Give & Take: When Alzheimer’s Suddenly Becomes Real
My mom has been my best friend since birth. She has been my rock, my shopping buddy and my shoulder to cry on, for as long as I can remember. Yet shortly after my daughter was born in 2017, my mom was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 67. We had seen the signs for years, but like good Brits, we made light of it. We laughed at how she could never find her keys and how watching her try to follow a game of Cards Against Humanity was funnier than the game itself.
We knew that the diagnosis was inevitable, but it was so hard to believe that my mom, who was superwoman in my eyes, had this devastating disease.
The numbers are astounding. More than 5 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer's and one in 10 people age 65 and older (10%) has Alzheimer's dementia. It is so common and there is no cure.
When you get the diagnosis, it changes your family forever. My dad was thrust into a caregiving role that requires the patience of a saint, when they should have been traveling all over the world for their retirement, and my mom quickly lost her confidence. For me, it was the little things. Those impromptu check ins about how I was doing stopped, the little gifts I used to receive in the mail from England never came again and I quickly realized I had to be the strong one now.
Just like my mom would have done, I jumped in to planning mode. I read everything I could find, I joined support groups and I frantically searched for something that would help. I researched the medical trials that were happening, looked for doctors to talk to, stalked my mom’s doctor in the UK, but got no answers. Because with Alzheimer’s, there are no answers.
For the first two years of this disease, my default response to everything was anger. How dare this disease take my best friend away! Why is there nothing I can do? Why do I have to ask the same question three times? Why do I never get the cup of coffee that she offered to make me? Every time I saw her, I got angry, and it didn’t help. It wasn’t her fault.
So, in January of this year, I met a friend of a friend whose mom was in the later stages of Alzheimer’s and was actively involved with the Alzheimer’s Association. She said something that changed the way that I think about this disease – “Your best friend is still here, she’s just different, and like with many friendships, you have to adjust to keep your friendship alive.” When I went back to England in late February, as COVID-19 was beginning to take hold, I vowed not to get angry and it was invigorating. My best friend was still there – we shopped together, we laughed together and I didn’t get angry once.
And as I said a teary goodbye, I had a strange feeling that it would be a while before I would see her again…and I was right. COVID took hold and we are stuck 3,000 miles apart. But I am comforted in the fact that we had an awesome weekend, and that I finally conquered the anger that so many people have when their loved one gets this disease.
So, for the last three years I have joined the Walk for Alzheimer’s and this year, despite the pandemic, my family and my Prosek family, will fundraise again to find a cure for this horrible disease. Because all we can influence in this fight, is the future.