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The findings of Alois

Sunday, January 04, 2009
According to Wikipedia, Alois Alzheimer first described what is now known as Alzheimer's Disease in 1906. This wasn't information I really cared about until my grandmother - my mom's mom - was diagnosed about a year and a half ago with the disease.

I'm visiting that side of the family right now in New Hampshire, though I'm wrapping up this trip in about 5 hours. It's occurred to me that this may be the last time I see her as healthy as she is; she knows she's mentally slipping and is planning to move to an assisted living facility in the spring.

The past couple years have been sad in a way. We've never been "close" in the traditional sense of the word. My grandmother and I only ever saw each other every year or two. (My grandfather died when I was about 10.) Still, she's always been sweet and loving in her way, and I've tried to return it as best as possible. One of my personal goals on this trip was to spend time with her and let her know I cared - even something as simple as just sitting next to her and putting my arm around her at my cousin's wedding was important to both of us.

She's been good at hiding it in public, and, though she takes it with great humor, I've been able to spot bits of decline. She remarked that she found today's paper this past afternoon, and I said, "Oh, I thought you'd have read it already... but then again, maybe you did. Who knows? It'll be a surprise again." (We both smiled.) The first time I noticed it, however, was about 6 months ago when she was visiting Oregon and we played Scrabble as we tend to do. For the first time in my life I was able to beat her. Not that we were extremely competitive, but she's always been very good at the game and I could tell her vocabulary had diminished a bit.

It will be sad watching the disease progress. I'm very similar to this grandmother in many ways; we're both shy, reserved, introverted people. She's been lucky enough to be surrounded by friends for the past 20 years, but, from what I understand, those friends have been slowly succumbing to age-related issues.

I got to sit with my grandmother tonight and listen to her reminisce about her father (my great-grandfather), who was apparently a doctor in New York. She could remember all sorts of details, and yet she'd occasionally repeat the same phrase with the same emphasis. Afterwards, she gave me a lingering hug, knowing that we were parting ways. I didn't cry, but I really wanted to.

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