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The Expansionist
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
 
ADD and Alzheimer's. Two major stories today related to mental disorders. In the first, a kid with Attention Deficit Disorder got himself lost from a Boy Scout hike. It took four days to find the little moron, who wandered off without telling anyone. ABC News says he had started for home when he saw that the kids he hoped would be on the hike weren't on it. He got as far as one mile in four days. So much for the quality of his troop's Boy Scout training.
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The story of his rescue mentioned that searchers found a candy bar and potato chip bag. Since when do Boy Scouts litter the woods? This kid plainly does not belong in the Boy Scouts — not that anyone does, given that that organization teaches antihomosexual bigotry. Perhaps the kid belongs in an institution for the retarded, or a mental hospital for evaluation as to whether some kind of medication can focus his mind and return him safely to the real world.
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The other big story today was the stark growth (supposedly 10% in the last five years) in the incidence of Alzheimer's "Disease". I count as "diseases" only illnesses caused by microbes, so let's call Alzheimer's a "disorder" or something else.
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Alarmist statistics were all over the tube, in stories the same day on major English-and Spanish-language network news broadcasts. Among them were the statement that 50% of all Americans over 80 years of age have Alzheimer's, and caring for people with Alzheimer's costs $148 billion a year. For what? To keep alive people who scarcely know they're alive?
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We have to consider the hard facts of life, and of death. A friend of mine decades ago said he felt that Alzheimer's is nature's way of easing the end of life. There's something to that, at least philosophically. They don't know they're dying, so need not struggle to heed Dylan Thomas's famous 1952 advice:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

My father's mother suffered old-age dementia, or senility, which is what people have called this disorder for centuries. Another friend called it "Oldtimer's", which I like best of all.
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At times, Grandma Amy's senility was a little funny. One day, when she was about 93, she turned to my father, who had moved in with her after her second husband (not my father's biological father) died, and said "Ernest, would you help me answer a letter I got from my mother this morning?" Her mother would have been something like 120 years old but in fact had died decades earlier. Other times it wasn't so funny. My father woke up in mid-winter (in New Jersey) to find the kitchen door wide open. Grandma had gone to call the dog in, then left the door open to the elements. The dog, by the way, had died years before. Fortunately, Grandma did not just sit down in the kitchen and freeze to death but went back to bed, so the only harm was to the heating budget.
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Soon after that, Dad put Grandma in a very nice nursing home. One weekend that I came down for a visit, we found her sitting in the dining room and started to chat. She was perfectly willing to talk to us. I was closer, and after a few minutes of chatting, Grandma leaned forward, looked past me, and asked, "Is that Ernest?" I assured her that yes, that was Ernest, her son. And I was her grandson. We chatted some more. After a few minutes, she leaned forward, looked past me, and said, "Is that Ernest?" Funny, if it's not happening to you. Or your grandmother or grandfather.
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There is an elderly standup comic who does a routine about getting old. One of his jokes is that you're never lonely because you meet new people every day.
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My grandmother became a burden on the family because of senility. Tho we didn't wish her dead — she didn't have some enormous financial estate to settle upon us and we didn't hate her — what exactly was the point of her living after her mind had left? Why should anyone, be it my father, other members of the family, or paid staff at a nursing home, have to clean up after incontinence (front and back) of an elderly woman who has no reason to live?
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After months or years of this nonsense (at best) / ugliness (at worst), the memories the family once had of a vigorous elder are driven out and replaced by images and sounds of a demented wraith of his or her former self. For years thereafter, the last years are all one remembers. Not the sumptuous spreads of brilliantly cooked turkey and all the fixings at Thanksgiving, nor the hard candies put out at Christmas. Not the lafter and toasts, the barbecues and boat outings. Just the sadness of the end.
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We need, as a society, to think very seriously about assisted suicide and euthanasia for the terminally senile. There's no need to be vicious about it. "Grandma, would you like a cup of tea with honey [and a heaping dose of depressant so strong it will stop your breathing or your heart]?" And as Grandma or Grandpa lies down to take a (dirt) nap, you help get them into bed, comb their hair away from their eyes with your fingers, kiss them on the forehead, and say "Have a good sleep" for the last time.
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(The current U.S. military death toll in Iraq, according to the website "Iraq Coalition Casualties", is 3,223 — for Israel.)



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