in the home where mom lives. Mom has been very passive for the last year, only answering a few simple questions, not initiating anything, seeming so unaware of her surroundings. The nurse is so excited on the phone explaining what he is seeing. The change is remarkable; talking to all the staff, joking with people, smiling and enjoying all the interactions, asking the staff to get her an appointment with the doctor about a physical ailment she believes she is having. When I get there I am in shock to say the least. We begin to talk, she asks me questions, she comments on my hair, my clothes, things so typical of her in the past. We chat about other family and I realize she is unaware of a number of things: my dad has been dead for 9 years but she is talking about him being away on a job and that he has moved into this place where she is living, just a few days ago. She comments on the place she is living and things she notices and teases the nurses when they tease her, her humor and abilities being typical of her about 5 or 6 years ago. She doesn’t want help and believes she is still able to drive and will get her own things at the store, not wanting to bother me. She wants to get up to use the washroom even though she has been unable to do this for almost 2 years as she is now in a wheel chair. She believes she can walk and have a bath by herself as well. Her eyes are clear and bright with none of the fearful,searching, confused look. Her spirit and knowing are back, if only for a short time.

    It doesn’t last. The next day she is awake after an afternoon nap. I am there and she has begun to go back. As wonderful as it was to have her back, seeing her leave again brings tears, as losing her so quickly is like a death of sorts, no time to adjust. It is hard to believe that what she was the night before was even real. I wonder where that part of her has gone and want to know how to help her find herself again.