This article was published in The West End Times March 5, 2011.

Gordon was founder and president of an investment banking and financial advisory services firm. In his lifetime, he earned four degrees, spoke four languages and pursued four passions: climbing, hiking, sailing and fine woodworking. Then he heard four words that changed his life: “You have Alzheimer’s disease.” (Gordon Annapolis, Md.)

We all hear stories like this everyday. Alzheimer’s is the fourth most prevalent cause of death after heart disease, cancer and stroke. It starts slowly and over time family members notice small changes such as a parent who forgets to turn off the oven or “Where are my darn keys?” “I can’t find my purse” One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s is memory loss, especially forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events and asking for the same information over and over. Some people may experience difficulty following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. Sometimes they may forget where they are and how they got there. This is all very scary for those experiencing these changes and for friends and family members noticing them in a loved one. The signs and symptoms are often subtle at first and easy to ignore or hide. In the beginning the signs may be that dreaded “elephant in the room” that no one wants to talk about.

From the 3rd edition of A Guide for families and caregivers by Lenore Powell, Ed.D and Katie Courtice: “The burden of love” The burden of love is living with the helpless feeling and knowing we cannot spare them the pain of losing themselves; nor can we spare ourselves the pain of our own losses.

Recently there have been several incidents when family members have wandered and been lost. Every winter there are reports of deaths due to exposure. It is hard to even imagine how friends and family feel after the 76 year old woman who had gone missing was found dead in a snow bank.

We need to talk about these things. We need to talk about them before it is too late. It is in the early stages of this horrible disease, when we all notice something is going on, even the person with the disease that we should discuss how we feel. I am the first to say I want to do things my way and I don’t want my children “telling me what to do” but losing the ability to think for yourself is different. If asked, when I can still make some decisions, would I rather be lost, cold, afraid and alone or carry a device that would help people find me when I am lost, the answer is obvious. If only we could have these discussions then the debate about intrusive technology, invasiveness of privacy, big brother watching you would not be necessary. The only question would be…….What would your mother want?

There are solutions according to computer programmer John Brohan who designed ALZ-Locate, a GPS tracking application downloaded onto a cell phone. “Wandering is a behavior which is very stressful for a partner or other family members, and these GPS devices can reduce the stress of the worry and find the wanderer quickly.” At this point Brohan’s application can be downloaded to an Android Roger’s phone. Connection costs for the cheapest plan are about $50.00/month. This includes much more than is needed for the ALZ-locate application. The data used to store the person’s position when they are moving is very small, maybe 10 times less than the normal plans. The hope is that providers may look at offering small data plans at less expense for this vulnerable population. The market is there says Brohan and the company that offers plans to support the needs, will win many friends.

Thoughts, comments, suggestions are always welcome.
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