I learned the other day that my mother's death certificate says that the cause of her death was Alzheimer's Disease.

This is fascinating to me.  My mom was given multiple diagnoses for her physical and mental decline in the five years that she was sick, ranging from Parkinson's to Alzheimer's, to not-Alzheimers, to other weird forms of dementia we had never heard of, to generic "decline."  That period of time was characterized by confusion and questions, by us figuring out over weeks and months that doctors, in general, don't know very much about the brain or its problems.

We've had two close family friends who also received Alzheimer's diagnoses.  Both of them exhibited textbooks signs of that disease like forgetting family members' names and their relationships to them and gradually losing the ability to converse. While mom experienced intense confusion sometimes and was clearly dealing with some kind of dementia, she never forgot who she was, who her family and friends were, never forgot names. She even remembered more than most of us sometimes: she could remember how she met a person or details from events far in the past.  She repeated herself a lot, but she could still carry on a conversation with us, and she asked questions about grandkids and jobs and other goings-on of life.

I remember when she died, we had to decide as a family whether or not to have an autopsy done.  It was the only way, we were told, to know definitively if she had suffered from Alzheimer's or not.  I had stopped expecting medicine to provide us with any answers, and my vote was NO, we didn't need that to happen.  Most of us agreed, and we didn't do it.

But someone, somewhere, decided to fill in the box on her death certificate with a specific answer, as if that were a thing that could be known for sure.  Who made that decision? Why? What purpose does it serve?  How is that information used, and by whom?

One the one hand, it doesn't feel very consequential.  On the other, I find it so strange that such a personal question -- how did she die? -- has apparently been officially answered when the actual, most true answer is that we don't know for sure. 

How trustworthy are official documents in general?  How do historians evaluate documents like this when they are doing research into famous or historical figures?  Seems like a giant guessing game to me.

That is all.  I just think it's weird and wanted to take note of the weirdness in writing.


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