Caring for an Alzheimer's Parent

Fade to Blank: Missing Memory Lane

The meandering country road, and the prison at the end of it, were untouched frontiers for David Hilfiker.

But, as the Buckingham Correctional Center came into view, he was pricked with a slight twinge of déjà vu. The facility at the end of the lane looked vaguely familiar, but that was to be expected and could easily be explained away as an anomaly born of past experiences.

The archetype of the traditional prison façade was not an unfamiliar sight for David. He had spent a significant portion of his career as a physician providing care and support for drug addicts with HIV and AIDS. He’d also been making regular trips to various prisons to see his friend, convicted murderer Jens Soerig, whom David believes to be innocent.

Preoccupied by his impending visit with Jens, David didn’t give much thought to that brief brush with déjà vu until the center’s chaplain came over to where they were sitting. David’s introduction and outstretched hand caused a quizzical look to cloud the chaplain’s face. “Yeah, I remember. You were here a couple of months ago,” he said.

It was David’s turn to appear perplexed. He’d never been to this particular prison, and he’d certainly never met this particular chaplain.

Always a bad one for remembering names and faces, David brushed off the incident, placing the burden of blame on his chronically shoddy memory.

Once the chaplain had moved on, David looked to Jens for confirmation that he had, in fact, never been to Buckingham before. But his friend refused to lie. “Of course you have. Three or four months ago,” he said.

Still confused, David let the matter drop, spent a few more hours with Jens, and drove home.

After returning home to the townhouse he shared with his wife, Marja (mar-ee-yah) David immediately consulted his calendar. One glance told him everything he needed to know. Jens and the chaplain were right—it was six months to the day since David had first been to Buckingham Correctional Center.

Between driving to and from Buckingham and spending time with Jens, David estimated that the trip he does remember took him about ten hours total. He was flabbergasted; an entire half day had faded from his mind. “I remembered nothing from that visit—I still don’t,” he admits.

And that was only the beginning.

It would take David a few years after the incident at the prison to seek out and receive his diagnosis: mild-cognitive impairment, most likely Alzheimer’s disease.

To read about life inside Alzheimer’s, go to www.fadetoblank.org. If you are an organization that would like to share the story, visit the media-ready “tool kit” (www.fadetoblank.org/toolkit.htm).

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