One in an occasional series.

Bill Lyon

is a retired Inquirer sports columnist

It would appear that somewhere along the way I have misplaced an inch.

Of me.

For virtually all of my 78 years, I have measured, stem to stern, 6 feet, 31/2 inches. But when I mounted the scales as part of a routine checkup the other day, the weights clicked to a solemn stop at 6 feet, two and a half inches.

So I got off and got back on. Still 6-21/2. I tried again, but to no avail. I gave the scales a love tap. And then another and another and another. And . . . what's that definition of lunacy? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?

So who took my inch?

I recognize that smug snickering: Al. My Alzheimer's nemesis. That runty, foul-smelling, potbellied sneak-thief of a coward that causes havoc in our brain and swipes our memory. Trust me, he'll be at the bottom of this. He always is.

So we all know we shrink as we age, right? The vertebrae compress. Bones succumb to gravity. We start to look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Happens to everyone.

Except me.

Or so I thought.

I admit to having a carefully cultivated vanity about my posture. I lived in a military academy for five years, then served hitches in the Army and National Guard, every stride carrying the same rhythm: shoulders back, chest out, straighten up.

Yes, sir, I was strutting and peacock proud and looking disdainfully down at those hunched-over pedestrians. You'd want to slap me if you knew what I was thinking.

So I richly deserved my comeuppance and when I fell, I fell hard. It was a mirror that did me in. I passed one and cast the usual admiring glance, except what I got back this time was a disturbing reflection. A stranger. One bent over, in the posture of a man leaning into the slightest incline. And yes, it wasn't that pronounced, that is if you're not ragingly paranoid. I stopped and, yes, I needed to straighten up. Shoulders back, chest out . . . rather like adjusting a bra . . . not that I go around offering to adjust bras.

The Truth

All the way home I marched: shoulders back, chest out, bayonet-sharp, wondering if I no longer looked ramrod straight and instead like a human question mark. Surely I could find love, comfort, and reassurance in the bosom of my family . . . right, guys?

No. 1 son: " 'Fraid so, Pop."

Loving wife for all this time: "You do slouch . . . a little . . ."

BFF (See, I'm hip): "Sorry, pal. You do have a bit of a hitch in your get-along."

But why? And what can I do . . . well, short of visiting the Spanish Inquisition and tying myself to the rack and commanding, "Crank her up."

And then I remembered that slimy little weasel. Al. The bane of my existence that gnaws at our brain and swipes away at our memory.

I first noticed that something was out of kilter - though I couldn't define it exactly - when I was walking. My legs deserted me. Like treading on Jell-O. A little jab step to the left, a slight swerve to the right. Rather like a two-martini lunch. Not altogether unpleasant, but it requires a certain level of concentration beyond the Sunday stroll. Pay attention. Beware traffic. And potholes. Girls in bikinis. And you will find that you are bent over, the better to keep your mind on the job at hand.

And as you bend, you scrunch up, and over time you repeat this for long enough you find - ta-da! - your missing inch.

Too bad you can't replace it.

Searching for an Inch

While those days when you could grow bone may be a fading memory, still, it wouldn't hurt - in fact, it is highly recommended - to engage in exercises that help you stay mobile, with light weights, leg raises, grab a partner, get a therapist, anything to tick off Al.

Because he wants you to give up and vegetate. But we remember our mantra:



Never surrender.

Every little bit

First Commandment of exercise: Even a little something is better than nothing, and s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g is twice as good. But ease your way in.

Caution: Forget that nonsense about no pain, no gain. Pain is your body telling you to be sensible and, if you aren't, how would you like to go the rest of your life down on all fours?

Which, by the way, is a reminder to have another person in attendance to help you get upright. Uh, better make it two people . . . or three . . . with a fork lift.

The old soft shoe

Almost four years into my battle with Alzheimer's now and I feel as if I'm giving ground grudgingly. Which is just about all we can hope for while awaiting a cure.

I still get tremors, almost always with the right arm and hand, and they break out when I'm a block into walking and when I get fatigued and agitated and start flapping like a berserk windmill.

And eating remains a quivering adventure - both hands on a glass, and I am willing, more than willing, to have what needs to be cut for me. When you make peace with what's going on in your brain, you find that pride goes down just as slick as a cheeseburger.

Getting in and out of cars requires a 1-2-3 countdown to lift off. And I find that taking a seat requires only a modicum of exertion, whereas getting up on your two front feet is an all-out frontal assault - and along the way you discover some words you thought you had forgotten.

If you have parked in your favorite recliner for any length of time, expect a cheap carnival thrill ride of adrenaline to wash over you when you stand up.

All in all, I have good days and some not-so-good days. Sometimes I can dress myself and sometimes I can't. Sometimes I can read one paragraph all the way through and sometimes I can't. Sometimes I get discouraged and sometimes I - no, I won't give in.

I do not delude myself. Al is a killer, but I try at every turn to cut him off and stomp on his mangy butt. I'll go kicking and screaming all the way, hoping this journal will be of some comfort and inspiration to those who have been diagnosed and to those who care for them.

Alzheimer's has been called the Long Goodbye.

It takes its time.

OK. Fine. More chances to pound the pudding out of you know who.

How about it, Al? Ready to surrender?