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Grandma, it's me

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As a third year neuroscientist I have come across dementia and Alzheimer’s on numerous occasions. Never once did I think that I would be in a position were the disease would personally affect me. But here I am in my final year, devastated by the effects of this disease. I’m familiar with grief, I have experienced death and I am capable of dealing with it. However the grief that is accompanied by watching the person you love, slowly lose parts of themselves is unexplainable.

My grandma developed Alzheimer’s at a later stage in her life. She currently lives with us so there was no way I could escape the reality of what the disease could do to a person.  Everyday she calls out the names of her family from Srilanka. In her mind she is back in 1980’s where her happiest moments reside. She no longer knows me as Mathu her granddaughter, I’m Mithula her family from back home. It happened so slowly that we barely recognised it at first, but looking back now I almost see a different person, unable to pinpoint the moment in which the grandma I knew was gone.  I look at her and I don’t recognise my grandma, but a familiar stranger. The death of my grandad seemed to be the breaking point for her. From that point onwards she had completely lost herself, she has been in a constant state of delirium. Everyday, repeatedly she asks us “appa sapituthara?” (Has dad eaten?).  For her, his death didn’t happen, she believes he is still around in an unknown place, as she sits there and waits for him to come back to her. At times she is absolutely petrified because she doesn’t recognise where she is and it’s utterly heartbreaking.

Alzheimer dementia damages the part of the brain that contains nerve cells which are responsible for memory. In patients with Alzheimer’s, a large build of of protein plaques and twisted tangles of protein fibres is the cause of nerve cells dying. Although the specifics of why the cells die are not known it is believed that these plaques and tangles stops the communication between nerve cells. Unfortunately with Alzheimer’s this damage is irreversible and as of now there is no cure for the disease.

I can easily say that I hate Alzheimer’s for taking my grandmother away but I will forever be grateful that it took away her pain of losing my grandad. Her time is frozen in Srilanka. I feel sad yet happy for her. She may not remember me but I will always remember her.

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