The effects of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis impact everyone in the patient’s immediate family. Those who have assumed primary care roles often shoulder most of the burden, not only mentally but physically and financially. However, the younger members of our families also have a uniquely difficult challenge in understanding such a complex disease.
I was always close with my grandfather. I called him PapPap. As a little girl, I remember the happy feeling I got when I saw my grandparent’s gold minivan pull into my driveway to start a fun day. When you’re a child, adults seem like unstoppable, immovable forces. The complexities of life haven’t always seeped into your brain yet, and the influential people you love appear larger than life, like superheroes.
When PapPap was showing more and more symptoms of Alzheimer’s, I found it to be confusing and frankly quite frightening. Alzheimer’s was not a topic of conversation in my household. Learning about memory loss and personally observing the changes in my grandpa’s personality was both painful and shocking. The fact of the matter is that there are young people all over the world that are just now starting to go through the same process of grief that I did.
Every person processes these experiences differently. Because of our closeness, watching Alzheimer’s begin to take over was very arduous for me. I remember our visits with him while he was in professional care were simultaneously delightful and saddening. While many adults would like children from these experiences, I believe that school-aged children have the depth to understand painful realities when we provide them with the love, support, and tools to navigate the cycles of grief. By not being honest with them about the new developments in our loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s, we inadvertently take away that child’s ability to understand how this disease changes us.
I think all the time about the power of memory and the multitude of talent our brains contain. I think about the amazing things our bodies and minds can make us do. I think about the PapPap I knew: a sharp man, a strong husband, a genuinely caring father, a kind and delightful grandfather.
Don’t be afraid to have hard conversations. They are what help us grow.
Lauren McDermott is a student at Parsons School of Design in New York City studying fashion design and experimental film. She spends most of her free time making small films, knitting, and riding the subway. She is passionate about helping others and sleeping in on Sunday mornings.