Five years ago, after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, my mom Sonia moved from Chicago to Missouri. She lived with my brother for a month and then with my sister for about a week. It was soon obvious that I had to take over the responsibility of being her primary caregiver. We were always inseparable, but now we are more inseparable than ever.
Due to a very long history of Alzheimer’s in my family, I was asked if I wanted to take a genetic test to see if I carry the gene for early-onset familial Alzheimer’s.* I didn’t think twice. My brother and sister chose not to take it, but the minute it was brought to my attention, I wanted to do it. It was in my head from the beginning – what if I have Alzheimer’s and it is exposed at age 42 or 43? I am almost 40. Who is going to take care of my mother? Who is going to take care of me? I had to prepare myself.
I worked on getting all of my ducks in a row, taking all the proper measures and precautions. I got life insurance right away so that someone would be able to take care of my mom and not have to put her in a nursing home. In addition to taking care of mom, I had to be willing to accept whether or not I will have the disease. Three-quarters of my family has passed away with Alzheimer’s. I am the only one of my siblings that wanted to be tested. I would like to think that I inspired my cousins – who are now interested in finding out if they carry the gene – as their mother was recently diagnosed as well.
As for me? The test came back positive. One day, I will have Alzheimer’s.
I don’t think of it; I simply shrug it off. I just see what my mom is going through and know I need to take care of her. In my younger years, I was a bit of a party animal – I owned a sports bar – and now my mom is my main focus in life. How can I be a caregiver to someone I love so much and not stand up for her and her needs as someone with the disease? She is what matters the most.
My typical day is very different from what it used to be. I wake up, make coffee and then wake up Mom. I often have to strip the bed and then take her to bathroom and get her into the shower. Then I brush her teeth, dress her and do her hair and makeup. I take her to work with me at my sister’s restaurant, and she is with me all day until I get off work. We often go on a walk to get some ice cream and go to the park. I end the day by taking her home and making her dinner. After she goes to bed, I go to sleep, and I do everything again the next day. It’s a whole new life.
The Alzheimer’s Association has been there for me every step of the way. I had already been on team Sonia’s Angels in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s for the past few years in support of my grandma and my mom. When I was diagnosed by my genetic counselor, I received information about grieving, counseling and caregiving from the Association. In my previous life, I had never been an activist; I was the quiet one. Now I advocate for my mom. If you wish to see a change in the world, you have to step up.
My involvement in the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network (DIAN) study means that I take a variety of medications and skills tests. Although the whole group is supportive and loving, the medication is physically very painful for me. All the same, if my participation helps find a cure for someone in the future – whether it’s me or my nieces and nephews – I will take all of the pain. I try to stay positive. Everything happens for a reason, and life is too short to just mope around.
I help spread awareness because there is a stigma surrounding age and Alzheimer’s. People always tell me that I look 21 years old and can’t imagine that I could develop this disease at any time. The truth right now is that Mom has the disease; I have the gene, but I don’t have the disease yet. That is why I try not to dwell on it.
There is simply not enough money or exposure for Alzheimer’s. We have to get the word out in order to save the future for others. The more awareness we can raise, the better it is for the disease. We need to find – and fund – a cure. Alzheimer’s is currently the 6th leading cause of death; we must make strides to end it now.
*Younger/Early-onset Alzheimer’s caused by a genetic mutation is rare and the vast majority of early-onset and late-onset cases cannot be determined by a genetic test. Health professionals do not currently recommend routine genetic testing for Alzheimer’s disease, although testing for APOE-e4 is sometimes included as a part of research studies. For more information on Genetic testing, click here.
About the Author: Daisy Duarte, 39, is a caregiver for her mother Sonia, 59. Daisy speaks to colleges and other groups to raise awareness in the fight to end Alzheimer’s. Daisy and Sonia live in Missouri.