I have seen the monsters of Alzheimer’s and Dementia much too often in my life. My grandfather had dementia, among many other illnesses, and it was extremely difficult to see him transform into someone who was almost a total opposite of who I knew him to be. He started to get sick when I was about 11 or 12, so me and a couple of my older cousins have very fond memories of him, but my younger cousins only know the person he became because of his illness. My grandfather was never mean to any of us grandchildren, not even when he was sick, but he was angry toward my grandmother and their children many times. He never got to the point where he fully forgot any of us, but he would forget simple things like what he had done the previous day. He passed away in 2013, and I think that his other illnesses deteriorated him before his dementia could escalate to its full potential, which I am extremely thankful for. I got to spend some amazing last moments with my grandfather, which I understand not everyone gets to do when their loved ones have dementia. I can only imagine my situation being different and my grandfather having no idea who I am, which would make it much more difficult to say goodbye. I am extremely empathetic toward anyone who has to go through that very difficult situation.
I volunteered at a place called Mother Theresa House, which is a hospice center for those who are near death, except the patients are in an actual house and it is free of charge for them to get around the clock care. Almost everyone is a volunteer, but they do have nurses and doctors who come in to give patients the care they need. This was an incredible and eye opening experience for me. Through volunteering, I found that I have an undying and unconditional love for helping people. While I was volunteering, a lot of people would ask me questions like “Doesn’t it gross you out to clean up people like that?” or “Doesn’t it make you sad to be around people who are going to die?” what amazed me about myself was that nothing of this nature had occurred to me while I was volunteering. I realized that while I was in the moment of helping someone else, it did not matter how “gross” the task was, I just did it. There was a man who was a patient there while I was volunteering who had dementia. I saw how difficult it was for him to have no idea who was helping him or where he was and I can only imagine what it must have felt like to be in his position; feeling alone, confused, and on top of that you have some stranger walking in giving you medicine or food. It pulled my heart strings every time I walked into his room, but I did my best to ensure that he was comfortable and I tried to ease his confusion to the best of my ability.
I took an abnormal psychology class at my local community college and it was an amazing experience. I was taught exactly what dementia and Alzheimer’s does to a person’s brain, but more importantly I learned that social stigmas are very prevalent in today’s culture. I became aware of the fact that mental illness does not change the fact that there is a person behind the illness who needs to be loved and cared for. Throughout all of these experiences, I have learned that every single moment should be treasured and that the more we accept each other for who we are, the better we will all get along. I feel like I am a much better person because I went through these experiences because I know that not only does the patient’s life change, but the lives of their family members change as well and they need to be consoled along with the patient. I learned that mental illnesses are no different than any other illness and no one deserves to be made fun of or treated differently because of their mental illness. Most importantly, I learned that just because the monster of dementia or Alzheimer’s has taken over a person does not mean that person has become a monster.