Forgetfulness may seem normal amongst elderly people, but with Virginia it is more than just being forgetful. She barely remembers her own age. That’€™s the result of having Alzheimer’€™s disease.  

‘€œI’€™m about seventy’€, says Virginia, clearly annoyed that I had the audacity to even ask her how old she was.  ‘€œThat’€™s a rude question’€, she tells me.

I apologised and one of two care-givers assigned to her, Gladys Rasebotsa, corrected the old lady.

‘€œYou’€™re 82,’€ she said.  

It was a cold morning when I went to see Virginia. To keep the cold away, she was dressed in a warm brown fur coat. But within minutes of my arrival, she wanted it off.  

‘€œWhat did I put this on for?’€, she asks, trying to pull the coat away.

‘€œI don’€™t like this fur coat! It’€™s far too heavy and it looks silly wearing a fur coat in the house. Fur coats look crazy’€!, she says.

Alzheimer’s patients lose the ability to recognize current life events. Virginia is not even aware that she no longer lives with her immediate family. She constantly has to be reminded of the whereabouts of her son and two daughters.

‘€œWhere are my daughters?’€, she asks Agnes.  

‘€œTessa is working today’€, Agnes replied politely.

Although her care-givers are well-trained to cope with Virginia, the responsibility of taking care of her is enormous, says Thulisile Nkwanyane.  

‘€œIt’€™s challenging’€, she tells me. ‘€œYou have to remind her when her husband passed away, how many children she has and how old she is. You need patience, perseverance and dedication to do this kind of work’€, she explains.

Geriatric illnesses expert Dr Stanley Lipschitz, who treats Virgina, tells me how this incurable brain disease manifests.

‘€œalzheimer’€™s disease is classically a disease of older people. It is a degenerative disease of the brain, whereby certain areas of the brain, become damaged by the deposition of fragments of a certain natural protein that is abnormally processed. That results in the progressive decline in memory and in other cognitive functions’€, says Dr Lipschitz.

‘€œWorldwide, at the age of 60 the incidence is about one percent. Then the incidence doubles every five years. So, if you look at 65 the incidence would rise to two percent, at 70 it goes up to four percent and by the time you reach 90, it’€™s almost 50 percent’€, Dr Lipschitz says, describing how the disease unfolds.

Like every part of the body, the brain also ages and loses its optimal function. People with Alzheimer’€™s disease need care, love and support.


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