Op-Ed: Walking to end Alzheimer's

Thursday, October 5, 2017 - 4:48pm

One day, I may forget my name. I will wake up in a stranger’s house and see a person I’ve never met before in the mirror. Her eyes will stare blankly back at me, face muscles sagging with fatigue and confusion. One day, I will forget how to hug someone. I will have to ask where the bathroom is in my own home, and I will need help getting there.

One day, my brain may simply forget how to breathe.

Every 66 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the nation, and the only one in the top 10 that cannot be cured, prevented or slowed. If there is no cure in my lifetime, I may become one of its victims — if not me, then a loved one. Everyone with a brain is at risk; no matter how healthy your lifestyle or how active your brain, your own home may one day become a maze of once-familiar objects and hallways. Your loved ones will helplessly watch from the other side of the glass, your face unrecognizable as you slowly walk into the unknown.

I’ve worked at the Alzheimer’s Association for eight months now and have already heard a lifetime’s worth of stories from people affected by the disease. I’ve spoken with a woman who left school to become a full-time caregiver for her grandmother, who recently passed away after fighting Alzheimer’s for 15 years. I’ve heard stories of husbands who have forgotten their wives’ names after 50 years of marriage and countless families who have sacrificed their retirement savings to preserve the last few years they had with their loved one. Children have told me stories of how their parents have already forgotten them and I’ve read about brides who have rescheduled their weddings so that their parents could attend before it could be erased from their memories.

What gives me hope is knowing that as more people are affected by the disease, the world gains more advocates to fight against it. Right now, thousands of people across the country are participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, "the world's largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer's care, support and research." I urge you to join me on Sunday as I walk alongside them at Washtenaw Community College, bringing us steps closer to a world without Alzheimer’s. 

Though I know I may eventually become another victim of the disease, I may also be its first survivor. One day, the unfamiliar may become familiar once more, and the glass of my eyes may be cleared. I may be reunited with my loved ones without ever having to leave them.

I know that I am lucky to have not yet been touched by Alzheimer’s disease, though in a way I already have. In just eight months, the fear that I may lose myself within my own body has ignited a new passion. The stories I’ve heard have lit a purple flame within me that grows each day, lighting the way into the unknown, the future, where I know the first survivor will be waiting.

Hannah Brauer is an LSA sophomore.