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Looming Like a Hurricane, the Unstoppable Force of Alzheimer's

The winds swept over New Orleans in the summer of 2005 like a hurricane. In fact, it was a Category 3 hurricane. Katrina bashed the Crescent City with hammering blows that broke levees, broke homes, and broke hearts.

Dashing the hopes and dreams of many, neighborhoods were left in shambles. Whole city blocks disappeared. Many perished. While the French Quarter and Garden District were left almost untouched because they were above sea level, other parts of New Orleans were decimated.

The ghost of Hurricane Katrina

My in-laws, the Stuart family, lived in one of the other parts. Six months after the storm, I felt first-hand the effects of the storm.

As I entered their residence, I was surrounded by a ghostly rainbow of mold covered walls. Furniture had floated and moved to odd places. There was still murky gulf water in drawers. Almost everything was a loss.

Sure, I found class rings and some porcelain goodies, but it felt like the death of memories.

A multi-generational household forms

Hurricane Katrina changed the arc of my family's life. With the insurance money from the loss and sale of the property in New Orleans, the Stuarts bought a home in the same neighborhood as ours in the Buffalo, New York area.

My in-laws would spend half the year near us and the rest of the year in Mississippi. Soon, it made sense for us to sell our home and move into the Stuart's empty home down the street and have us all together 6 months of the year.

Eventually, Richard and Mattie and my immediate family became one - full-time. Orchestra recitals, band performances, kids' sports games, graduations, holidays all became a multi-generational family celebration.

First him, then her

My father-in-law began declining mentally and physically and passed in the fall of 2012. Mattie, my mother-in-law, was his caregiver. We all saw her care for him so beautifully not realizing that we would do the same for her soon enough.

Mattie's slow descent became noticeable about 5 years ago when she began having difficulty with word finding.

Initially, she could get the subject and verb of a sentence correct but had difficulty with the direct object. In other words, she struggled with the entire point of the sentence. Most nouns became "things" and "stuff." Eventually, we took her to a physician and after imaging and consultation, dementia, likely Alzheimer's, was diagnosed.

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Transitioning to caregiver after the storm

While regular speech therapy and medications seemed to have helped slow the progression of the disease, it continues to march on. The initial effects were minimal like a gentle breeze. Soon, the breezes were knocking limbs off of trees.

Like a looming hurricane, Alzheimer's feels like an unstoppable force that is about to wreak havoc on our family. As I see the tides rise and flags stand on edge, I wonder what this is going to look like. What will happen to us?

Hurricane Katrina stole memories. Photographs were destroyed. Old video and 8mm films were left a sooty mess. Keepsakes gone, my wife's wedding dress was damaged beyond repair. So much loss leading to so much gain as we all began a new life together. Yet, I ask myself what good can come from this storm, the one named Alzheimer's.

Will there be a rainbow?

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Which, if any, of the following most often trigger agitation in your loved one living with Alzheimer's disease?