a woman holds open a jail cell door and helps her mother out of the cell as the mother's clothes change from strips to colorful patterns

An Alzheimer's Diagnosis Doesn't Have to Be a Life Sentence

I will never forget the day my mom was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. She had been showing signs for at least a year and we had been struggling to get a proper diagnosis. In the back of my mind, I knew what was coming, but hearing the official diagnosis still came as a shock.

A call from mom

I was finishing up my workday when my mom called to tell me about her doctor's appointment that afternoon. She told me that her doctor had diagnosed her with early-onset Alzheimer's. I was so upset that I called my supervisor and asked to leave work early.

Later that evening, my immediate family gathered at my parents' house, the house I grew up in, to show our support for my mom. I'm not sure whose idea it was to meet there, but I think we all felt like we had to do something to acknowledge the circumstance.

I remember thinking that there was nothing for us to do. When my mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer almost a decade earlier, she had to schedule surgeries and treatments. She had to arrange for care for my sister and me. This time around there was none of that — no surgeries, no treatments, no cure. There was nothing to plan.

Landing a life sentence

I remember feeling like my mom had been issued a life sentence. Actually, it felt like we had all been issued a life sentence. We had been handed a diagnosis with no instructions, no direction, and no idea what to do next.

I felt like my mom had no choice but to sit around and wait for the disease to take hold — wait for it to rob her of everything and everyone she had ever known. I felt hopeless.

Reaching a level of acceptance

The first two or three years were much of the same. I felt lost, confused, and unsure of how to continue living our lives. At some point, I reached a level of acceptance that allowed me to see things differently.

What if my mom's Alzheimer's diagnosis wasn't a life sentence after all? What if it was a sentence to live our lives while we still had the chance?

The gift of more time

I knew of so many people who had lost a loved one suddenly. They never saw it coming. They never had a chance to do or say all of the things they had wanted to do or say. And worst of all, they never got the chance to say goodbye.

If there was any silver lining to an Alzheimer's diagnosis, it was the gift of more time. My mom had not died suddenly. She was still very much alive. Maybe the rest of her life would look different than any of us had planned, but there was still a lot of time for us to enjoy ourselves together.

There was time to do and say everything I had ever wanted to do or say. There was time to make memories with her. There was time to make the most of what we still had. And there would be time later on to say goodbye.

Making the most of each day

Knowing that our time was limited but not yet over forced me to make the most of each day with her. I knew what was coming down the road and I didn't want to have any regrets. I stopped seeing her diagnosis as a life sentence.

I began seeing it as a sentence to live. I'm so grateful I had this change of perspective before it was too late. And I hope you will, too.

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