Saturday, 4 February 2012

Family History Writing Challenge 2012 - Day 3

I kept thinking of John Matthews and is death caused by "senile decay". Death certificates often indicate senile decay where death occurs as a result of old age. Do I really believe that?

My Grandmother said many times that her Grandfather was a "dirty old man" -  he would often forget to wash and would wet himself. She recalled this from her early childhood, when he would have been late 60s or perhaps early 70s. I wanted to explore the potential options that perhaps he had what we now know be Alzheimers or dementia.

Both are known to occur in families - driven by the essential facts of Chromosomes which are inherited. We each generally have 23 pairs inheriting half from our mother and half from our father.

My Great Aunt, John's Grand daughter developed Alzheimers. She died in the early 1980s and had always been very much like my Grandmother. Fun loving and very affectionate. When she was in her mid 70s she started to forget things, the usual sorts of things - after all she was elderly! She then started forgetting more serious things, such as forgetting to turn the gas off and would leave the front door open. Eventually she forgot who she was and every one else. It was truly soul destroying. I was an teenager at the time and didn't really notice an awful lot. Reflecting now I realise just how dreadfully sad things were.

In the mid 1990s my Grandmother developed something similar. Whilst her family history made her more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimers, she had in fact a brain tumour, which is fairly common in patients that have had a primary cancer. It would though have been quite easy to have made an assumption, based upon the family history. The doctor in this case explored all options open to them at the time, which would have been a lot more than in 1927!

Whilst the death certificate is absolute, sometimes we need to look at the history surrounding the cause of death. Establishing what it means and try to understand it. After all, we seek to explore all the data of our ancestors and their death is the final fact.

Word count - 369

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