Everyone hears about Alzheimers, dementia and other diseases of the slow, progressive, and horrible nature. I knew what it was before it affected my family but I truly had no idea of the extent of its nature. It happened so quickly yet so slowly, taking over my grandma one day at a time and for the first few years, I thought it was funny. Funny. That’s pretty horrible, right? At first I would laugh about it. I didn’t understand when I was 16 why my parents would glare at me when I would laugh at her crazy antics. I thought they were hilarious; I had no idea what was truly happening. When my mom took out all the ingredients to make a meal, my grandma would come behind her putting everything back in the refrigerator and pantry and I would die of laughter.
But then one beautiful summer day at the beach, it happened to me, her beloved and only granddaughter. That's the thing about diseases—they aren't biased regarding race, religion, economic status, or anything else for that matter. They will attack the most genuine people on the most beautiful days. She lashed out thinking I had stolen her mirror from her bathroom. I cried wondering why she would ever think I would steal something from her (especially a mirror…?) and that’s when my mom and dad told me their suspicions about her developing Alzheimers. I promised her I didn’t take it but she still didn’t believe me, and paranoia and suspicion toward loved ones is a major sign.
That fall I went to college, and like any other freshman, coming home wasn’t always my first priority on the weekends. I would call my grandparents to check in and one day, my grandma stopped answering the phone and my grandpa would always be on the other end of the line. It was a strange switch since my grandma was always the one to take calls, but like everything else I didn’t think much of it.
There were not so bad things about Alzheimers as well… When I told my grandma I got into the sorority I wanted, she congratulated me. Then she would ask again, I would tell her, and she would be just as excited for me all over again. I would tell her about my test grades and she would give me money… then she would ask how school was going, I would tell her my test grades again and she would give me more money. Of course, I always gave the extra back. On birthdays she would call and sing to me and on my 18th birthday, I woke up to a singing voicemail from my grandma, then got one in class, and then got one that afternoon. It made my entire day. She wrote everything down to try and not forget.
I saw my grandma a lot in the next months because of Thanksgiving and Christmas break. Only a few months later after returning for my second semester, I came home to visit her in the hospital. I went into her hospital room and hugged her. She looked at me like you look at that girl who waves at you in class where you’re kind of thinking “hey, I don’t know you but you’re waving at me, so I’m going to smile and wave back.” My dad noticed what was happening immediately and said, “She’s back from ECU to come visit you!” and my grandma who I lived 10 minutes from at home, that I spent every summer at the beach with, and ate every Sunday lunch, and spent every holiday with… responded “My granddaughter goes to ECU… her name is…” and she drew a blank. She couldn’t recognize me as her granddaughter and she couldn’t remember my name. I smiled, of course, and said “It’s me granny, I’m Jess”. She stared and there was no flicker in her eyes. It didn’t click. I smiled and hugged her and told her how much I loved her and then walked out of the room. Before I got to the door the tears were streaming.
That’s how loving someone with Alzheimer’s is different. You smile and you still love them so much because you know it’s not really them. It’s the disease. You look past the new characteristics and remember them by the old ones, yet still love them in the form they are in. You have nothing or no one to blame for the disease. There is no direct cause and there is no cure. Alzheimer’s is a disease that affects not only the person with Alzheimer’s but also anyone they know and love. Although I was at college, I know my grandma would not want me to dwell on the weekends I didn’t come home and the times I missed out on, however I do. If there’s any “life lesson” I learned from my grandmother having Alzheimer’s, it’s to love the ones around you as much as you can and never hesitate to express you care for someone. They could be gone in a flash, or slowly fade away when you’re not around to notice. Alzheimers affects millions of people every day. Try and stay positive, even when times get really hard.
If someone you know is experiencing the symptoms of Alzheimers disease you can contact the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America for support. Their number is 866-232-8484 and their email is email@example.com