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Remembering My Dad: Alzheimer's Does Not Define Our Loved Ones

My Dad's 50th Wedding Anniversary

My dad on his 50th wedding anniversary with nurse Mimi Hawkes, Beth Israel Hospital, Boston, 1987

My dad on his 50th wedding anniversary with nurse Mimi Hawkes, Beth Israel Hospital, Boston, 1987

What Is Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer’s was first identified by Dr. Alois Alzheimer in 1906, at a time when dementia was well known, but its causes were not easily pinpointed. He discovered what would be later referred to as the two hallmarks of the disease. The first hallmark is "plaques": multiple, tiny, and dense protein deposits throughout the brain that become toxic at high levels.

The second hallmark is “tangles” of the nerve cells, called neurofibrillary tangles, that interfere with vital processes and eventually kill off living cells. When brain cells break down and die, brain scans have shown a noticeable "shrinkage" in some areas.

The result of this degeneration of the brain is dementia, and Alzheimer’s is the most common form.

Memory loss is easily the most common symptom of this disease. In the beginning, it is new information that is usually the type that suffers. Alzheimer’s degeneration usually occurs first in the part of the brain that affects learning. Newly learned information becomes difficult to retain, whereas older, more ingrained memories are usually left intact. However, it is important to note that due to the progressive nature of the disease, in time, even older memories will likely begin to fade.

Early Stages

In the early stage of Alzheimer's, a person may still be able to function independently. He or she may still drive, work and be part of social activities. Despite this, the person may feel as if he or she is having memory lapses, such as forgetting familiar words or the location of everyday objects. Friends, family, or others close to the individual notice difficulties.

At age 68, my father, Caperton Horsley, was still working full time, trying desperately to get some of his inventions developed and marketed. He was making presentations and meeting with executives from Exxon, General Motors, Union Carbide, and other companies. He was under tremendous stress and seemed justifiably frustrated. He would forget where he left things, and his secretary would remind him of many details.

Moderate Phase

Moderate Alzheimer's is typically the longest stage and can last for many years. As the disease progresses, the person with Alzheimer's will require a greater level of care.

People with Alzheimer's will find that they are confusing words, getting frustrated or angry, or acting in unexpected ways, such as refusing to bathe. Damage to nerve cells in the brain can make it difficult to express thoughts and perform routine tasks.

By age 72, my father was still working and having some significant issues that the family wanted to ignore. On one occasion, he came home from work on the train and reported his car stolen the next morning, only to find out that he had driven to work the day before and left the car at work.

On another occasion, he got up at midnight, thinking it was noon and he was late for work. He stopped a local police officer to inquire why it was so dark! The officer advised him that it was the middle of the night, and he went home. He continued to hold his job.

At age 74, it became impossible for him to remember tasks and details needed for work. He poured over his files repeatedly but could not produce a report. He was frustrated, depressed, and frightened when he retired,

My mother was extremely protective of my father and supportive at the same time. No one could mention the word dementia, much less Alzheimer’s. He was having “memory issues and a bit of confusion.” They were a devoted couple and assisted each other as best they could. Once he was no longer able to drive a car, they were confined to an apartment.

Over the next several years, the two spent their waking hours reading to each other and watching television. He could walk to the corner store and back and take care of his personal hygiene and other simple tasks.

Late Stage

Eventually, at the age of 83, a bout of pneumonia put my father in the hospital. It was downhill from there on. The nurses at Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital were extremely compassionate, allowing him to get dressed, including his customary jacket and tie. He was allowed to walk within the hospital. The nurses put a large sign on the back of his sports jacket that read, “Return to 7th floor. Do not allow me to leave the building.” He stayed up late at night visiting the nurses in the nurses’ station, where he sang to them and recited poetry that he could remember.

In the final stage of this disease, individuals lose the ability to respond to their environment, carry on a conversation, and, eventually, control movement. They may still say words or phrases, but communicating pain becomes difficult. As memory and cognitive skills continue to worsen, significant personality changes may take place, and individuals need extensive help with daily activities.

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After six weeks at Beth Israel Hospital, my father was discharged to a nursing home, where he was extremely confused and became almost mute. Within two weeks, he had fallen down a flight of steps and was returned to another hospital. By then, he was in the final stage of this cruel disease. He still recognized my mother but had difficulty communicating, was very noisy, and had to be restrained. He remained in this condition for four months until his death.

My father, Caperton Horsley, age 18 months (1904)

My father, Caperton Horsley, age 18 months (1904)

More Than Just “A Victim of Alzheimer’s Disease”

Born in 1903, my father, Caperton Braxton Horsley, was the third of eight children. His father was a well-known physician in Richmond, Virginia, and the family led a very comfortable life. By age seven, my dad was writing cursive, learning German, and excelling in all subjects.

He went on to make his career as an entrepreneur. He held more than 40 patents on inventions he had designed. His expertise was first in X-ray development and then in the field of sound. His failure was in finances. His mother-in-law referred to him as “a mechanical genius and a fiscal idiot." Financial difficulties plagued him throughout his life; he was always “this close” to coming into a million dollars.

Plaque showing all 43 patents my father created during his career

Plaque showing all 43 patents my father created during his career

My Father's Inventions

One of his inventions was a particle collection device for industrial smokestacks. He was passionate about the problem of air pollution and had written about the dangers of “acid rain” and air pollution as early as 1933. General Motors was interested in his dust collecting device in the early 1960s. GM had foundries in which cast iron engine blocks are poured. The hot metal is produced in cupola melting furnaces. The cupola, in the form of a vertical stack, is efficient. It is continuously charged from on top and periodically tapped from the bottom.

But it produces large amounts of metal, coke, and metal oxide dust which are discharged into the atmosphere after passing through mechanical dust collecting devices. The particulate above a certain size was trapped. But the fine dust would escape, and their amount was intolerable.

General Motors was interested in the design that employed sound energy to separate the fine dust from the clean air in which it was entrained. You might liken it to a home washing machine with its reciprocating agitator to separate the soil from the clean clothes. My father called his device an Alternating Velocity Precipitator or an AVP. General Motors was interested enough to move the AVP to the GM foundry in Buffalo for testing.

There, piping was installed to divert the suitable flow of dirty cupola exhaust from the large dust particles that had already been removed. This ran to the AVP for precipitation and then discharge. The inlet and outlet streams were instrumental in measuring dust discharge. Instruments are cruel, and on this day, they showed insufficient dust reduction. The foundry manager thought that further improvements were called for. The AVP did not make it. There was never quite enough funding to get his inventions to market, even though there was significant interest in his concepts and designs.

The GM Senior Engineer of Manufacturing Development in Warren, Michigan, Dr. Isadore Hodes, wrote

“I always felt some part of the aura which he [Caperton] exuberantly radiated. I admired his manner and views from the first day we met in the GM building. All that came after only strengthened my opinion of him. I remember well the wintry day on the steel platform at the Tonawanda foundry. How fair a trial did the AVP get? I am troubled by this and other similar questions about several different projects that I had part in.”

Life, indeed, is not always fair.

My father wrote whimsical poems for the woman he loved. This is a photo of his beloved "girl with the red hair."

My father wrote whimsical poems for the woman he loved. This is a photo of his beloved "girl with the red hair."

My father entertained himself by writing poetry, often on the back of the cardboard that came with laundered shirts. Many of them were dedicated to my mother, who he referred to as "the girl with the red hair." Below is one of those whimsical ditties.

Poem for a Red-Haired Wife: " Vaguely Unfamiliar" by Caperton Horsley

There is no new

There is no old

There is only what there is.

It is for the magic eye to see

I have not been there, but I remember.

Faces are the things behind windows that look out,

Like the girl with the red hair and flowers

A Remarkable Life

My dad was a devoted husband and father to his five children. Somehow, he managed to navigate through a remarkable life full of adversities and achievements. Sadly, very near the end of his life, he looked into my mother’s eyes and asked, “Did I ever do anything important?” I would find it difficult to know where to begin to list the “important” things this brilliant man accomplished in his 84 years of life.

Brain autopsy report

Brain autopsy report

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Shelley Horsley Cruz (author) from Northford, CT on October 22, 2020:

I updated this article with a picture of all the patents my father authored. And my sister passed away in January 2020. I was thinking of them both yesterday and went back to article.

Shelley Horsley Cruz (author) from Northford, CT on January 15, 2019:

I hope you enjoy this article. Now my 90 year old sister is in the end stages of Alzheimer's disease after a very productive life. It is certainly very sad to watch the decline.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on June 26, 2017:

Your article teaches many significant things about Alzheimer's and at the same time pays tribute to the life and work of your dad. Thanks for sharing your facts and insights. Your dad was exceptional!

Shelley Horsley Cruz (author) from Northford, CT on April 16, 2017:

Thank you for your comment. I am glad you enjoyed the story!

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on April 15, 2017:

I must say that this brought tears. I lost the love of my life two years ago with Alzheimer's Disease. It is such a sad disease, for the patient and the caregiver. I loved the story about the achievements your father collected in his life time. Thank you for sharing...

Shelley Horsley Cruz (author) from Northford, CT on April 15, 2017:

I hope others will leave comments on this article. Thank you very much!!

Shelley Horsley Cruz (author) from Northford, CT on April 15, 2017:

Thank you Robert for your comments! I have learned that so many of us have ties to relatives who have suffered with dementia. I want to remember much more of my father than the disease that brought him down....

Fiddleman on April 14, 2017:

Thank you for sharing this hub. Alzheimer's is a horrible condition for the patient and for families, especially those who become caregivers. My wife's mom lived with us for the last 5 1/2 years of her life so we know and can empathize with others. The last two weeks she was hospitalized and her brain had ceased to communicate automatic responses result in the shutting down of swallowing and breathing. We have no regrets having to care for her. My wife had 12 other siblings who all lived in close proximity and we did not get but minimal assistance in her care.

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