Seeking the Hidden Key
Updated: Aug 27
As research into the root cause of Alzheimer’s continues, scientists are impeded by the fact that what triggers the disease is still unknown. Metaphorically speaking, a secret kept under lock and key.
Seeking the Hidden Key is a portrayal of an Alzheimer’s patient’s brain scan, revealing the progressive disintegration of brain cells. The birch wood substrate represents the root cause of Alzheimer’s, lurking just behind the brain scan. The corroded metal plate is the memories that are slowly being eroded, no longer reachable. And, finally, the lock conceals its root cause.
The key to finding the cause of this devastating disease stays hidden - but within reach - until the day it can open the lock to reveal the secret.
My closest experience with Alzheimer’s disease was with the lovely Jane, a woman who was diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s in her 50’s. When I met Jane, she was living in the same senior’s residence in which my 95 year-old mother lived, because her family could no longer care for her, and there are no dedicated care facilities available for people with early on-set Alzheimer’s. At the time, 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 not only forgetting things, but forgetting people as well.
As we were fairly close in age, we began a hesitant friendship – hesitant 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 lamented that she had no one to talk to, but mostly that she had no one with whom to do things.
The residence offers many and varied recreational activities to its 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, completely in her own world, enjoying the music. Other times she would pace, back, and forth, back, and forth, looking straight ahead, not seeing or being aware of anyone. And, Jane loved to dance! Dancing made her so happy. At any of the residence’s parties or celebrations where there was music, Jane grabbed my hand and together we danced. She was in her element.
Jane particularly loved clothes and fashion, having had 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 different outfits. Jane would repeatedly fold and unfold her clothes, moving piles of clothes around her room, rearranging them, and then putting together outfits until she was happy with what she had done. She often changed clothes a couple of times a day, until she felt she looked good and was happy with her appearance, which was still important to her.
And, she LOVED ice cream. That was one thing we both loved! She could easily devour 2 or 3 ice cream cones - one after another - and I was happy to keep up with her.
As the disease progressed, Jane started to become frightened and to display some signs of paranoia. A few times 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 finally hung up. Other times, when she did talk to me, she told me she felt that people didn’t like her, that they were talking about her and saying mean things. We had these conversations quite often, and they were always in confidence. I had to promise Jane not to tell anyone when she told me her “secrets”. I kept that promise to her.
As time went on, Jane’s condition deteriorated to the point where she no longer recognized me. It was devastating for me to lose her like that. She was moved to the Alzheimer’s floor of the long-term facility where I visited with her a few times. I realized my visits meant nothing to her (that I could see), and I knew I was visiting with her more for myself than for her. But my last visit upset her because I was a "stranger", and I frightened her. I stopped visiting Jane after that, and it was also the last time I saw her.
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 has had an enormous impact on my life, and I can only say I was lucky and honoured to have her friendship.