Monday, September 26, 2011
September is World Alzheimer's Month. And, having personally experienced the loss of a family member from Alzheimer's, I wanted to take a moment to reflect with my thoughts on this tragic disease.
One of my biggest fears is memory loss.
Losing your memory is like losing your identity. Memory loss is inevitable with old age; probably because you keep creating more and more memories and have only so much space to store it all. However, memory loss comes in extremes as well, especially when it comes to diseases such as Alzheimer's Disease, which my paternal grandfather passed away from in 2005.
My grandfather was a sharp guy. He and his business partner were carpenters and they built homes all over northeast Ohio. He was an avid golfer and had trophies from his holes in one and low scoring games. His birthday was exactly one week after mine, so we always celebrated together with a 2-in-1 birthday party with the family. He was one of nine siblings, and so was a big family man. I always remember him having poor hearing, and often hearing the loud ringing of his hearing aid. I know that his hearing loss served as a huge barrier in communication as time went on. That, coupled with his Alzheimer's Disease, led to a rapid descent for my grandfather.
It was frightening to know that because of my grandfather's dimensia and memory loss, he could not be left at home alone. And he had to be watched by a family member on the days or times that my grandmother could not be there. I was tasked with watching my grandfather on a few mornings and while I was happy to help and spend time with my grandpa regardless, it became really sad as he struggled to communicate. You could tell he wasn't himself...he didn't make much sense, and he knew it. It was nice to hear him talk about his holes in one or his construction jobs, but it was almost as if I had to translate through all of the confusing conversation.
It was when my grandfather didn't recognize me when I was mowing his law that I knew he was spiraling quick. It was just three short months later, on November 20, 2005, that he passed away. It was for the best, as hard as it is to say. When it comes to the point that a person doesn't remember or recognize family members or their past, they are truly not themselves. That is my fear, especially after having seen my grandfather lose his own memory and therefore lose his identity and being.
I cherish my memories and will do anything I can to prevent losing the vivid stories and images I have engrained in my mind. I don't know if there is anything really that my grandfather or anyone else stricken with Alzheimer's Disease could have done to prevent their memory loss, but it is my hope that photos and journals will help sustain my memories.
In the mean time, I will join the efforts to find a cause and cure for Alzheimer's to hopefully someday rid the world of this frightening disease. I contribute now a portion of my paycheck automatically to the Alzheimer's Association, and I encourage you all to go out and do everything you can to not only go on OHventures to create memories, but to write about them and to take photos so you can also help sustain memories. Challenge yourself and your brain and spend as much time as you can with your loved ones making, sharing and keeping memories alive!
If you would like to contribute to the Alzheimer's Associaion, please visit their website, and see how you can donate, or participate in a "Memory Walk."