Don't forget to remember me, dad

LOSING BATTLE: In the movie Still Alice, Moore (right, with Kristen Stewart) plays Dr Howland, a linguistics professor whose fight with Alzheimer's disease began soon after her 50th birthday. The writer was left in tears at the film's end because it reminded him of his 90-year-old father.
PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

Finally got around to watching the movie Still Alice, a 2014 drama about a linguistics professor at Columbia University who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

Award-winning actress Julianne Moore plays Alice Howland, whose fight with the disease began soon afterher 50th birthday.

She began to forget words which she wanted to use at her lectures and, at one point, even got lost while jogging around the campus.

That was the early onset of Alzheimer's, and her condition would deteriorate and take its toll on her and her family. At one stage, she could not even remember where the washroom in her home was located.

Alice could not even remember appointments or names of people she had met a few minutes earlier.

Her eldest daughter tested positive for the Alzheimer's gene, but fortunately her unborn twins tested negative. As the story goes, Alice's son, a doctor, also tested negative. Her youngest daughter, an aspiring actress, decided not to be tested.

It is an incredible and amazing story and, while Hollywood may sometimes use a little artistic licence to dramatise the situation, I believe that many families with an Alzheimer's patient in their homes can identify with this movie.

Alzheimer's disease is a type of dementia. As it worsens, patients sometimes cannot even carry out a conversation.

There are reported cases of patients who cannot perform even the most basic daily activities, like brushing one's teeth and putting on clothes.

In Malaysia, it has been reported that there are 50,000 people suffering from this incurable disease.

Famous figures diagnosed with Alzheimer's included former United States president Ronald Reagan, singer Glen Campbell, actors Charles Bronson, Charlton Heston, Burgess Meredith and singer Ray Robinson.

Peter Falk, who was the star of 1980s TV series Columbo, reportedly could not remember the famous role he played towards the end of his life. Closer to home, legendary Malaysian musical maestro Ooi Eow Jin also suffers from Alzheimer's.


Usually, I do not have time to go to the movies, but I finally managed to watch Still Alice on a long-haul flight on a recent overseas trip.

By the time the movie ended, I was already sobbing quietly. It was that emotional for me. I walked into the plane toilet and had a good cry. I just had to let it out.

I kept thinking of my 90-year-old father throughout the movie. He does not suffer from Alzheimer's, but his old age is causing him to lose his memory.

My Langkawi-born dad is still remarkably healthy for his age. He has no problem with any kind of food and his early years of physical hard work have helped him to be strong.

He has no sins like smoking, drinking or gambling, insisting that people should sleep early - as early as 8.30pm - if they wish to live long.

But the lapses in his memory are beginning to show. He often cannot remember what he just ate and recently, my mum, who is 84 years old, told of how he ate the shells of mussels instead of the flesh.

He also has to be reminded to take a bath and sometimes does so with great reluctance, claiming the cold water could kill him.

There have been times during my trips home to visit my parents when he would ask if I had just returned home, when I had actually been back for three days.

Once, he spoke to my tanned daughter in Malay because he mistook her for my Indonesian maid, whom he has met only a few times.

Thank God, he never fails to remember me, his youngest son. My brothers and nieces who live next door are still not a problem for him either.

His long-term memory is intact. He can remember clearly that he was born in Kuah, Langkawi, in 1925 and speaks fondly of his childhood days in Kedah.

I have made it a point to see my ageing parents at least once a month, no matter how busy I am with my packed schedule in Kuala Lumpur, because I know time is running short.

There is no way we can fight against growing old and it would be a shame had I not spent time with them when they are still alive.

I think a lot about them, especially in my moments of solitude. I think about how my dad or mum would cope if one of them were to depart first. As much as we hate to think of such unpleasant moments, it is a reality that we all have to face.


I am 54 but think of myself as being in my 40s, with songs from the 80s playing in my head. But lapses of memory have begun to surface.

I would jokingly tell my family and friends that the brain cells have burnt out, a classic case of overwork and stress.

I have to jot down the things I need to do in case I forget, which is probable, as my colleagues can testify.

At my age, I have accepted that physiological changes can cause glitches in brain functions, as one medical report aptly describes my predicament.

I have been reminded that the slowing down of mental processes should not be regarded as true memory loss.

The good thing is that I also usually cannot remember the foul-ups of my colleagues that caused me to lose my temper in the first place. My assistants are the ones who have to remind me to issue follow-up memos.

I think we do not use our brain cells that much to remember things these days, because of modern conveniences. My parents, and people from their generation, have amazing abilities in committing telephone numbers to memory.

For us, we just add the numbers to our address book and press a button when we need to call anyone.

As you read this, I am travelling in Europe and, despite the different time zones and the holiday mood I am in, I am sticking to my schedule of filing this column. Nope, I have not forgotten.


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