By Kayla Smithgall
Growing up, I had heard about Alzheimer’s disease. I had even seen people with Alzheimer’s. But I never gave it much thought until my family started noticing some changes in my grandma.
Maybe I should start out first by telling you about her.
She is the youngest of seven children and is the only girl in her family. This being said, she is very independent. She is selfless. She also happens to be very stubborn. For every holiday we would gather at her house and no one was allowed to be in her kitchen, let alone help her with anything.
In the fall of 2014, she began to forget things. Not necessarily big things, just things she never used to forget. She was also complaining of dizziness that constantly kept her at home.
Thanksgiving rolled around and my grandma told her two other sons, who lived out of town, to stay home. She didn’t even want to come over to our house, but my parents were able to convince her. She didn’t bring anything and she didn’t help, or even offer to help, my mom.
That’s when we knew something wasn’t right. My parents decided to take her to a doctor.
Her results came in two weeks later and in December of 2014, my grandma was diagnosed with the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s. She was also diagnosed with vertigo, which is something I have as well.
For the next couple of months, every time I saw her she would tell me about her latest vertigo episode and ask if I’ve had similar experiences. She would get excited when I would tell her I had and when I would tell her that my medication helped me, she was relieved.
It suddenly hit me. She thought her medication would make it all go away. She wasn’t ready to accept it. She was trying to cover her Alzheimer’s with her vertigo.
My sophomore year, I had to write a research paper and I chose Alzheimer’s as my topic.
When I first learned that she was diagnosed, I had blown it off. Alzheimer’s was just a word to me. I never realized that it would cause so much pain in my family.
As I began researching it, it really hit me what it meant for my grandma to have Alzheimer’s. A fact that really hit me hard was that it is fatal. Sure, people don’t die right way; they usually live eight to 10 years after being diagnosed, but it was eventually going to take her life.
I also read that people with Alzheimer’s can get to the point where they can no longer talk and need help with literally everything they do.
This was what my grandma was diagnosed with? My strong, independent grandma would need help with everything she does?
She would never be the same again. We could no longer have family holidays at her house. She would no longer make her famous mashed potatoes and gravy or her “green stuff” that my brother loved so much. She would no longer remember all the little things we did that meant so much to me.
I can honestly say that I have learned more about my grandma in the last year than I have in the past 10 years.
One of the toughest things about Alzheimer’s is that it starts with short-term memory loss.
My grandma can still quote Bible verses perfectly. She remembers the town she grew up in. She remembers all of her brothers’ names and their order of birth. She even remembers the camper her and my grandpa would haul their family around in for their vacations.
She can remember all those things but she can’t remember the house she has lived in for 23 years.
When she first began having problems, she couldn’t remember the birthdays of my family members. My mom would call her to remind her and then would go pick out a card for her that my grandma could send to that family member.
On my birthday a few months ago, she called me and asked me to come to her house because she had something for me. I was surprised that she had remembered my birthday, because my mom hadn’t reminded her.
When I got to her house, there was a little wrapped box sitting on her dining table.
Inside of the box was a necklace. She explained to me that it was the first necklace my grandpa ever gave her.
To me, it was way more than a necklace.
“I saw it and it reminded me of you. I know how much you like sparkles,” she said.
Not only had my grandma remembered my birthday, but she also remembered a little detail about me that I thought she had forgotten.
None of her other granddaughters, or any family member for that matter, had been given an heirloom. It was her way of telling me that she trusted me to keep it in the family.
The first few months of learning to live with my grandma were very hard. But as time goes on, I’m really learning to cherish the little things.