Like most college students, Alzheimer’s wasn’t something I thought about. In fact, I knew little about the disease – other than it robbed people of their memories. Then I happened to talk to a friend of mine who worked for the Alzheimer’s Association and I thought that interning with the organization could be a chance to offer my help while gaining some work experience. It felt invigorating and empowering to think of beginning a career this way. At that time, I didn’t know Alzheimer’s intimately.
Soon after, I called my family to share the news of the internship. That is when they informed me of my grandfather’s recent diagnosis with the disease. BAM! Alzheimer’s sucker-punched me. Now I had a personal reason to fight. The day I began the internship, I simultaneously gained a clear sense of purpose for my career while coming face-to-face with Alzheimer’s. This was the day I began to lose someone I love to this insidious disease. I discovered a new form of heartbreak that millions have experienced before me – millions of people I would hope to serve.
My grandfather, a person who has helped shape my world, can no longer remember his favorite life moments – like that he was the first person to hold me as a baby. Soon, he will not recognize my face. And I’ve learned that Alzheimer’s affects more than just the individual living with the disease. It is a devastating force that multiplies; it affects everyone caring for, or about, the person with the disease.
And everyone will try and hold on, as the person with Alzheimer’s begins to slip away into a dark and viscous abyss of amyloid plaques and tangles. The loving moments we share as humans are the moments I fight for every day. What are we if not the love and life we have together as people?
I work harder and with newfound passion so that others won’t experience the despair I now do when my beloved grandfather forgets my name. I fight to protect families like mine who watch their loved ones’ minds fade and memories disappear. I fight for those who endure a debilitating weight of stress as they watch the person they love disappear without actually dying. I fight for the precious memories we have that take a lifetime to collect that then painfully and nightmarishly vanish. I must fight, because the day I joined the Alzheimer’s Association was also the day my grandfather didn’t know he was talking to me.
My grandfather will forget, but I will fight for a generation of young people who always remember. Our generation must make Alzheimer’s disease a priority or we are doomed to inherit this disease in exponential proportions. This disease may try and knock us out – but we must all fight back.
This blog originally appeared here.
About the Author: Evan Holler is a student at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.