It is difficult to understand Alzheimer’s disease until you are living with someone who has it. For me it was when my Grandma got it. She had lived with us for my entire life, and played a huge role in my upbringing.
First it was the little things, simple tasks that we take for granted, such as preparing a meal. While I could deal with changes like that, the hardest part was accepting that someone who had always protected and cared for me had suddenly become someone I had to take care of.
For a long time, I wanted to ignore her struggles, hoping that if I closed my eyes to the changes happening right in front of me, I could prevent them from happening altogether. But I soon realized that with a progressive disease like Alzheimer’s, change was inevitable. Knowing that her condition would deteriorate gave me the strength to overcome my own fears and help her.
And helping care for her only brought us even closer. Although her behaviour changed, her identity remained and she was still a person like everyone else. While many of her memories were no longer accessible, I could still remember for her. And sometimes, she would remember too.
For many people, a serious disease like Alzheimer’s becomes an emotional fork in the road. You can choose to turn your back on someone or you can choose to embrace them.
It can be far too easy to turn our backs on those who are suffering, particularly for young people, who may consider themselves too far removed from the suffering of the elderly. However, it is important for young people to face the challenge and look on dealing with the disease as part of their own personal road to growth.
Caring for my grandma has helped give me amazing insight into the struggles of those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and I truly hope I can use this knowledge to help others, both the patients themselves, and those who have yet to have any first-hand experience with the disease.
Want to share your story? Contact Ryan MacKellar (firstname.lastname@example.org).