The first change I noticed in my dad was his inability to write out checks. I stopped by his office one day, and he was sitting at his desk with the checkbook open. Several balled-up checks were scattered on his desk. He was slow to speak, but finally admitted that he could not write out the check correctly. On one check, he had transposed the numbers for the amount to be paid. On another check, he had attempted to write his name on the “payee” line, but the scrawl did not look like his signature. He was so frustrated, confused and scared. This was so unlike him—a man who had always been so confident, organized and in control. This was just the beginning of many changes in his personality and behavior.
My dad had Alzheimer’s, a progressive disease that robs the mind. It also breaks the hearts of family members who helplessly watch as their loved one slips away.
As time went on, my dad, who had always been an impeccable dresser, no longer seemed to care about his appearance. He would mix prints with plaids, and chose to wear the same red sweater every day, even though he had a closet full of clothes. Eventually, he had to go into a 24-hour nursing facility, as he would wander at all times of night and became combative.
It was devastating for family and friends when we realized that he had slipped into his own little, confused world and did not recognize any of us. At times he mistook me for his sister or his wife. Later, he ignored everyone but my brother, and their discussions were limited to talking about the family business. Eventually, all of his visitors were greeted by a blank stare. As his journey came to an end, his muscles became rigid. He could no longer sit up or walk. He died in a fetal position, three years after the initial diagnosis.
His bout with the disease was relatively short in comparison to that of many victims, but his condition, decline and death have had a lasting effect on me. Twenty-five years later, every time I forget a word needed to complete a sentence or forget where I put something, I fear I may have the same fate. Since his death, more attention has been given to Alzheimer’s; however, more attention is needed. It is now the sixth leading cause of death and the only cause of death among the top 10 in the United States that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.
On October 13, 2013, I will Walk to End Alzheimer’s at Tower City Center in Cleveland, Ohio.
I will walk in memory of my dad, Fred Grair, Sr., and other family members who have been affected by Alzheimer’s.
I will walk to allay my fear of contracting the disease.
I will walk on behalf of the more than 5 million Americans who are living with Alzheimer’s.
I will walk to raise money for Alzheimer’s awareness, support, care and research.
I will walk for you.
Today, more than half of all Americans know someone with Alzheimer’s. If you have not been impacted in some one by this terrible disease, consider yourself fortunate. Soon, no one will be untouched. Please walk with me to end Alzheimer’s.
About the blog author: Stephanie Grair Ashford is steering committee member and team captain for the 2013 Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Downtown Cleveland, Ohio. You can donate to her team, Fred’s Not Forgotten.
This column originally appeared in the Sun News.