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Parkinson’s, Dementia, Depression and My Grandma: One Big Unhappy Family

She was the most bubbly, fun and happy woman I knew. For four years, every day after high school I would walk to her house and we’d talk for hours about both of our days. My grandma was like a second mom to me in every way and I wouldn’t be the woman I am today if it weren’t for her influence and guidance. But my heart is breaking.

No, there hasn’t been a death. Instead, it is her illnesses that are slowly taking her away from me and in my opinion, this is so much worse.  

For those of you who don’t know, Parkinson’s is a chronic and progressive movement disorder, where vital nerve cells in the brain (neurons) malfunction and die. Some of the dying neurons are those that produce dopamine, which is the chemical responsible for sending messages to the part of the brain that controls our movement and coordination. As the disease progresses, the amount of dopamine produced by the brain ultimately decreases, which causes the person to lose control of their normal movement, slowly but surely. Though there is no cure, there are medications available to help slow the process.

Dementia is something I’m sure a lot more people are familiar with, as unfortunate as that is. This is the blanket term used to describe a decline in mental abilities that can affect a person’s day-to-day life. Memory loss is a big part of this and Alzheimer’s, for example, is a type of dementia.

Depression, on the other hand, is something far too many people are familiar with, and I wish I could change that fact. This past summer, my grandmother was diagnosed with all three and since the day I found out, I have been watching it continually get worse as I lose her more and more each day.

The hardest part about this whole thing from the very beginning was (and still is) my imagination. Sometimes I look at her and her current condition and just imagine how much worse it can get, how much worse it is going to get, and it just hurts so bad. I try to stay positive, but it’s hard sometimes. Especially when the woman who helped raise me is starting to forget some of our greatest memories together, and at it’s worst, what her own daughter looks like.

At the same time, I feel guilty for not seeing her as often as I used to. After high school I went away to college and just like that, our daily conversations were over. Instead of every day, it was now every Sunday or every other weekend. I can’t help but feel guilty for leaving her alone, but at the same time, growing up is a part of life. As much as I wish I could have changed that, there was no way. What’s even worse is that each time I see her now, whether it’s one week or two weeks apart, because I’m not with her every day, each time I see her the shaking seems to be SO much worse. Her condition seems drastically worse every single time which truly makes it painful to go and see her. I’m afraid of what I’ll see, and it’s unbelievably sad.

As a family, it is hard to cope with something like this, and what makes it even harder is the fact that my grandma has given up hope, in a sense. After being diagnosed, she was so angry at the world and everyone around her. I can completely understand why, but this anger led to her not taking her medication because it annoyed her and reminded her of the terrible things she was to have to deal with from that point on. When the person battling the illness hasn’t the will to fight, what do you do for them?

I’m still not sure what the definitive answer to that is, but I can tell you what we’ve all done and that’s spend time with. We’ll never give up on her, no matter what. My goal has been and continues to be to show her what she has to live for. I want to show her every time I’m with her how much she is loved and how much I miss her when she is away. I talk to her, sing to her and do anything I can to make her smile because it is so worth it. Even though she forgets what we talk about and asks me the same exact question sometimes three or four times in a row, I never lose my patience and I treat her as if nothing has changed. Because she deserves that. This certainly isn’t something that is easy to deal with, and anyone who has a family member in a similar situation can understand, but if there’s anything this has taught me, it is to never give up on the people you love and the people who mean the most to you. You owe them that much.

Allyssa is an English major at Montclair State University. In her spare time she enjoys writing and reading poetry, exploring New York City, strolling through art museums, and driving with the windows down, jamming to The 1975.  
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