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World Alzheimer’s Day

“Hi Grandpa,” I said as I stepped into the sterile, yet oddly comforting, nursing facility room. There he sat, the man who had always been a towering figure in my life, the one I proudly called Grandpa and great-grandpa to my one-year-old son. He appeared gentle and serene, perched on the edge of his hospital bed. Collette, my step-grandma, had made sure he looked his best, but his gaze seemed distant, lost in a world beyond our reach. With my son in tow, I cautiously approached, unsure of how this interaction would unfold.

As the minutes ticked by, I found myself sitting beside Grandpa, engaging in a one-sided conversation about his room and the black-and-white Western movie playing on the television. Though his responses were scarce, I gathered a sense of comfort in his presence. After that initial greeting, I abandoned formal titles and addressed him by his name. He no longer recognized me as his granddaughter or my mother as his daughter. Alzheimer’s, in its late stage, had cruelly robbed him of those connections. Despite this, all I yearned for was to spend time with him, to be whoever he perceived me to be.

Unbeknownst to me, this visit marked the last time I would see Grandpa before hospice. Four months later, a tragic fall led to broken bones, and he never returned to us. The hospice center provided comfort not just to Grandpa, but also to Collette, my mom, and her siblings during those final days. As he transitioned from this life, I couldn’t help but feel that he had already been gradually departing from our realm over the past few years.

Grandpa had been a towering figure in Colorado, an esteemed former state representative, a prestigious lawyer, and a chair of numerous institutions. In my youth, he loomed large, while I was still trying to navigate young adulthood without much aspiration for status or esteem. Our encounters were infrequent, but when I had the chance to be around him, I wanted to seize the opportunity to know Grandpa better.

Amidst the progression of Alzheimer’s, something shifted within Grandpa. The man known for his brilliant mind began to reveal a side he had kept guarded—the warmth of his heart. My mom’s weekly visits fostered tender, loving, and meaningful conversations, even as his lucidity declined, and eventually, he became nonverbal. His connection with Collette remained unbroken, evident from the reassurances he sought from her during my last visit to the nursing facility.

It’s been months since Grandpa’s passing, and I find myself pondering a vexing question: how can we achieve remarkable feats like sending people to the moon, and yet we still confront the anguish of diseases like Alzheimer’s? Why did such a brilliant mind have to depart this world through a degenerative neurological disease? Although a new drug offers hope for early-onset Alzheimer’s, the absence of a cure leaves people like Grandpa to endure the gradual loss of themselves and their world.

On this World Alzheimer’s Day, I urge you to move beyond mere awareness and contemplate the significance of a world without this heartrending disease. Have you witnessed the slow erasure of a loved one’s memories, personality, and essence due to Alzheimer’s? Imagine a world where families are spared the agony of watching their cherished ones fade away. Envision a society where brilliant minds like Grandpa’s can continue to share their wisdom and experiences, unshackled by the constraints of neurodegenerative disorders.

Consider the profound impact of preserving the essence of our beloved relationships – experiencing the joy of their presence, unburdened by the shadow of Alzheimer’s. This month, let us be the agents of change, supporting research, advocating for increased funding, and raising awareness about Alzheimer’s’ toll on families and individuals.

Together, we can work toward a future where Alzheimer’s is relegated to history, and the memories of our loved ones remain vivid, their minds ever bright. Together, we can bring hope and progress, ultimately transforming the lives of millions for generations to come. Let us envision a world where memories endure, and Alzheimer’s becomes a distant, defeated foe, ensuring a legacy of love and understanding.