YARUMAL, Colombia — Tucked away on a steep street in this rough-hewn mountain town, an old woman found herself diapering her middle-age children. At frighteningly young ages, in their 40s, four of Laura Cuartas’s children began forgetting and falling apart, assaulted by what people here have long called La Bobera, the foolishness. It is a condition attributed, in hushed rumors, to everything from touching a mysterious tree to the revenge of a wronged priest.
It is Alzheimer’s disease, and at 82, Mrs. Cuartas, her gray raisin of a face grave, takes care of three of her afflicted children.
One son, Darío, 55, babbles incoherently, shreds his socks and diapers, and squirms so vigorously he is sometimes tied to a chair with baggy blue shorts.
A daughter, María Elsy, 61, a nurse who at 48 started forgetting patients’ medications, and whose rages made her attack a sister who bathed her, is a human shell, mute, fed by nose tube.
Another son, Oderis, 50, denies that his memory is dying, that he remembers to buy only one thing at a time: milk, not milk and plantains. If he gets Alzheimer’s, he says, he will poison himself.
“To see your children like this … ,” Mrs. Cuartas said. “It’s horrible, horrible. I wouldn’t wish this on a rabid dog. It is the most terrifying illness on the face of the earth.”