A middle-aged woman shown in profile with her hand on her forehead looking towards her brain, which is visible through her skull.

Will Alzheimer’s Happen To Me?

My dad had Alzheimer’s. It was a very difficult journey for him and those of us that had to watch him go through it. It was difficult, very difficult, for my mom. It is a journey I would not want my husband and kids to have to live through with me. But the reality is, they may have to. I am at a higher risk for this disease. My risk factors are different than my dad’s but I’m still at relatively high risk.

My personal and family risk factors

First off, it is in my family, dad had it. Mom does not. Genetics or familial tendency could be playing a part. As far as I can recall no one else in the near or distant part of my family had Alzheimer's.

My next risk factor, I have diabetes. I am the second one in my family to have diabetes. My great grandmother had diabetes as a child, Type 1. I developed gestational diabetes during my second pregnancy and 10 years later, I had Type 2. The genetic coding was there which we now know puts me at higher risk for Alzheimer's.

Another risk factor I have, I am clumsy. I have hit my head a few times over the years. More than a few times. One time I recall my doctor telling me I had a slight concussion. We know more about head injuries today than we did in the past and how that can potentially impact the development of Alzheimer's. They do not have to be concussive. It’s the accumulation of hits to the head, both small and large, and the shock to the brain that can increase the risk.

Fear and anxiety about Alzheimer's

I fear Alzheimer's. I fear what it means. For me. For my husband. For my kids. I have anxiety about developing it. I worry every time I cannot remember things. I worry when I know I just had my car keys and then I cannot find them. I worry when I cannot remember things from the past.

I ask my husband if I have Alzheimer's. He tells me no. But I still worry about it. A lot. It seems like it is always in the back of my mind. I wonder if the anxiety and fear I have are related to the experience of helping Dad and Mom through it. Maybe some PTSD? It would not surprise me. It was a long hard journey of worry the whole time dad’s brain was changing; a worry I could not control.

My mind and memory are sharp

Then I try to remind myself of the things I do that require executive functioning. My job for example. I have to have a high degree of knowledge that I can apply multiple times a day to do my job and in different scenarios. People rely on me to provide them with knowledge, current research, and application of that research. I can help people solve their issues because I can apply that knowledge. I need computer skills for my job as well. I still have the need to not just accept that a program works, I need to know how it works, and why. I drive my IT colleagues crazy as I ask my questions and seek out answers. I can retain that knowledge and share it with other colleagues.

I have no issues navigating my car. I do occasionally miss my exit off the highway but that is more out of distraction than forgetfulness. If my mind is somewhere else, I have to refocus to think “Where am I going? Aw, yes.” From what I am told, that is still pretty normal for most people.

Because of diabetes, I'm aware of my overall health

I have read the research on the connection between diabetes and Alzheimer's. Yes, I am at higher risk for developing it however, I work hard, really hard, at trying to ensure my blood sugars are the best they can be. If you have ever lived with someone who has diabetes you quickly find out that it is a chronic disease that is all-consuming.

To maintain good control of your blood sugars, you have to calculate the amount of carbohydrate in everything you eat. Everything. If it is not in the forefront of your mind, it is in the back of it. You have to test your blood sugars multiple times a day only to find out if your effort paid off. If it didn’t, why didn’t it? Then the brain goes wild trying to figure out what you could have done differently only to realize, there was nothing.

Diabetes is a struggle between you having control and it having control. Diabetes is progressive even with all the best efforts in place. So what is the upside? The upside is that I have the ability to do all that is required to achieve and maintain good blood sugar control. I maintain good control. I exercise frequently, most often daily. I take the meds prescribed and I follow the evidence-based advice I am given.

Age isn't always a factor

What can I say? In a few short months, I will be 61 years old. That does not seem possible but true nonetheless. Age does not determine how the brain functions. We sometimes think that age means feeble, old. It does not. And it does not in my case either. This is a trap, an old wives tale, that is easy to fall into. I have changed the way I look at age. I am going to be 61 years young. Not old. Young.

Lessening the potential future burden

If the worst case scenario happens and I develop Alzheimer’s in the future, there are things I can do to make it easier for those I love. Here is what that looks like.

Financially, thank goodness, my husband and I are in a good place. We have good jobs and we have investments. We should be just fine to afford the financial burden Alzheimer’s can create.

My husband and I can choose a nice place to move to should that be needed. We can pick the memory care home we want to live in so our kids don’t have to go through the process of picking one for us. It will be one that my husband and I can live in together that will provide progressive care as needed.

My husband and I have already talked about what giving up our driver’s licenses in the future would look like, how we can function just fine without them. In the event that ‘the plan’ is not going as planned, I have charged my daughter with making the decision about when it is time for my driver’s license to be gone if I do not surrender it sooner. My daughter will have it in writing that she has the ability to make that decision on my behalf when I can no longer do it for myself. I have no wish for my kids to live through the horror of having a parent on the road that should not be.

Impossible to predict the future

Can I predict if Alzheimer’s will move into my life? No, I cannot. And risk factors are just that, risk. Not absolutes. I cannot always avoid the times when my mind drifts to the ‘what if’s’. What I can do is stay healthy, stay active, stay involved, and hope for the best.

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