Hitting a Nerve

Hanging on to the memories


Sandy was placed in memory care recently.

Dr. Allan M. Block, a neurologist is Scottsdale, Ariz.

Dr. Allan M. Block

In my world, as a 23-year veteran of the neurology frontline trenches, this is a pretty common occurrence for my patients.

But Sandy isn’t my patient.

She’s a longtime friend.

My parents met Sandy and her husband on New Year’s Eve, 1968. I was 2. Phoenix wasn’t a particularly big city back then.

Growing up we had summer pool parties and get-togethers with them and other families. My mom and Sandy have close birthdays, and when they both turned 50 their husbands threw them a combined 100-year surprise party. As couples they made occasional trips to Las Vegas.

In adolescence, when my voice changed, I sounded a lot like my dad, and Sandy could never tell us apart. So when I answered the phone and she thought it was him, I’d just fly with the conversation, becoming increasingly preposterous until she said: “Okay, now I know who this is. Let me talk to your mom.” Maybe she was just humoring me the whole time. But it was good for a laugh.

Ten years ago my mom mentioned Sandy had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease by another neurologist in town. For a long time her deterioration was slow.

I last saw her 8 years ago, at my dad’s services. At that time we had a nice conversation. I didn’t go into my trained “neurology mode” – I’ve never been her doctor – but enjoyed talking to her as a family friend I hadn’t seen in years. There were a few gaps in her memory, but she was still the person I’d always been fond of.

Eight years is a long time in Alzheimer’s disease, and she finally reached the point where placement was no longer an option. My mom had spoken to her the week before, but told me Sandy couldn’t really carry a conversation now.

Sandy isn’t dead, but by the same token she is. Placement in memory care is often the realization that the person we knew and loved isn’t there anymore. In a world where we can often keep people physically up and around, our ability to do the same with their minds and souls is still desperately in need of a truly effective treatment. Such treatment isn’t even on the horizon ... yet.

As a neurologist, I know this reality. I explain it to families every day.

But when it comes to someone I know outside of my profession, that doesn’t make it any easier.

Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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