Dementia need not rob patient of dignity
Every morning, Aida Spino wakes her husband of 45 years, gets him out of bed at their Greensburg home and dresses him in clean clothes.
She prepares breakfast and they sit at their kitchen table, where she feeds him with a spoon so he won't spill yogurt on his shirt. She takes him out for a walk to get fresh air and to talk to the birds.
For eight years, Alzheimer's disease has sidelined Dr. Pascal "Pat" Spino, 89. His 80-year-old wife is trying hard to make sure the terrible journey that is Alzheimer's doesn't steal his dignity along with his mind.
"He's going to stay alive and live with dignity until the bell rings from above," she told me.
The Spinos are known all over this Westmoreland County city, where the pediatrician practiced from the mid-'60s until 2008. Dr. Spino was the go-to doctor for ear infections, sore throats and routine check-ups and once saw 50 patients a day.
"I never thought when we got married and we were on top of the world (that) this was going to happen," Mrs. Spino said.
Alzheimer's is an epidemic that touches 13 percent of all Americans. My maternal grandmother, who is 95, has the disease. She still knows who I am but believes my grandfather, who died in 1989, is alive and living with another woman.
My paternal grandmother, who also had Alzheimer's before she died five years ago, had to be strapped to her bed at times because she became too combative.
Everyone has an Alzheimer's story and each one of them is heartbreaking. There are forgotten faces, lost memories, unreturned hugs. Last week, hope emerged when the Food and Drug Administration approved a much-anticipated test that can detect proteins in the brain that are related to Alzheimer's.
Although it's not a definitive test, this could be the new tool that enables doctors to make an earlier diagnosis of dementia and pave the way for testing other drugs. That could be a good thing, because the lack of a cure for Alzheimer's is a frustrating dead-end for thousands of families.
"Once you get Alzheimer's, regardless of how many pills you get, you are doomed," said Mrs. Spino, a feisty but gentle woman who was born in Guatemala. "You're existing, but you're not living."
That's a bold statement but, then again, Alzheimer's is a bold illness. Mrs. Spino and her family have attacked the disease head on, managing with grace its emotional ups and downs.
In the absence of a cure, Mrs. Spino found her own arsenal of remedies: Taking her husband to his longtime barber to see familiar faces, bathing and shaving him, and not letting him sit in front of the TV for hours at a time.
"Would you like to have ice cream?" she'll ask, prompting his face to light up at the thought of a favorite treat.
As her husband becomes more withdrawn, she tries to stimulate what's left of his once brilliant mind. Their Alzheimer's journey seems more bearable because she hasn't lost hope. And because she believes in maintaining her husband's dignity.
Until there's a way to cure Alzheimer's, Mrs. Spino's solution is better than anything doctors can offer.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Burgess’ rivals for Pittsburgh council nomination owe money to government
- Pittsburgh man identified as Manchester shooting victim
- Western Pa. experts say nonprofit mergers take work
- Upper St. Clair lawyer pleads guilty to dealing in crack
- House floating along rivers will be new South Side Marina office
- Newsmaker: Dr. Clifton W. Callaway
- Trib recognition program celebrates young leaders in south, west area
- Hearing set for Homewood man accused of killing Lawrenceville resident
- Pew Research Center poll shows most Americans take gun rights over control
- CMU computer ready to take on poker pros in showdown at Rivers Casino
- Ice cream safe to eat, federal officials insist amid listeria bacteria discoveries