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What it means to be ‘living with Alzheimer’s’

By Sandra

The first time I heard the term Alzheimer’s was after an incident with my grandmother. She tripped down a short flight of stairs and knocked her head. There were three steps leading into the family room and she lost her balance and knocked her head on a side table. She got up right away and, while she seemed flustered, she said she was fine. She had never been one to complain about anything and so things went along as usual. A few days later the bruise was quite dark so we took her to the doctor for a checkup. They ran a number of tests and we were surprised to be told that she had early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

We didn’t know much about the disease at that point, but were worried. I thought it meant she was dying but then I was comforted to hear that people can live for many years with the disease. I didn’t know at that point what ‘living with Alzheimer’s’ meant but once we heard the diagnosis other things started to make sense.

My grandmother had always been the rock in the family. She was the granny that took care of everyone. She brought us tea and toast when we were sick. She picked us up from school. We stayed with her when my parents went away. I started to notice that she seemed different. She had always been forgetful but for the past few years we’d noticed it more and more. She would often call me by my brother’s name or get all our cousins’ names mixed up. She would sometimes go back to the grocery store multiple times for the same item. We had brushed it off as normal signs of aging without paying much attention to it.

Over the next few years my grandmother changed. She became more forgetful and she became frustrated. I think she knew that she couldn’t keep things straight and that was hard for her. My family moved to a different town and so we missed the day-to-day struggles that my relatives were dealing with. I heard from my aunt about how difficult it was when her mother didn’t recognize her. We heard about how angry my grandmother had become and how she became someone who stayed inside, almost hermit-like, when years earlier she had had a very active life in the community.

I am terrified that my mother will get Alzheimer’s one day. She has always been a multi-tasker and had a lot on her plate. I’m scared that I don’t know the difference between the early signs of Alzheimer’s and someone who is just scattered. I’m scared that one day my mother won’t recognize me and I don’t know how I will deal with it. I’m scared but know that there is support out there and the only way to deal with something is to understand it.

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