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The disease we cannot forget

By MARY JANE PARK

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 26, 2001


Nearly every single one of us can plead guilty to joking about Alzheimer's disease. We forget our keys; maybe we have "old-timer's" disease. We can't easily summon up a friend's name; must be Alzheimer's.

We're whistling in the dark, of course, making feeble attempts at humor even as we are terrified that we may be among the 4-million Americans who have this debilitating, progressive condition. For them, and for those who love and care for them, the decline can be heartbreaking.

There is a big difference between memory loss and Alzheimer's, and some of us are juggling so many things that we sometimes wonder how we retain anything at all. That's understandable, because we're on constant overload. Alzheimer's, and the resultant dementia, are the subject of this month's cover story, which addresses new research about Alzheimer's and events that can signal its onset.

About 100,000 Tampa Bay residents have Alzheimer's. For them, their caregivers and loved ones, the bay area chapter of the Alzheimer's Association is an important resource, offering educational materials, counseling, support groups and some financial assistance to people with dementia and their families.

For information, call toll-free 1-800-772-8672.

Family reunions: Updating a classic

When I was growing up, our family reunions usually took place in summer. Often they were what we called "dinner on the grounds," a midday Sunday feast that involved an astonishing (and competitive) array of food spread under the shade of trees outside a church where our kin had gathered, first to worship, then to eat.

Always there were big jars fillled with iced tea; fried chicken, potato salad, baked beans, fresh corn on the cob, country-ham biscuits and sandwiches filled with ripe, juicy tomatoes or homemade pimiento cheese. For dessert: cold watermelon, pies, cakes, banana pudding, brownies and cookies. Children were enlisted to turn the cranks of wooden ice cream freezers.

Young ones dodged one another during games of hide and seek among the tombstones in family cemeteries. We played horse shoes, softball, badminton and croquet; if we stayed till dark, we caught lightning bugs and put them in glass jars.

Boys and girls played together, but men and women didn't mix much. The menfolk gathered in one area, the women in another.

Today, families are scattered throughout the country, and some reunions have become more organized, with everybody getting a T-shirt and groups of rooms booked in hotels at resorts and near theme parks. Organizers do genealogical research on the Internet, print family histories from personal computers and announce reunion plans through e-mail.

How do you plan your family get-togethers? Please let me know, in writing, at one of the addresses below.

- Mary Jane Park, Seniority editor, can be reached at (727) 893-8267 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 8267. Write to her in care of the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, and at park@sptimes.com

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