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Toasting the new year with a half-full glass

2017 was quite a year and, for once, I don’t mean Brexit and Trump. My turn-of-the-year reflections are rooted closer to home. In April Ms Alzheimer’s moved in for good. Well I suppose she’d been here for a while actually, but it was on 29 April – Diagnosis Day – that we were told firmly, finally and unequivocally that My Loved One’s brain scan showed that he has Alzheimer’s. A stop-you-in-your-tracks game changer to put in mildly. Eight months on and we are, in a rackety, rickety kind of way learning to live with Ms A – as we must.

During the same period, we’ve done a lot of pretty radical work to the house we bought in autumn 2016 which has meant dozens of tradesman busily, but disruptively, working their magic on our premises and, every morning, a rather plaintive question from MLO “Is anyone coming today?”.

We also had a couple of pretty fabulous holidays – first in Malaysia where MLO really wasn’t well for much of the time and then in Corfu where he seemed much more “with it” and gave me hope that perhaps the medication really is having some effect.

Meanwhile – busy working arts/education journalist as I am –  I have seen 109 theatre shows and been to 25 classical music concerts, mostly to review. Recurrent tiredness means that MLO doesn’t come to quite as many of these with me as he once did but he’s been to a good few. All the Alzheimer’s advice tells you to do as many brain stimulating activities as you can and theatre is good for that. So is the Polygon in The Times which he does most days. He used to do the Code Word too but bloody Ms A seems to have destroyed that little pleasure.

Goodness knows there has been plenty of anger, sadness and frustration during the last twelve months but we also laugh which feels like the sun coming out and Ms A retreating temporarily into the shadows.

So that’s what we have to focus on as the new year gets underway – laughing and counting our blessings. After all, we have each other, two brilliant sons and their equally brilliant families and a nice home in a very convenient location as well as half a century of shared happy memories. Without those things dealing with Ms A would be an awful lot worse – and it is for many people.

And I’ve said before, people are very kind. For example, one night last week I overheard the lifelong friend, almost another sister, who stays with us twice a year,  gently helping MLO run his bath because he’d momentarily forgotten which tap was which and how the bath and shower taps relate to each other. Then there are people who leap to their feet on trains so that he can sit down or patiently assist him in shops when he takes an unconscionably long time to find his money and organise his purchases. There’s nothing like illness for bringing out the best in people and making you pause for a bit of blessing counting – especially as one year gives way to the next.

2017 was rich in Alzheimer’s cure/prevention stories too. Almost every day, for the last eight months during which I’ve been especially attuned, there’s some sort of medical research report which makes the national media. Most of them come down to eating whole foods and getting plenty of exercise because it seems to work for mice. And that’s pretty irritating because MLO has always lived like that. He and I were eating whole grains, pulses and nuts with lots of vegetables and fruit on a daily basis before most of the researchers were born.

Then, on New Year’s Day I read (in a small The Daily Telegraph side panel) about a University of Lancashire study. It found that a “triple receptor drug” created to treat type 2 diabetes helped – in more of those unfortunate mice at any rate –  to reduce memory loss and the hateful amyloid plaques which are what Ms A really is. The scientists who published their findings in the journal Brain Research argue that their “very promising outcomes” could bring new hope to thousands of Alzheimer’s sufferers.

I wonder …? Onwards and upwards into 2018.



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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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