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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Woman we relied on disappeared

 •  Teens reflect on agony caused by Alzheimer's
 •  Stricken family members deserve loving care
 •  Grandma's needs strengthens love

By Kyla Kitamura
La Pietra, Grade 12

'Lessons from Grandmother'

"My grandmother has Alzheimer's disease." Even today, these words rarely cross my lips.

I just don't talk about it with other people. They don't, won't, can't understand anyway.

Even I can't understand fully how the woman that I've lived with since I was born could change so drastically in a span of seven years.

It was my grandmother who took care of my brother and me while both my parents worked. She was the adult, the one who knew everything.

But every day, a piece of the woman everyone relied on and loved disappears.

It started out with her obsessive bus-riding. Alzheimer's never crossed our minds at that point. Yet her behavior went downhill from there. Every day brought a new twist in her personality, and my family would have to change our habits, the way we lived.

We would shut off the stove so that she wouldn't burn food or Tupperware trying to cook. We would buy cereal for her "munchies." In a disease where brain cells are dying, it was odd to see my grandmother try to outsmart us. We would lock the gate so that she wouldn't get lost. She would get boxes and try to climb over the fence.

During those days, the word that ran through my mind 24/7 was "frustration." Now things are different. After having a fall a few days before Christmas, my grandmother's behavior has changed drastically again. Today she rarely speaks. I don't know how much she can walk. She can't do everyday tasks, such as eating, on her own anymore.

She is recuperating from her fall at a rehabilitation center. My parents hope that she will not be bedridden when she comes home.

Watching "The Forgetting" on PBS made me realize how little I actually knew about the disease that is affecting my family so deeply. I knew quite well what the effects of the disease were, but all I knew about the physical aspects of the disease was the presence of plaque in the brain. The graphic descriptions of the devastating nerve cell destruction shocked me. Also, hearing about the tragedy of early-onset Alzheimer's disturbed me and made me realize even more fully the urgent need for a cure.

The most informative and interesting aspect of "The Forgetting" was the research towards finding a cure. Learning why it took so long to develop medicines solved some of my confusion.

I hope that the development of a chemical that can detect plaque compounds in the brain of living Alzheimer's patients will speed up the process of developing medicines to destroy or prevent the formation of plaque.

It was also reassuring to learn that there are scientists, researchers and doctors working tirelessly to wipe Alzheimer's off the planet. I had always assumed that Alzheimer's was taking a backseat to other diseases. I hope the public realizes what an epidemic we are headed for as the baby boomers face incurable Alzheimer's.

Alzheimer's affects families, not individuals. It was sad yet encouraging at the same time to hear about other families struggling in the same way that we are. Every Alzheimer's patient is different, but for caregivers, there is a stress unique to the disease that everyone can relate to. It was just nice to know that my family isn't alone.

I don't know how I will respond to my grandmother when she comes home from the rehabilitation center. I have almost forgotten what life without Alzheimer's was like. Almost. I wish there were some magic cure that would restore my grandmother's life, but the reality is that she won't get better.

Moments, not memories, define her life. All I can do is try to make those moments more pleasant for her and my family.