While there are already so many stories to share, I want to share some of those same moments that my best friend, Luke, shared with me about his own grandmother, who is currently battling the disease. Like me, he has watched the woman he has known all his life go through moments that cause the deepest emotional lows, yet has been fortunate to still have those moments that bring back to him the grandmother he loves and will remember forever. Luke's grandmother was first diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease when he was a freshman in high school, and like me, the initial declines in memory were not as disconcerting as the later moments that Alzheimer's eventually presents.
Because I prefer to start with the low to end with the high notes, that is where I'll begin. Luke's grandmother is fortunate enough to have a family who deeply cares for her. In fact, his mother can be counted as one of so many unpaid caregivers who live with and take care of their loved one with Alzheimer's. Unfortunately, like my family realized with my own grandmother, there comes a point where you realize that your family member with the disease needs more care than you can often provide. This is where Luke's low moment begins. In the fall of 2011, Luke drove down to meet the rest of his family to move his grandmother into a home that could provide 24-hour care. It quickly became obvious to Luke that his grandmother was not taking the potential move well, and not surprisingly, this had an emotional impact on his family too. As they struggled with the move, and like often happens, his grandmother became confused about what was happening, why it was happening, and unaware of reality. She began to ask for and talk about his grandfather (who had previously passed away) and talked about being a burden to the family. The move into the home continued to be emotional for the entire family as his grandmother continued to apologize and cry. His grandmother stayed one night in the facility before his family made the decision to move her back home and continue to care for her there. It was during this time and this experience that Luke realized that his grandmother would never be the same.
Even as the battle with Alzheimer's can present such negative experiences, there still come those moments that remind us of our loved one - rare moments where the disease seems to no longer exist and create for us memories to cling to in the future. This is where I pick up one of those stories from Luke. He recalled for me one Christmas that his grandmother was in particularly good spirits and was really enjoying her time with the family. The entire family told stories and enjoyed each other's company. Later in the evening, Luke's cousin, Sean, poured some tequila shots for himself, his sister, Luke, and Luke's sister, Kate. At that moment, Luke's grandma walked past and asked "Where's mine?" Knowing better than to argue with their grandmother, Sean poured her a shot. While the four of them prepared their lime wedge and salt, Luke's grandma looked at all of them, took the shot, set the glass down, gave them a look as if to say "Really?! Salt and limes, and here I thought you were Travers.", and walked away. It's one of those memories for Luke that stands out in his mind, that even though the moments of her past self are now few and far between, that the grandmother he loves is still there.
I'm sure that so many people out there have similar stories to Luke, which is so incredibly similar to the experiences that my family and I had with my grandmother. Alzheimer's disease so commonly robs those afflicted of the personalities that we knew them to have. As hard as it is to watch, we are often provided with these rare moments, where they seem to return to us fully. Moments that provide for us hope that they are always with us. Hope for a cure. And it is this hope that drives me to complete this endeavor, that I might play some small part in one day soon finding a cure for Alzheimer's and the elimination of the bad memories for the replacement with good.