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The "A" Word
By: Howard Loonan

It was the winter of 2009 and my 92-year-old father, who was mentally and physically healthy till the day he died, had passed away a year earlier.  My mother was starting to "lose her mind."  I thought that she had become temporarily senile from the pain she had endured from losing her other half, the half she had by her side for over 70 years.  But then I started finding pieces of this puzzle that made me realize that she had been on the road to dementia for a long time, and my father had been unintentionally masking her disease from others for years.  The most telling sign I found was an old note pad written with my father's handwriting.  He had been keeping a log of all the books that my mother had read.  You see, my mother loved to read novels, but apparently she would read the same ones over and over again without realizing. My father started keeping this list of all the books she had completed so she wouldn't forget.

After my siblings and I realized the state my mother was in and watched her condition snowball downhill pretty rapidly, we took her to several primary care physicians, psychiatrists, geriatric specialists and neurologists.  At first, the physicians all avoided the "A" word. But after several months of physician visits and tests, the news came back that she had what we had feared worst; she had Alzheimer's disease.  While I wasn't shocked when I first heard the diagnosis, I did feel much pain, resentment and embarrassment.

Every doctor we saw told us that, in addition to the two standard Alzheimer's medications she was prescribed to slow down the progression of her disease, the other thing that we should do is keep her mind active and exercise her brain with different card games, word puzzles, Sudoku, etc. The doctors had all seen multiple studies and read lots of research which indicated that these types of activities help slow the progression of this awful disease.

Mom had been living on her own.  It wasn't long before things got to a point where my siblings and I decided it was in my mother's best interest to move into my finished basement apartment.  She would  have a loved one and caregiver keeping an eye on her and taking direct care of her.  My sister and brother came to my house one Saturday afternoon and we decorated my basement apartment just like her old house.  We took our mother's furniture, paintings from her walls that our father had painted, and even the magnets from her fridge, and we transformed my basement into her new but familiar home.

To keep my mother's brain exercised and also have something nice to connect with her, we started our weekly "game night" in which the whole family came over and played my mother's favorite card games and a game she loved called Rummikub.  For the first few months, she was still very engaged and won many of the rounds quite often, just like the old days.  However, as time went on, we could see her mind function slipping away right before our eyes.  She was no longer able to grasp the rules and structure of these games that she had been playing all her life.  So game night was canceled and the rest of the next year felt like a terrible holding pattern which we couldn't escape.  We helplessly sat around with nothing we could do.  It was a terrible feeling and an awful drawn out year.  To watch someone you love unconditionally who had such spunk, personality, and pizazz her entire 90 plus years of life turn into a completely nonfunctional person was heartbreaking.

When my mother passed away from this terrible condition in January of 2011, I couldn't help but wish I could have done more.  So I decided that while her battle against Alzheimer's was over, my real battle had just begun.  While my oldest son had participated in many of the game nights that we held for my mom and saw how she went from being very engaged to not engaged at all over a period of a year, he had come up with an idea for a deck of cards that would be specifically designed for people with Alzheimer's and Alzheimer's prevention.  The cards would have easy-to-relate-to retro images instead of numbers, different colors instead of suits, and would offer a variety of activities that would range from relatively challenging to as simple as simple gets.

His concept was to offer a product that will help keep the brains of people with Alzheimer's exercised no matter what stage of the disease the they are in, while also acting as a platform or forum for loved ones, caregivers and even the youngest of grandchildren to connect with them.  He had mentioned this idea of his to me while my mother was still around, but it was one of those things that you throw out there as "you know what would be a cool idea" type of thing.  Well, after my mother was gone, I didn't want to turn my back on the battle against Alzheimer's, so I spoke with my son about turning his "cool idea" into a reality. 

Almost three years later, a new product to fight Alzheimer's disease was launched called Preservation Pack and we're trying to spread the word.  We decided that in addition to helping the fight by offering a great product specifically designed for people with dementia, we also donate a portion of our profits to Alzheimer's research.



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