Woster: Slowly slipping away with Alzheimer’s

The Alzheimer’s Association says the disease can begin to affect a person’s brain as much as 20 years before memory loss and other visible symptoms develop. That’s incredible and insidious.

Terry Woster
Terry Woster

She was a slender woman, maybe late 60s, with an easy smile and eyes that sometimes seemed lost.

We lived near each other for a time in a housing development near the river, with walking paths and bicycle trails in easy reach. I would see her once or twice a week, usually in the morning when she walked around the neighborhood. Each time we met, she would say “Hi,’’ and introduce herself.

A time or two, early on, I’m afraid I responded, “Yes, I know. We live over there.’’ After I learned that she lived her days and nights with Alzheimer’s Disease, I felt bad. I began to greet her by giving my name and not referencing whether we already knew each other.

She talked sometimes of family, the number of children she and her husband had, simple things. As time passed, I saw her less often outside. Eventually, I learned that she had moved to a different city, to a facility that offered care for people suffering with the mind-robbing disease of Alzheimer’s.

I think of her now and then, especially when I see a television commercial that promises the person who will receive a successful treatment for Alzheimer’s is already alive. I recall my neighbor, such a gentle soul, who slowly slipped away from everything she knew, and I find myself wishing she had been that person.


Other times when I see the commercial or receive a request from the Alzheimer’s Association for a donation, I think of my longtime friend, Pat, a judge who retired from the bench when he realized he could no longer trust his memory in matters of law and justice.

I have written of Pat before. A Lyman County kid like me, he married and raised a family, dabbled a bit in politics and eventually became a circuit judge. By all accounts, he was good at being a judge, meticulous in his handling of cases, fair and compassionate in his treatment of those who came before him.

Pat slowly disappeared, as those suffering from Alzheimer’s do. While I was around him, he never lost his humor or quick smile, even though he knew what was going on inside his brain. A more agreeable friend you could not have asked for. Since his death, we have made Christmas donations in his memory.

The Alzheimer’s Association says the disease can begin to affect a person’s brain as much as 20 years before memory loss and other visible symptoms develop. That’s incredible and insidious. An estimated 6.7 million people in the United States are living with the disease, the association says. As the population of the country ages, the number of cases will grow.

The association says some 18,000 people 65 and older in South Dakota live with Alzheimer’s. By 2025 that number is expected to be 20,000 or more.

There is no cure. Some treatments may slow the progression of the disease, and Mayo Clinic says, “Experts are cautiously hopeful about developing Alzheimer's treatments that can stop or significantly delay the progression of Alzheimer's.’’

That’s promising. It isn’t immediate, but it is better than what we have now, and anyone with a loved one or friend who is living with the disease needs every bit of hope they can find.

In the last while, a close relative, a guy who was among my heroes as a kid, has experienced increasingly frequent memory lapses and other signs of Alzheimer’s. An official diagnosis came just recently. Making it official is a relief in a way. In another way, it is a blow to the heart, a soul-crushing thing to learn.


Music superstar Glen Campbell died almost six years ago from complications of Alzheimer’s. He was 81. His daughter, Ashley, wrote a song about watching her father “standing right in front of me and slipping away.’’ The painful chorus says, “Daddy, don’t you worry, I’ll do the remembering.’’

I suppose that’s what Nancy and I are trying to do with our friend Pat and our Christmas donations. I write on the notification to his widow, “We still remember Pat and his stories.’’

That isn’t enough. It is all we have.

Opinion by Terry Woster
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