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Piece By Piece
By Nickolena Kassolis 

(Page 1 of 2)

Alzheimer’s disease came into my life in January of 2001, and at the time, it seemed like the lesser of two evils.

“It’s either a brain tumor or Alzheimer’s disease,” the neurologist said, describing what he thought was wrong with my mother.

“Can you get Alzheimer’s in your fifties?” I immediately asked.

The answer was yes. You can get Alzheimer’s disease in your fifties, in your forties, in your thirties. The earliest reported case might have developed in the brain of a 27-year-old. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that it happened to my mother when she was 54 and was a vibrant, young, energetic woman. It happened to my mother when she was in the prime of her life. In an instant, she was old. In an instant, she was sick. In an instant, she was dying.

“She has about three to five years,” the doctor told us.

I used to think it was called Old Timer’s disease, but have come to master the pronunciation of the scientist who discovered this condition. He discovered the more rare form of the disease, the early-onset Alzheimer’s that my mother has lived with for the past four years. In that time, she has lost many of her cognitive abilities, each falling slowly from her consciousness, piece by piece like tiny snowflakes that collect on the barren grass. She stopped driving, stopped cooking, stopped cleaning the house. She forgot how to dress herself, do the laundry, cook dinner. Now she is having problems remembering what to do after she goes to the bathroom. With each change in my mother, my family and I adapt – trying to accommodate for everything she is losing, while working to keep her spirits up, her lips smiling. My father is her caregiver, and so am I, and so are my brothers, and so is her sister. We have formed a circle of love and support around my mother and around ourselves to provide the best care that we can. This is not easy for any of us.

I think of my father who is 62 years old, a dentist who still holds regular hours in his private practice, and of the life that he planned with my mother when they reached this part of their lives. Those plans would have included travel, buying a vacation home in Myrtle Beach, time with friends and grandchildren; not dressing his wife every morning, pulling her sixteen pills from their bottles and then putting them in pudding so that she can swallow them. Not arranging for her to attend an adult daycare center three times a week and then carting her around on the other days so that she does not get bored staying home alone with only the television to entertain her. And then I think of something that he told me shortly after my mother was diagnosed, something that he repeats to me time and time again when we discuss any change in her condition – “Whatever is, is.”

For my family and me, Alzheimer’s disease is what is. It is what now defines my mother and her life. It is what has forever altered our family structure, the way we relate, the way we live. Caring for her is filled with challenges and struggles, sad moments that water my eyes with tears and days that leave me wondering why. Caring for her is also filled with infinite joy, surprising gratitude, and an insight that only individuals in similar situations can share.

She was just a mom to me before she got sick.  Not a person, not a friend, not another woman, just a mom. I was comfortable with her in that motherly role, giving advice, baking bread, helping with homework.


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