16 January 2009

Forget-Me-Nots and Alzheimer's Disease

We interrupt our normal musings about plants to talk a little bit about something that affects a huge number of people around the world. It’s January, and in Canada, it’s Alzheimer Awareness Month. (I know the official month is in November in the US, and probably is other months in other countries. If you don’t know anything (or much) about this terrible disease, here are a few sobering facts and statistics.

Alzheimer's disease is not a normal part of aging. It is a progressive, degenerative disease that destroys vital brain cells. While researchers haven’t definitely nailed causes and cures, there are many things that are known. The disease appears to be caused when the combined effects of many risk factors, including age, genetics, lifestyle and environmental factors, overwhelm the natural self-repair and self-healing mechanisms in the brain.
The symptoms of Alzheimer's disease include a gradual onset and continuing decline of memory, changes in judgment or reasoning, and an inability to perform familiar tasks. It is the second most feared disease for Canadians as they age.
Alzheimer's disease eventually affects all aspects of a person's life, including how they think, feel, act and react to their environment.
Presently there is no known cure for this disease.
An estimated 300,000 Canadians over 65 have Alzheimer's disease.
36 per cent of Canadians know someone with
 Alzheimer's disease.
17 per cent of Canadians have someone with
 Alzheimer's disease in their family.

Count me in those 36 percent and 17 percent groups. I have several friends with the disease, as well as several older relatives. My grandmother had some sort of dementia for the last five or six years of her life before she died. And in 2000, (bitterly, during Alzheimer’s awareness month), my father was diagnosed with this disease, in earlier-than-usual onset. He went into long-term care 13 months later and died in June of 2005. It was a harrowing experience for our family, and now two of his siblings have the disease as well.

That doesn’t worry me personally. I don’t feel like there is a sword of Damocles hanging over my head. We don’t know that it’s the familiar form in our family, or simply a case of people getting older and falling victim through whatever reasons. I’m only HALF DeLong, after all, and there is no trace of it in my mother’s family. But having gone through what we endured with my father, I have all the compassion and sympathy in the world for those with the disease, or with someone important to them who has the disease.

A lot of advances have been made in the past 10-15 years, including several drugs that lessen or slow the effects of Alzheimer’s. They don’t work in all cases; nothing slowed my father’s rapid decline, but I know of others who have done and continue to do well.

What can we do? Support our local Alzheimer’s Society, of course, financially or in other ways. Learn what we can do to help those who have the disease, or those who are caretakers to those with the disease. It’s incredibly difficult for the caregivers, who in many cases are the spouse, sibling or offspring of the person with the disease. Even if caregivers aren’t family members, it’s a hugely difficult task to look after a person with Alzheimer’s, especially as the disease accelerates, as it will do.

In the spring, the gardens of Sunflower Hill are completely awash in a sea of blue, as the forget-me-nots bloom in huge profusion. They’re the official flower of the Alzheimer’s Society, and they gently remind us to never forget those who have been lost to the disease. Even without that context they are one of my favourite flowers, and I’ve been spreading them around the property for nearly a decade now, even before we learned my father’s diagnosis, because I had known several others with AD.

A friend across the miles, fellow gardener and freelance writer, Doug Green, has recently created a website with a LOT of information about Alzheimer’s disease, which you can find here. And the National Society website also holds a huge amount of information.

If you have anyone near and dear to you with the disease, or even if you simply care and want to be informed, have a look at these sites. And maybe, come spring, plant a forget-me-not or two.


  1. My family is experiencing this terrible disease now. It is a terrible thing for the loved ones and the caregivers. I don't know how much the actual victim is suffering but none of us want to spend our last years in that condition.

  2. Thanks for this post. My father had Alzheimers for six years before he died last week. It was a harrowing experience for my family.

    I didn't know about the forget-me-nots. I'll plant some in my own garden this spring in his memory.

  3. Yes, it is a cruel disease. I have known several people that had to deal with Alzheimers disease. I will definitely think of this when the forget me nots are in bloom. It is good that you have brought this to peoples attention Jodi.

  4. Jodi - What a thought-provoking post. I'm sorry for your loss, and the sadness that Alzheimer's has brought as it touched your life. Awareness is so important and you're to be commended to sharing so much good info with all of us. Thank you.

  5. Unfortunately, I'm all too familiar with this disease. My m-i-l has it. Thankfully hers has been very slow to progress. She was diagnosed about 12 years ago and is still alive. She has no clue who we are and can barely speak a word that is understandable, but she seems happy and thankfully she is still ambulatory.

    The thought of my husband getting this as early as she did frightens me. I just can't even let myself think about it.

    Thanks for educating others about this terrible disease. Hopefully one day they will find not only the cause but the cure as well.

  6. Great post, I will be planting forget me not's in my new garden come spring.

  7. My grandmother suffered for years with dementia. My grandfather died and that seemed to be the trigger. What would be a neat idea is to have a company donate a forget-me-not variety to sell. Then all the proceeds would go toward Alzheimer's study.

  8. You have posted an important reminder for those of us who have been touched as you have, dear Jodi. It's horrific loosing loved ones and we all need support. I didn't realize that forget-me-nots are the official flower of the Alzheimer’s Society. I adore them and have them scattered both here and at the lake where they grow undisturbed in great profusion. When mine bloom as a gentle reminder in the spring, I will think of you.

  9. I am so glad that you have written about this terrible disease, and so sorry for your loss.

    I had no idea that forget-me-nots were the official flower, how appropriate.

    My Mother in Law, Rose, a gentle, sweet woman, has been fighting this battle for over 10 years now. She has not recognized us for over 9 years. It definitely is the long goodbye, heart wrenching, and horrible.

    I will make a special effort this year to plant more forget-me-nots.
    And a donation to the Alzheimer's society.


  10. Jodi, the stats are scary, but I'm surprised they are not higher. I was care giver to my Grandmother for several years before finally having to place her in a nursing home. And now that's where my MIL is because of it too. The sad part is you lose them long before they die.

    Thanks for the info and the sites. What an appropriate flower for the Alzheimer's Society. I ould like to plant one this spring in memory of my Grandmother.

  11. My father had Alzheimer's disease for 15 years. Fortunately, he was well enough to live at home until his last three weeks of life. He was cared for very lovingly by my mother, and died on Dec. 28, just after Christmas. We were fortunate that he didn't have end up in a long-term care facility. Thanks for this post, Jodi.

  12. Beautifully and eloquently written. The photos are gorgeous.

  13. My husband's grandfather died of this terrible disease a couple of years ago. His long decline took an awful toll on his wife, who was his sole caretaker. So sad.

  14. I don't know anyone with this terrible disease, but President Reagan had it. A terrible thing for families and everyone around. I will forever think of it when I look at the forget me nots now.

  15. This is a terrible disease and I think its the carers that suffer more. I have a number of work colleagues who are dealing with parents with these disease and it is so sad

  16. Jodi:
    My Mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's a little over a week ago and I have been reeling ever since. For many years she had been diagnosed a suffering from manic depression, but its only in the past six months that there were signs popping up that perhaps something else was amiss.

    I have wonderful clusters of these perennial-annuals popping up everywhere in the garden. For years I used to joke that they were lucky to bloom with such startling hues of blue, but now I have another reason for allowing them to seed about with eavh passing year.

    I know it will be a long road and want to thank you for bringing these other sites to my attention. I am trying to absorb as much information as is possible without suffering burnout.... knowledge and education are for me the first lines of defence. Thanks again


  17. Jodi, what a wonderful and timely post. As you know, my closest aunt had to go to a nursing home when my uncle died in '07 as she is in the early stages of Alzhemier's, they believe, or at the very least, has developed dementia. Either way, it has been heartbreaking to watch this vibrant, intelligent, and fashionable woman regress into someone I hardly know. I WILL plant forget-me-nots in their garden come spring.

  18. Jodi - I lost my Mom to Alzheimer's 2 years ago next month. It is a devastating disease and I appreciate you bringing awareness to it here on your blog. I didn't know about the Forget-me-Nots....I have them in my garden and now they will have a new meaning for me.

  19. We're going through this with my mother in law at the moment and it's so sad to see a very clever and well regarded woman change into a shadow of her former self.

    Hubby and his brother took the difficult decision to place her in a care home last year and they're constantly beating themselves up about whether it's the right decision.

    Thanks for posting this - here in the UK Alzheimer's and dementia seem to be the forgotten disease in spite of Terry Pratchett having it and doing his best to shout about it from the rooftops.

    We already have forget me nots in the garden, by accident rather than design. I'll make sure they stay there.

  20. Jodi,
    I think we can all relate to this post. I have an uncle (my mother's side) that is suffering from some sort of memory loss. What ever he has, has taken about twenty years to progress. He is very good natured about it though. He can't remember what foods he likes and doesn't, so my aunt tells him. He doesn't know anyone, but he even told me, "I know I should know who you are, but I don't." I asked him at Christmas how he was doing. He said. "I don't have a clue, but they say I'm doing good!" He told his younger sister he didn't remember her, but she sure was pretty.:-) My father's memory is fair, but he has no concept of time any more. He can take a 40 minute nap and think it's another day when he wakes up. The good thing about it is, he and my uncle realize something is happening to them, but they are content to live day to day and don't seem to be bothered by it. Although it isn't Alzheimer’s, I can still some what understand. I think the caregivers are the ones that suffer the most.

  21. Jodi, I pray that you don't fall victim to this devastating disease. I don't personally know anyone with it, but I'm sure that could change at any time.
    Thank you for bringing this awareness to us.

  22. Jodi, this horrible disease affects a lot of people - I do hope scientists will find a cure for it soon. My mother-in-law died from it a couple of months ago, and it's so depressing watching someone fade away. Sorry about your loss too.
    -Thanks for letting me know about forget-me-nots - I'll plants some for my m-i-l this spring.

  23. My Father had Alzheimers. As did my Mother, though she had moments of clarity that confounded me. Even so, every time I can't find my keys I worry. Thanks for this...

  24. Dear Jodi,

    It really is a heartrending illness....To lose our loved ones again and again as this disease progresses. I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for the information..I hope the seeds of Forget Me Nots I planted grow in the garden...It will be a great reminder of my own dear aunt. Gail

  25. I am sorry to hear so many of you have been affected or are currently being affected by this disease. Its insidious roots are everywhere, for sure. But there is always hope; there's a lot of research going on and advances being made all the time. THey are too late, perhaps, for some of our loved ones and friends. But for others, hopefully they will make all the difference. Thank you for sharing your stories. My thoughts are with those of you currently dealing with this. It's rough, and do make sure to get the support that YOU need while you're also helping those who have the disease. Hugs to all of you!

  26. Heartrending is the name for this kind of illness. For those who are in the beginning stages, or want to do something to help prevent it, you might look into the supplement carnosine. It's a neuroprotector, shown to have an ability to block some of the disease-provoking factors associated with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, preventing neural damage. (As a bonus, carnosine is also great for your skin.) Carnosine is one of those substances we all have naturally, but lose as we age, so it doesn't seem to pose much of a risk to take it.

    Forget-me-nots will have new associations for me now.

  27. It truly is a terrible disease. My grandmother was diagnosed in her fifties and thankfully ten years later, she is still with us. I do believe that medicines have a lot to do with her still being with us.


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