Actor and comedian Seth Rogen appeared before a congressional panel to talk about how his mother-in-law battles Alzheimer’s. I’m a fan of Seth and his inappropriately funny movies, and this congressional address made me even more of a fan. Good for you, Seth!
My grandparents played a huge part in raising me. I was with them almost 6 days a week – following my grandpa around the garage as he built things out of wood, and sitting with my grandma in the kitchen as she taught me how to roll pie crust and bake cookies. My grandma even taught me how to dribble a basketball! But maybe that’s why I always stunk at the game… (“hey jason! you play like my grandma!”)
My grandmother comes from a large family and many of her siblings contracted a form of Alzheimer’s in their later years. My grandma started showing signs of the disease when I was in still in school. I remember she would go to the refrigerator and forget what she went their for – nothing too abnormal. But as the years passed, it got worse. She would forget what day it was – waking from a nap and not knowing whether it was morning or night. She forgot how to dress, go to the bathroom, how to even eat and swallow. One of the hardest things for me was when she forgot my name, and eventually, who I was. Alzheimer’s took my grandma’s mind before my younger sister could fully know who she was pre-disease. I did notice that the disease had a hard time taking one thing from my grandma: her smile. She had that long after she forgot everything else. I’m thankful to God that her smile remained, because it was one of her defining characteristics pre and post Alzheimer’s.
For my grandma (and her sisters), the disease was difficult because – as Seth mentions – there is a stigma and a shame that is associated with it. My grandma and her sisters were these women who went to great lengths to dress well and always have their “hair did”. For something like Alzheimer’s to embarrass my grandma was a very difficult thing for her to handle.
The disease was most difficult when she was transitioning from a phase of being aware to unaware. I was young so I never talked to her about it, but from my perspective, she seemed to know the disease was taking over her mind. And that was scary, and hard to watch. My parents, my uncle, and my grandpa were relentless in their care for her, but – again, as Seth mentions – there is really not much anyone can do. I was unaware that it was in the top 10 causes of death in the U.S. with no cure, and very little funding.
As an adult looking back on my grandma’s last season of life, I am grateful for: the way my parents cared for her, the way my uncle tried to get every drug and treatment available to her, and the way my grandpa (even in frustration) kept her alive and well until her dying day. Most of all, I feel like I better understand the courage it took my grandma to face this disease.
Here is a cool little video detailing some of the facts on Alzheimer’s:
You can visit Alz.org for more information on Alzheimer’s.