How We Got My Father Excellent Alzheimer’s Care for Less Than $1,400 a Month

If you’re reading this, you may be facing the terrifying predicament my husband and I found ourselves in in 2011: My elderly father had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and we had very little money to cover the gap between his monthly pension and what he would need for long-term care. To put it bluntly, we were scared out of our wits.

So we came up with an unorthodox solution: We moved my father from northern Florida to Lima, Peru, and cared for him there. Yes, Peru, South America.

He lived in Peru’s historic capital for sixteen months, until his death in July 2012, and he got excellent, personalized care that far surpassed anything he could have gotten in the United States.

In other posts, I’ll get into how and why we chose Lima (we were living there at the time). What most people want to know first are the numbers, so here they are.Continue Reading

“I Think I Love You”: Thoughts on David Cassidy’s Dementia Diagnosis

David Cassidy was the television version of the cool older brother I never had. Hearing that he has dementia feels like some protective cone over my childhood has been wrenched away.

As an only child growing up in the late ’60s and early ’70s, I often felt out of place in working class New Jersey. Most of the families on my street had four or five kids, and at school some kids used to call me a “lonely only” or make snide remarks about my being “spoiled.” I loudly told them to shut up, but part of me felt bad about being different. I sometimes fantasized about having lots of siblings, but mainly my daydreams centered on one thing: Having an older brother who would protect me.

I imagined this perfect big brother beating the shit out of Donald Schmidt when he punched my arm in the coatroom in fourth grade. (Instead, I challenged Donald to a fight outside and got punched in the face.) I imagined this big brother pushing the junior high kids off the bridge when they threw lit cigarettes into my bookbag. (The cigarettes made brown burn holes.) When a gang of nasty seventh-graders ganged up on my friend Judy Chen and called her a “Chink,” I envisioned my big brother grabbing them by their hoodies and hauling them off to the principal’s office like some kind of civil-rights-era Sir Lancelot.

A few years later, I found myself wishing for a cool older brother who would bring his guy friends over to the house so I could get to know them.

Back in elementary school, my go-to role model for an older brother was Keith Patridge, as played by David Cassidy on The Partridge Family. He was relaxed, funny, confident—the de facto father figure in a household run by his widowed mother. Continue Reading

David Cassidy Has Dementia

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Back in the 1970s, David Cassidy became a teen idol as the lead singer of the Partridge Family, a made-for-TV pop group that spawned a number of Top 10 hits including “I Think I Love You” (1970), which went to No. 1. The show was hugely popular for several years, and Patridge Family albums sold millions of copies, especially among pre-teens like me and my friends.

Cassidy continued to act and sing throughout his adult life, but he never achieved the same level of success as he had when he was playing Keith Partridge.

And now he has revealed that he has dementia. He struggled with alcohol abuse for years, but went into rehab. Then he forgot the lyrics at a show and didn’t want fans to think he had relapsed. So he decided to tell them the truth.

His mom, Evelyn Ward, had Alzheimer’s.

I’m very sad. More than I can say.

Here he is singing, “I Think I Love You.” Girls used to scream so much when he performed that no one could hear the music.

Alzheimer’s Brought to New World by Conquistadors, Study Finds

As if the native peoples of Latin America didn’t suffer enough at the hands of the Spanish: a study from UC Santa Barbara concludes that conquistadors likely brought Alzheimer’s disease to what is now Colombia in the early 1600s.

As reported in New Scientist on November 19, 2015, researchers have long puzzled over the extraordinarily high incidence of early-onset Alzheimer’s in Yarumal, a town in the Colombian state of Antioquia. About 5,000 people in the immediate region carry a gene mutation for the disease, half of them receiving a diagnosis as early as age 45. Reporter Rowan Hooper writes that:

Locals call the disease La Bobera, “the foolishness”, and the village bears uncanny parallels with the fictional Macondo in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, where people suffer memory disorders and hallucinations. But while Yarumal’s “curse” is well known, no one knew how the mutation first appeared.

However, that mystery was unlocked in 2015 by researchers from UCSB and the University of Antioquia. Scientists collected blood samples from 102 people in Antioquia and sequenced their genomes. The results showed that roughly three-quarters of the people had a specific mutation for early-onset Alzheimer’s — E280A — which came from a common ancestor about 375 years ago, right when the Spanish invaded. According to New Scientist:

“Putting the genetic data and the historical records together, the assumption that the mutation was introduced by one Spanish conquistador is very likely,” says Rita Guerreiro, a geneticist at University College London. “I think it is fair to conclude from this study that the history of Yarumal and the history of E280A are one and the same.”

The article goes on to describe the agonizing decision that the researchers made not to tell their test subjects the results of the analysis. It makes for provocative reading.

If the scientists’ supposition is true, then it is indeed a tragedy: The actions of a single conquistador doomed generations to suffer an especially severe version of an already painful disease. As described in the New York Times, the victims in Yarumal are prone to violence and lose the power to live indepently early in their lives. .

When I brought my father to Peru to care for him there, I knew little about Alzheimer’s and dementia in South America. During his year and a half in Lima, I met a number of gerontologists, neurologists and professional caregivers, and I began to get a sense of how prevalent the disease is in the metropolitan area.

This news from New Scientist gives a historical focus to Alzheimer’s in the New World.

I wonder: Would we have had Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia in Latin America today if the native people had defeated the conquistadors?

 

The Phone Call: Real Life Adventure #1

finger with blue telephone keypad - communication concept

In January 2011, I had a strange conversation with my father.

My husband and I were living in Peru, our home for the last five years. My father, a healthy 86-year-old widower, was living in his home in Florida.  He was all alone except for his poodle, Charlie Brown. Still, he got out regularly – errands, church, weekly meetings of the Masons. I wasn’t too worried about him. Years before I had gotten him one of those Life Alert things, and he wore it around his neck. His neighbors looked in on him. Plus we talked several times a week. This was one of those times.

“Dad, I tried calling you earlier,” I said. “The phone just rang and rang. Where were you?”

“Oh, Barbara. It’s all screwed up…” His voice trailed off.

“Dad, where were you?” I persisted.

“I’m right here,” he said, his voice keening.

“Is everything okay?”

“All they gave me is goddamn crackers.”

“Dad, you’re not sounding okay.”

“Just Townhouse crackers. Shut up!” This to the dog, who was yapping in the background.Continue Reading

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