• Patrizia Brasch

Seeking the Hidden Key

Updated: Jun 5

As the search for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease continues, scientists are impeded as the root cause of the disease is still unknown, metaphorically speaking, hidden under lock and key.

Seeking the Hidden Key is a mosaic representation of an Alzheimer’s patient’s brain scan, the black areas revealing the disintegration of brain cells. The birch wood substrate represents the root cause of the disease, lurking behind the brain scan. The corroded metal plate represents memories that are slowly being eroded, no longer accessible. And, finally, the lock represents the challenges researchers face in identifying the root cause of this debilitating disease.

Hanging on the back of the mosaic, hidden but hopefully within reach, is the key researchers need to open the lock once the challenges have been overcome, a cause discovered, and hopefully a cure found to eradicate Alzheimer's disease.

My closest experience with Alzheimer’s Disease was with Jane, a woman who was diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s in her 50’s. When I met Jane, she was living in a senior’s residence because her family could no longer care for her, and there are no other care facilities available for people with early on-set Alzheimer’s. Jane was aware that she had Alzheimer’s and would often tell people that she had the disease. It was devastating to hear her tell people that she was forgetting things and was forgetting people.

As we were fairly close in age, we began a hesitant friendship – on Jane’s part, because she sometimes could not remember who I was, and we would have to start over. But the more often we “hung around together”, the closer we became, and Jane would talk to me, in her own way, telling me how unhappy she was living with old people. She complained that she had no one to talk to, but mostly that she had no one with whom to do things.

At the residence there were several recreational activities available for tenants and residents. Jane particularly enjoyed the art classes and bi-weekly music concerts. But she also loved to run and to work out on the treadmill. Sometimes we would sneak into the Physio Dept. on the weekends so she could do her 5K. Jane would often pace the corridors of the residence for hours, listening to music on her iPod. Other times she would just pace, back, and forth, back, and forth and just be looking straight ahead, not seeing anyone. She loved to dance, and dancing made her really happy. At any of the residence’s parties or celebrations where music was being played, Jane grabbed my hand and we danced. She was in her element.

Jane also loved clothes and fashion, having a career in the industry. She took great care to dress nicely, and one of her favourite days was laundry day, when we would go to her room and organize her clean clothes into outfits. Jane would repeatedly fold and unfold her clothes, moving piles of clothes around her room, then putting together outfits until she was happy with what she had done. She often changed outfits a couple of times a day, until she felt she looked good and was happy with her appearance.

And, she LOVED ice cream. That was one thing we both loved! She could devour 2 or 3 ice cream cones one after another, and I was happy to keep up with her.

As the disease progressed, Jane became somewhat frightened and started to display some paranoia. A few nights she phoned me at home (I had given her my phone number), and she would just cry. I would try to talk to her, to find out what made her so unhappy, but she wouldn’t say a word, she just cried until she hung up. Other times, when she talked to me, she told me she felt that people didn’t like her, that they were talking about her and saying mean things. We often had this conversation, and it was always in confidence. I had to promise not to tell anyone when she told me her “secrets”.

As time went on, Jane’s condition deteriorated to the point where she no longer recognized me. It was devastating to me to lose her like that. She was moved to the Alzheimer’s floor of the long-term facility, and I visited with her a couple of times. But I realized my visits meant nothing to her (that I could see), and in fact my last visit seemed to upset her because I was a "stranger". I stopped visiting her after that.

Jane died in April of 2018, two weeks short of her 60th birthday. I can honestly say I will never forget Jane, and Seeking the Key is dedicated to her memory. She was my friend only for a short time, but she had an enormous impact on my life, and I was lucky to have her friendship.

Jane Fairrais

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