This is hard to write, as my sister still is alive. There are only two of us, the siblings of two honorable parents, flawed as all of us are, who did the best they could and were supportive all the way. My sister is three years younger than I. She lost her husband, her true love, nearly five years ago to Parkinson's. His disease came on quickly, and within a few years he was gone. She lived as a widow for a while but moved into a "senior care facility" when her two adult children recognized she was forgetting things at an alarming scale and was getting lost in the area where they all three live. Her children managed the sale - the modest house brought a tidy sum in a quaint, older Albuquerque neighborhood. That would have been capable of supporting a "normal" retirement, along with her savings and public-school teacher's pension, but the cost of special care is depleting her savings at a significant rate.
The Independent Living Wing features nice single and double occupancy apartments with a central dining area and pleasant social areas for TV and card games, etc. Residents come and go at their leisure, both inside the facility and, with proper sign out, can leave for a while. The Advanced Care area includes locked doors to ensure the residents do not exit and walk away - unaware of where they are. In my sister's case, she enjoyed the former until she walked away and was picked up by a friendly motorist who brought her back to the facility and made sure she was checked in properly. That occurrence made it mandatory for her move over to the wing for those with more serious memory declines. She has experienced more and more advanced dementia until now she hardly knows her own (adult) children or who I am. She speaks with words, but the words seem to be random - are not sentences - and make no sense.
On the positive side, she seems very happy and "chirpy" and is a pleasure to be around, according to the attendants in the facility. Yet her memory decline seems so precipitous that any meaningful conversation with her on the telephone now is impossible. She no longer has a phone: she cannot remember how to use it any longer and loses it. So, my communication with her now takes place only when her son or daughter calls me when they come to pick her up and take her to one of their homes for a meal.
What causes such a fast and remarkably crippling decline in one's mental acuity? Certainly, Alzheimer's is a terrible disease and appears to affect more and more aging people. To see own's own loved one struggling so dearly is heart breaking. I feel guilty as it's very hard for me to get away to visit my sister in person, given my own wife's post-stroke health issues. It's not clear when, if ever, such a visit in person will be possible. And would she even know who I am? She seems uncertain on the phone while I go through my repetitive litany of stating and restating I am her brother along with my name. She seems to grasp it after a while, but I am not sure.
Entering the phase of my own life, at age eighty, when physical and mental limitations become more and more important, if not dominating, is unsettling. I'm fortunate to be a long-time member of a small men's book club here in Austin. In addition, six of us who are "ham radio" enthusiasts (since our teen-age years) meet weekly for lunch. These two key social connections along with maintaining contact with cousins and a few other special friends along the way are meaningful life markers that increase in importance every year.