Friday, February 9, 2018

A Walk Down Memory Lane...with Alzheimer's Disease

Today was hard.

My aunt was diagnosed with Alzheimer's several years ago, and watching that steady decline is heartbreaking. My uncle has been doing an outstandingly amazing job of taking care of her over those years, but since Christmas she has declined quickly and my uncle just can't keep up. A couple of weeks ago, he moved her into an assisted living facility where the staff can keep watch over her 24 hours a day - and my uncle can get some well earned rest. The doctors have indicated that the end is near, and although she may not know who I am anymore, I certainly know who she is, and I decided that I needed to visit.

I arrived at my uncle's house this afternoon, and time being of the essence, we left almost immediately for the assisted living facility. As expected, my aunt did not know me. But, I had an idea. Memory loss tends to occur to the most recent memories first, while the earliest memories are the likeliest to remain in tact. Though I was not present for my aunt's early memories, I'm a genealogist (and therefore the keeper of the old photographs), and I have a smart phone. So I pulled out my phone, loaded up my tree from Ancestry, and started showing my aunt photos. For each photo, I asked who was in the picture. She immediately recognized her own parents and named them as Mom and Dad. She identified her maternal grandmother as Nana. And when I showed her a picture of my uncle from when they first started dating, and asked her who that handsome devil was - she pointed right at my uncle! A few minutes later, she called to him by name - something she had apparently not done in weeks. And even though my aunt did not know me, in that moment, she knew her husband again, and the happily stunned look on my uncle's face was the BEST THING EVER. It was a spark of hope in a time of suffering, and I will cherish that visit, and that memory (one that likely never even entered my aunt's mind).

THAT is family. THAT is what it is all about.

UPDATE 1 Mar 2018: Today my aunt passed away. Her ordeal with memory loss, and my uncle's ordeal in caring for her, are over. And I am more glad than ever that I took the time to visit before the end, and created a last happy memory with her.