How my family was affected by Alzheimer’s Disease

A family members diagnosis of Alzheimers takes a toll on everybody, no matter how mature they are.

Valerie Chavez

A family member’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s takes a toll on everybody, no matter how mature they are.

If we’re lucky, we get to have a big close-knit family. The younger grandkids are running around playing tag and hide-and-seek. The older cousins are usually sitting or standing while talking about what jobs they got and how they’re enjoying them. The aunts and uncles are sitting at a big table boasting about whose kid got more awards and whose middle child has the higher GPA. The grandparents are listening to the loving ambiance, admiring the big family they’ve created together. They’re enjoying every second they have, and they want it to last as long as possible. They’ll all love each other forever, even through one of the toughest battles that millions of families all go through together: Alzheimer’s disease.

My wonderful, loving grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when I was only 10 years old. Alzheimer’s is defined as a *currently* incurable brain disorder which destroys someone’s memory and cognitive skills, and it eventually interferes with their ability to do simple tasks.

Seeing my grandfather go from this strong and confident man that we all love suffer through so much was heartbreaking and confusing, especially because I was so young and I had no idea that this disease was even possible.

I didn’t know why my parents didn’t take us to my grandparent’s house so often anymore. I noticed my grandparents wouldn’t go to as many parties, and my parents wouldn’t tell me why. I realize now that they were just trying to prepare me for what would eventually be my family dynamic changing drastically.

I interviewed my 15-year-old cousin Lianna Gonzalez. She was only nine when our grandfather started suffering from Alzheimer’s. She expressed that his disease really confused her, and that as time went on, it didn’t get much easier.

“I was very little at the time so I didn’t fully understand what this meant. I honestly just thought my grandpa hated me and didn’t want me around anymore,” said Gonzalez.

“With a disease like this it never gets much easier. Just knowing that your loved one is slowly going away and there’s nothing you can do about it is always a struggle to accept.”

As I got older, I began to understand my grandfather’s condition more, from both witnessing his symptoms and doing some online research about it myself. I made my peace with it, because it was better than focusing on my grandfather’s condition instead of the memories I had with him. I also began to think about my younger cousins and even my niece who was born months before he was put on hospice care in 2016. I wondered if they were even old enough to remember how much he loved them and how happy he was whenever they would visit.

Something that brought me even a little bit of reassurance in such a hard time was that every holiday party was hosted at my grandmother’s house, so my grandfather was never left out and everyone would go into his room and say “Hi” and “Bye” or even stayed there just to be with him.

I’m not exactly sure when he lost his memory of me, but I knew he still cared about me because just a few months before he passed away, my grandmother asked him to watch over me while she went to the kitchen and I stayed behind. She told him, “Valerie is right here. Take care of her, okay?” and he nodded, which was probably very difficult for him to do in his condition. I felt like tearing up, because it showed me how much he loved me despite him possibly already having forgotten about me.

One thing I learned from all of this is that you never know how much time you have left with someone. Up until I was older, I never realized how little time I had with my grandfather and how we were robbed of the opportunities to spend time together. Since his passing on December 6, I’ve started appreciating my extended family more, especially my grandma. I jump at any opportunity given to me to spend time with them, and I enjoy every second of it.