Thursday, May 27, 2010

AFA Teens has invited its teen advisory board members to share their own experiences through the AFA Teens Blog. Our hope is that other teens gain a new perspective on what it’s like living with a relative with Alzheimer’s disease and/or raising awareness of the brain disorder in their communities. Here, Chris Schloss shares his thoughts. Please take a look at what Chris has to say and, as always, we encourage you to comment.

"When I was eight years old, my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. At the time, I didn’t know what Alzheimer’s disease was. I just noticed the way my grandmother acted, and it wasn’t the same. I thought it was kind of comical; I don’t remember anyone telling me there was something wrong. As I got older, I noticed things were different.

I would go to my grandmother’s apartment when I was little. She was the nicest person, and she loved doing things for me. It made her so happy to give her eight-year-old grandson a cookie, and I always took the offer. She wouldn’t ask just a single time, but continuously, forgetting that I had already eaten five cookies. I thought it was funny, but I didn’t know that she wasn’t kidding.

Things weren’t bad at first; this was just the start. We would go to her apartment after church, and she would ask my sisters and me the same question: “Who said the Mass today?” We thought it was funny, and we would smile. Then one of us would give her an answer, and she would ask the same question a few minutes later.

As I got older, the disease progressed. She rarely left her apartment, but she came to my house for the last time on Easter when I was in the 8th grade. I had just registered for high school, and I was wearing a shirt for my soon-to-be school. She asked me if that was the school I was attending, and she did this five times in five minutes. I no longer found any amusement in her actions, and I went into my room and put on a plain white T-shirt. This brought no attention, and I was starting to understand what was wrong.

I would visit her apartment, and she would always wish that she had a cookie for me because she no longer went to the grocery store. I would always smile and say that I was fine. She would ask who did my teeth. It was then that I knew things would probably never get better— her son, my dad, is a dentist. She forgot my sisters’ and my name, and she did this with many other things.

When I would go to her apartment with my family, she would talk to us, though many times we didn’t make much progress. She would get confused and talk about things irrelevant to the subject. By the end, we would go to her apartment and just sit with her, talking at a minimum. I knew she liked to be with me, so I made the most of my visits. She loved my family’s presence, and this was one of her favorite things. My grandmother passed away last September.

How do you explain Alzheimer’s disease to an eight-year-old? How do you explain it to any child? It’s hard to understand the disease at any age, and it is always hard to watch your beloved forget who you are."

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