A few months ago I was visiting my grandmother. We were looking through her 25th wedding anniversary album. She did not recognize anyone, not even herself. The last photo was a picture of her husband. She leaned over and kissed the photo saying, “That’s my Kenny,” with a tear in her eye. I was in shock that she remembered him.
My grandmother began showing signs of Alzheimer’s almost 10 years ago. Sixteen grandkids and seven children are now strangers to her. But her husband–she will always remember her husband. It just goes to show that some things, like love, are more powerful than this disease.
November is Alzheimer’s Awareness month. Alzheimer’s is a disease that attacks the brain and causes its victims to forget everything from their children to how to walk, eat and breathe.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States; that’s 5 million people in the United States alone living with Alzheimer’s and five times that many family members losing someone they love.
Currently my grandmother is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. Almost everything that makes her who she is has disappeared. There is no cure. There are treatments that help the symptoms and slow the progression of the disease, but it only delays the inevitable. Eventually, your loved ones will forget you.
It starts off small: forgetting keys, not knowing how to get home, and over feeding pets. My grandmother’s dog became incredibly fat when she started getting sick because instead of one milkbone a day, he received 12. She simply forgot she had given them to him already.
Luckily for my family, we were able to keep my grandmother in her home with round the clock care for almost a decade. Last year she moved in two doors down from us because it was simply too difficult with her living so far away. She moved out of her dream house that she built with her dream husband. My grandmother never wanted to leave that house because it was her home for over 50 years. Now, she doesn’t even know the difference.
Alzheimer’s not only affects 5 million Americans, but their families serving as caretakers too. At times my grandmother’s mental state has caused World War III in my family as my grandmother’s six children argue about the best way to take care of her. Sometimes it’s an uncle who never visits, or an in-law decorating with pillows my grandmother would hate. Thankfully my grandmother raised her children and grandchildren right and at the end of the day we all love her and each other.
Because I was so young when my grandmother first started to show symptoms, I didn’t get as much time with her as the rest of my cousins. I have relied on stories and slivers of what she says now to see her for her, not her Alzheimer’s.
Like most grandmothers, my grandmother loved to feed us. She used to always ask us every five minutes if we ate or if we wanted her to cook something. Eventually we started just saying yes we ate, just to keep her happy until she asks again. We thought those days were hard. Now she doesn’t know how to eat.
It has been especially hard on my mother. Almost 25 years ago her father passed away and even since then she has been the one my grandmother has leaned on. I remember the first time my grandmother forgot her husband had passed. My mother had come home in tears and terrified. For the second time in her life, she had to tell her mother she would never see the love of her life again. Ever since that day, we learned to say he is hunting.
Although my grandmother is barely there, she still is a riot. She yells at my 52-year-old uncle as if he was 12. She has lost the little filter she had and says the funniest things. I have friends who’ve only known her the past few years and they adore her.
A year or so ago she was having her monthly lunch with her friends and my mother and I decided to go join her. Grams was very interested in my love life that day. She asked if I had a boyfriend. I did not. She replied, “It’s ok. I’ll go to Bellarmine and pick up some boys and line them up for you. You’ll just pick whichever one you like best.” I had never seen old ladies laugh so hard. I think three of them peed a little bit.
To this day she still says things like this, calling her granddaughters beautiful and her grandsons good enough. She even flirts with some of my cousins’ husbands. Her funny and loving personality still shines through her hideous disease. Alzheimer’s can try its hardest, but it will never beat the love embodied in its victims.
Last year Leah Robbie, class of 2017, lost her father to early onset Alzheimer’s. Until the day he died she loved him. She showed her love of her father by raising funds and awareness through the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. The benefits of the walk go towards finding a cure towards Alzheimer’s. Each day researchers get closer and closer to finding a cure.
Hopefully in the next decade fewer and fewer families like mine and Leah’s will experience the loss of a loved one to Alzheimer’s. Go online and visit www.alz.org to learn more or donate to the cause.