Like most college students, Alzheimer’s wasn’t something I thought about. In fact, I knew little about the disease – other than it robbed people of their memories . Then, I started talking to a friend of mine who works for the Alzheimer’s Association and thought maybe interning could be my chance to gain experience and do something for people who needed my help. It felt invigorating and empowering to think of beginning a career this way. That was when I didn’t really know Alzheimer’s intimately.
I called my family to share the news of the internship and in that conversation, they unfortunately told me about my grandfather’s recent diagnosis. BAM! Alzheimer’s sucker-punched me. The day I took the internship, I simultaneously gained a clear sense of purpose for my career while coming face-to-face with Alzheimer’s. This was the day I began to lose someone I love to this insidious disease. I discovered a new form of heartbreak that millions have experienced before me – millions of people I would hope to serve.
My grandfather, a person who has helped shape my world, can no longer remember his favorite moments – like the fact that he was the first human being ever to hold me as a baby. Soon, he will not recognize my face. And I’ve learned, that Alzheimer’s affects more than just the individual living with the disease. It is a devastating force-multiplied; affecting everyone caring for, or about, the person with the disease And, everyone, including the person with Alzheimer’s, will hold on to memories that are constantly slipping away into a dark and viscous abyss of amyloid plaques and tangles. The loving moments we share as humans are the moments I fight for every day. What are we if not the love and life we have together as people?
I work harder and with newfound passion, so others won’t experience the despair I now know when my beloved grandfather forgets my name. I fight to protect families like mine, watching loved ones’ minds and memories disappear under the crumbling weight of stress a family must endure when they watch the person they love disappear without actually dying. I fight for the precious memories we have that take a lifetime to collect, and then painfully and nightmarishly vanish. I fight because the day I joined the Alzheimer’s Association was also the day my grandfather didn’t know he was talking to me. He will forget, but I will fight for a generation of young people who always remember. Our generation must make Alzheimer’s disease a priority or we are doomed to inherit this disease in exponential proportions.