In the previous article, I shared about my mom’s way of thinking and approaching life which I felt had led her to develop Alzheimer’s. In this article, I would share two more case scenarios of persons whom I personally know one with early stage of Alzheimer’s and another already with Alzheimer’s. Do note that their names have been changed to protect their privacy.
Case 2: Sally, in her 60s with early stage of Alzheimer’s.
When Sally was young, her mother was widowed and subsequently remarried. Her mother went on to have 3 children with her stepfather. Both her mother and stepfather were compulsive gamblers and were often not at home.
The responsibility of caring for the kids where just shoved to Sally. Before she was even 10 years old, Sally already learnt to cook, clean and play surrogate mother to her step siblings. Her mother would say sweet words to her to get her to work while she went out to gamble.
As she got older, she had to take her stepsiblings one by one to school, as well as prepare and cook for them. However, she herself was denied of the right to an education. There was a lady who took pity on Sally and gave Sally some private tutor lessons for free which enabled Sally to at least read a few words of English.
The most unfortunate thing happened when her stepfather raped her. Sally believed her mom would have suspected but turned a blind eye. There was no one that Sally could turn to at the time and she had to endure the terror, humiliation and shame all by herself. It was only towards her middle aged years after both her parents had passed away that Sally told some people about her ordeal.
Sally got married at the age 17 to who she thought was a wonderful guy. But the guy turned out to be yet another compulsive gambler, alcoholic and womanizer. Sally eventually got a divorce and raise both her kids on her own. Because she lacked the education, she had to work 3 jobs to be able to support her kids.
By right, Sally is a wonderful person who does not deserve all these unfortunate incidents to happen to her. She did the best she could as a mother- but one thing I noticed was that she liked to splurge. Because of near poverty when she was young and that she felt unloved and unappreciated, she tried to compensate by giving her kids the best she could. She would take her kids out at times to nice restaurants or buy them gifts that they wanted.
As trauma and hardship accumulates in her life, she talked about them often (even though she never mentioned about the sexual abuse until the last few years). Eventually she developed a rigid but cynical way of looking at life. Her sense of responsibility and her desire to please, plus always sharing what others considered events in a negative way had started to put people off.
She was also unfortunate that she ended up helping those who were not only ungrateful but turned her own daughter against her. This further made her stuck deeper to her views and beliefs.
Our body stores our pain. When she was about 40 years old, she started to gain weight around her hips area and she tried everything but could not reduce her weight. At the same time, she also had fibromyalgia and pain all over her body. When she goes for massage, she would cry because the massage releases some of the trauma. She also always cry when she talks about her life story.
By the time I was matured enough to be able to engage in a meaningful conversation with her, I felt that her views and beliefs were already cast in stone. Like my mom, she had certain justification and reasoning of why things happened and nothing I or anyone else could say to her could convince her to change and let go of the past. She had already been married to a good man who accepted her children but her thoughts remained in the past and the betrayals that she had felt. But I could also see that her incessant complaining and nagging is also taking a toll on her husband.
By the time she was in her 50s, she started to become very forgetful. She now has early stage of Alzheimer’s. And because the emotional roller coaster throughout her entire life have been deeply overwhelming, and with her limited mental strength and capacity, it would be hard for her to recover from the trauma. Because it takes a lot of courage to face the fears and terrors of the past and come in terms with it. If the person is stubborn and years of ‘circumstantial evidence’ seemed to drive the beliefs further deeper, it is almost impossible to elicit any changes because the person would be so convinced that she is right.
I noticed that they would talk out their problems and anger with others. But they are not speaking to the right person, at the receptive time of their life. Had she been able to go for therapy when she was younger or meet with someone whom she genuinely respect, then she may be able to go through the release and healing of her trauma.
Case 3: Elsa in her 70s with Alzheimer’s
Elsa was born in a poor family in Singapore. There are 5 siblings. Elsa is the oldest female child. Elsa’s father passed away shortly after her youngest sister was born.
After her father’s death, Elsa’s mother had to come out to work as a washer woman to support her kids. By then Elsa was not yet 10 years old but as the eldest daughter, she had to cook for the family. Later, Elsa’s mom decided to send Elsa’s younger siblings for studies. Elsa came out to work when she was very young.
At that point, Elsa mother could only afford to send 2 of her children to school and Elsa being the oldest female child, was able to work and help in the family. That was her mom’s logical reasoning.
Elsa then grew up with deep resentment for her mother. She accused her mom of not being fair and sending her younger siblings for studies but left her out. I believe she was frustrated at what life has thrown to her and channeled all that frustrated energy and blamed on something convenient. If it is not on education, I was sure she would have found something else convenient for her to channel to the blame to.
Her nephew told me that his father, and another older brother who never got an education never blamed their mom. They were able to accept that the younger siblings got a chance for education and a better life.
So for years, she refused to talk and acknowledged her mother. And they actually live on the same block of flat but only at different floors. She refused to go up to see her mother or join them in family gatherings. She just went on to blame her mother.
And her mother who actually deeply love Elsa was made to feel very guilty of making that choice. All 4 children were close to the mother but she often pines for Elsa and asked about Elsa. Her mother stayed with one of the children who hired a maid to help look after her mother. The maid would tell me that the mother used to cry and pine for Elsa, and was sorry for what she was done.
Her mother eventually developed cancer and was eventually bedridden. She was a dignified lady and did not really want to trouble the maid unless there was no choice. She would inform the maid beforehand that she was going pass motion so that the maid got time to prepare. When her mother died, Elsa did not attend the funeral.
Because of Elsa’s rigid views, it has caused a lot of unnecessary suffering for her. Despite not having the education, Elsa still made a lot of money by selling curry noodles, pan mee and carrot cake that people across Singapore would queue up for each day. After Elsa’s husband passed away, Elsa was only able to make the carrot cake and hordes of customers would queue each day for her delicious carrot cake. And she would insist on doing everything on her own without hiring helpers.
But after her husband passed away and her son was busy working, there was less people to keep her distracted. By that time, deep regret and remorse had probably started to set in on the ways that she had used to hurt her mother. But then, it was already too late. She could no longer make amends for her past mistakes because her mother was already gone. The guilt would have been overwhelming and paralyzing, something that she would not be able to face and would try to suppress.
By the time I met her, she already have Alzheimer’s and was constantly pining for her mother. She is also now partially blind due to diabetes and have aortic stenosis (link between hostility and heart disease). Despite not able to see well, she would claim that her mom is the shadow that she seen in the room (she sees everything in a kind of blur greyish environment). She is being looked after by the same maid who also looked after her mother so the maid as well as the nephew and nieces shared with me her life story.
I could see that Elsa is a really difficult person to look after. Even with Alzheimer’s, Elsa is extremely stubborn, refuses to use adult diapers and soiling up beds and furniture. A short time of arriving she had wanted to go back and she would drive the maid and her son in Singapore crazy by the incessant calling, complaints and wailing that her son had to fly from Singapore to take her back.
It was necessary for Elsa to develop resilience to grow up in a family with a homemaker mom who suddenly had to become the sole breadwinner. Elsa would have felt very hurt by mom’s action and stubbornly assumed her mom did not love her enough… that was why she was denied a chance for education.
But despite that, Elsa was in fact making more money than any of her siblings (including the educated ones) even though she was a mere hawker because she was good at the food she was making. As a hawker, she had more freedom – ie she could choose to work or not. She was so well off that she could buy a few properties with cash.
When I asked Elsa if being a hawker must have been tough because they have to wake up early and prepare food, then sell and wash plates, pack, and repeat the whole process the next day. Nah, Elsa told me… it was not tough because she said, once you are used to it, you would not find it tough. She could also explain her daily schedule to me (Alzheimer’s patient can still remember certain details quite well).
And I thought to myself…. then what is there to blame her mom for? She would never be this rich if she had gone to school because famous food stall sellers in Asia make way more money than even CEOs. I know a couple who operated a dingy curry noodle stall in an old wet market who could buy 3 houses with cash.
Her nephew and nieces told me that their parents have tried to explain to Elsa for many years but Elsa refused to accept and stuck stubbornly to her views. In the end, when the realization finally hit home, her mind was incapable of coping- she wanted to deny and suppress it all till the mind eventually forgets.
There are extensive research being done to identify the risk factors of development of Alzheimer’s disease. Most of these studies usually identify the physiology or biological changes of these diseases. How many actually took account case histories of these patients?
However, detailed emotional factors are not being explored, possibly because it would be hard to quantify and develop into a tablet medication or conventional treatment.
Extreme stubbornness, rigidity in views, inability to understand or cope with trauma, deep remorse, abandonment or rejection may drive the mind to try to forget and suppress these memories which may eventual lead to permanent degeneration of the brain cells. I really doubt anything could be done once Alzheimer’s set in or the few years prior to that.
However if you are younger and more adaptable, and if you notice that the persistent rigidity and stubbornness is making your life miserable and lonely, find the courage to break out from this and change. Or if you have gone through a traumatic past or had suffered a deep sense of abandonment or rejection that had ‘hardened’ you and make you unable to forgive but desperate to forget and suppress, find the courage to address it either through therapy, trauma release, spirituality pursuit and forgiveness.
Because if these issues do not get addressed, it may manifest later in life. If it is not Alzheimer’s, it may be some form of auto immune disease or possibly cancer.