My mother has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s been a long time coming, this diagnosis. The onset has been so gradual and it’s not been easy at times to identify real symptoms rather than crystallising “difficult” behaviour that happens with age. I’m not going into the whole story here as it’s long, drawn-out and tiresome. My mother has managed to convince most professional assessors of her rationality and cognitive abilities whilst becoming ever more dependent on me and not really bothering to wrestle with or take in anything I say. It’s almost as if she switches off her brain when she encounters me and I have reluctantly had to come to terms with the fact that this human being in front of me with past skills and experience, my mother, can no longer be reasoned with, really.
So anyway, after a gruelling appointment with a memory specialist, she received a diagnosis and was prescribed a drug called Ebixa, which is designed to block the receptors of natural glutamate in the brain and therefore slow down nerve damage and memory loss. I’m not, to my mother’s chagrin, a doctor so I can’t offer a proper technical explanation and I’d better stop mine there.
Now, Ebixa has side effects such as dizziness and drowsiness and has to be introduced gradually and monitored by a carer. I have been going over to my mum’s apartment in a warden-assisted block every day for just over a month now, and have increased the dosage according to the specialist’s instructions. At first there were no side effects but now my mother increasingly suffers drowsiness and has just started complaining of dizzy spells. She is frightened of falling so today she went to see a GP who told her to stop taking the medication.
This feeds into my mother’s denial that there is anything at all wrong with her. “Oh no,” she will say, “It’s quite normal for older people to lose their memories a bit and I haven’t noticed anything.” No mum. Of course not. You will, of course, have no recollection of repeating the same conversations again and again, sometimes at two minute intervals. You have always had a problem with facing up to reality and the truth and Alzheimer’s disease is a pretty huge truth, isn’t it? Of course I understand.
But if you refuse to take your memory medicine, because you have no idea about the extent of your impairment, won’t the disease progress faster? Surely it was irresponsible of my mum’s GP to discontinue the drug immediately without consulting the memory specialist? Or perhaps that’s actually a ruse on my mother’s part because she just does not want to take the drug. Who knows? I can’t force my mother to take the medication, and I wasn’t even sure that it would make such difference but now we’ll never know and I have a nasty feeling that I’m going to have to bear whatever consequences her refusal brings.