When Sara Wuillermin's mom, Rene, first began acting strangely, her family attributed her behavior to stress. Initially it was little things — forgetting names, getting turned around while driving, repeating the same stories over and over again. When Rene started to have trouble administering medications to the students she treated in her part-time job as a school nurse, her family convinced her to take a break from work. As her symptoms progressed, Rene was diagnosed with everything from menopause to depression to anxiety. At one point her doctors even suspected she might have a brain tumor.
Finally, after months of tests and misdiagnoses, Rene was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease when she was just 54. Sara was 22, freshly out of college, and living half a country away from her parents. She was trying to understand what was going on with her mother via phone calls and extended family visits.
Leaning on crochet to stay sharp
On the advice of her doctors, Rene crocheted as much as possible to keep her mind active in the hopes that this might slow the progression of the disease.
"My mom was a very crafty person and loved to crochet. When she first was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, she crocheted all the time, a way to help keep her brain active," Sara said on her blog, I Am Not A Jedi. "As time progressed and the disease began to take hold, it became more difficult to complete the more intricate designs of the squares she created in the months and weeks before." Sara noted that before long, her mom could only make tightly constructed circles. And eventually, "she just held the empty needles in her hand, roughly simulating the act of creating."
According to Sara, her mom created the crochet block in the top left of the photo right around the time she was first diagnosed. The last "block" in the photo, was created by Rene about two years after her diagnosis. That is how quickly and devastatingly Rene's disease progressed.
It has now been 12 years since Rene was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. "She is what is considered to be stage 4, which means she is non-verbal and not able to tend to any of her basic needs," Sara told MNN via email. Her father, whom Sara describes as a "true hero," has been Rene's primary caretaker.
"I really hope this post allows people to better understand Alzheimer's, its affect on others, and to remember that there is still a person behind this disease," Sara said in a Facebook post submitted to Love What Matters. "My mother was a fun, beautiful, vibrant person who rented 'Saturday Night Fever' to teach me dance moves before my first school dance and blared Queen on the way to my soccer games to properly get me pumped. She is a person who deserves to be remembered, and I hope I can keep her memory alive a little more."
She may have Alzheimer's disease. But she is #StillRene.