My journey living with Alzheimer’s, finding joy
After a grand mal seizure forced her to retire from her career as a nurse, Laura McDermott was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She shares her frustrations and challenges, but also what brings her joy and hope. Most importantly, she shares how grateful she is for her husband, Rory.
A scary start
Laura and Rory McDermott had been married for 31 years when Laura had her first grand mal seizure. It was 2011 and Laura was working in acute rehabilitation at Enloe Hospital in Chico.
“It’s unusual to have your first seizure so late in life,” said Laura, “and when I couldn’t get them under control, they sent me to UC San Francisco for testing.”
Eventually, doctors were able to get her seizures under control, but soon became concerned about her memory loss. They sent Laura to a memory and aging doctor who performed a series of tests. Laura was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2012.
After her diagnosis, Laura started to think back to the year before and realized that her personality had been changing. “I made plans without consulting Rory,” said Laura. “I bought tickets to a country show in southern California and had no idea who was going to take me.”
“The job I had always loved started to become stressful and I’d never felt that way before. That was one of the red flags I didn’t notice until I looked back.”
Dealing with frustration
Laura finds that she can become easily frustrated because what she says and what people hear are two different things. Laura says, “If one thing sets me off, I just go to the bedroom and go to bed because I can’t calm down.
“I’m a different person now. I don’t have patience anymore and I don’t tolerate things like I used to.”
Laura is also frustrated by losing the life she had before Alzheimer’s. “I miss my old life,” says Laura, “I loved my job. I had to be on top of things and now all of that has gone out the window. I’m not the person I used to be and that’s hard to accept.”
Joining a support group
Luckily, Laura was able to find support from the Alzheimer’s Association. “I called the local office in Chico,” said Laura. “I spoke with Becky, the Regional Director, and she recommended a support group they have for people living with the disease.
“I love it. I look forward to it every month. I met some neat people, and what’s cool is that everyone in the support group understands you.
“Becky, who also runs the support group, is unbelievable at drawing people out. These people are living with Alzheimer’s, experiencing the same things as me. The best person to interact with is someone else that has Alzheimer’s.”
Hoping for a cure
Laura’s experience as a nurse made her want to do something about her diagnosis. Her first thought was to participate in research studies, to help find a cure. However, she wasn’t a good candidate for any research trials due to her seizures.
The second thing she did was read everything she could on the disease. “At first it was really depressing,” said Laura. “I would come across something that gave me hope, like a trial that was really close to working. Then it would get snatched out from under me when the trial failed.
“My biggest concern isn’t for myself, it’s for my kids and my grandkids. My grandmother and aunt had Alzheimer’s. I just want there to be something that will slow down the progression.”
Making new memories
Despite having the disease for 7 years, Laura is encouraged by how slowly the disease is progressing. “When I was first diagnosed, my youngest grandchild was one,” said Laura. “I was worried they wouldn’t have any memories of me.
Laura and Rory have three great kids, and six grandkids that she loves. “The longer I’m able to be Grandma for my grandkids, the more memories they’ll have. Right now, it’s all about making memories.”
Laura used to go back to the hospital and visit old friends. However, she soon realized how hard it was to go back. “I’d burst into tears,” shares Laura. “I could remember I worked with someone, but I wouldn’t know who they were.”
The same thing happens at the grocery store when she and Rory run into someone they know. “They’ll strike up a conversation with me and I have no idea who they are,” says Laura. “It’s scary, frustrating and really tough to take.”
The worst part for Laura is when someone sees her and says, ‘you look really good.’ “It’s hard to hear that,” shares Laura. “I know I look good, but you don’t know someone with Alzheimer’s until you have to live with them. You have to see the day to day struggles and issues they have.”
Finding the joy in her life
Laura tries to take each day as it comes. Here are few things Laura loves, that she looks forward to every day:
- Working in the backyard, planting things and listening to music.
“I put my earphones on, crank the music and tune it all out.”
- Making lists.
“It makes me think about all the things I want to get done and look forward to. It’s satisfying to cross things off.”
- Talking on the phone with her brother.
“My long-term memory is really good. My brother is my best friend and we can talk for hours. We bounce from one subject to the next and I’m good. It’s uplifting to be able to talk to someone that lived my life when we were younger because I remember that stuff.”
- Going camping.
“It’s one of my favorite things to do. I love being in a tent and we’ve been going to the Redwoods for years. It’s my peace on Earth.”
Going through Alzheimer’s together
As they have done for many years, Laura and Rory continue to work as a team. They do everything they can together. They still have the same interests and Rory has become a calming presence for Laura when she is struggling to be patient.
“He understands what’s going on and knows that it’s not my normal personality,” says Laura. “He deflates the situation and that helps.”
Laura appreciates having support. “Rory has been my rock,” shares Laura. “I’m so fortunate to have someone that I live with that can me through rough days.
“Whatever I feel like doing, he supports me. If I need to lay down, he says, ‘go do it,’ because he knows it’s going to help me.
“Alzheimer’s has brought us closer together. He gets me and helps steer me in the right direction if I’m doing something I shouldn’t. He checks on me to make sure I’m okay. It’s important to have someone who is looking out for you. I’ve got it made.”
If you’re currently living with Alzheimer’s or a related disorder you can find out more information at alz.org/ihavealz.
If you’re interested in joining an early stage support group, please call our 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900.