Sunday, May 15, 2011

From Celia in Massachusetts

My Grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease the year before I was born. Because of that, Alzheimer's was always part of his identity to me.  He was my grandfather, and I loved him.  I remember him playing with me tirelessly.  Actually, he out-played me.  He could push me back on forth on the rocking horse in my grandparents’ garage forever.

Of course, this is my memory of him from the earliest stages of the disease, when his body was still strong and his mind able to process enough to keep me thoroughly entertained.  I didn't notice what Grandma, Mom, Dad and my aunts and uncles did.  I didn't see "decline."  Just Granddad.
The contrast between those early memories of the grandfather laughing, pushing me on the rocking horse and eating all the watermelon to the one pacing the circular hallway of the Alzheimer's unit is stark. It was as if someone had stolen all these pieces of him and we just had to wait for them to give them back. Because Granddad had good days and bad days, I don't think I understood that he wasn't getting those pieces of himself back.

The Alzheimer's unit scared me.  People were very friendly to me, but over-attentive.  I didn't understand why some residents seemed as capable as my parents and others in so much pain.  I liked visiting Granddad though.  Despite all the scary transformations he went through, I never felt like who he was changed.  His eye contact when I walked into his room was just as focused and purposeful, long after he stopped saying my name.  I miss Granddad, and I desperately wish I could have known him free of this horrible disease.

It wasn’t until I was in high school and had spent time volunteering in the Alzheimer’s unit of a nursing home at home that I understood the breadth of ways people fought with the disease and how to connect with every one of them. Now that I've studied Alzheimer's and seen it manifest itself in other victims, I feel even more strongly about doing anything I can to support finding a cure for Alzheimer's.

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