Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that affects memory, behavior and thinking. This slow-burning disease affects more than 3 million people in the U.S. each year. Despite its prevalence, Alzheimer’s still has no cure.
Florida native Gladys González is just one of many that have faced the reality of this life-altering illness. González’s diagnosis in 2022 came after exhibiting signs for two to three years prior. However, her story is not one of loss but of hope. She and her family look for ways to live a proactive, healthy lifestyle with Alzheimer’s disease.
“At first, it was disconcerting, then there was a little fear, and still, a little bit now, of completely losing everything and forgetting everything in my life,” González said. “I like to focus on the positive, so even if I forget what we did exactly, I will never lose the feeling of being happy with the people I love.”
Lisa González and Christine Coschignano, Gladys González’s daughters, have been close witnesses to their mother’s cognitive decline. They described their mother as independent, outgoing and silly.
“I see how someone who was so independent and didn’t follow the social norms of women in her time is now stuck in this position of being almost childlike,” Coschignano said. “Especially since this disease isn’t visual, it was hard to grasp it fully.”
Lisa González went into detail about how the disease has not only affected her mother, but also shifted their relationship. She mentioned how she had to adopt a new sense of patience and perspective after adjusting to her mother’s condition.
“They cannot control the fact that they cannot remember, and so I think you need a lot of patience. You often have to remind them of things and reiterate certain details so they still feel present, included and engaged,” Lisa González added.
The overall experience has brought the family closer than ever and made them all appreciate their time together. The family adopted the mantra of “love never forgets” as a way to feel connected and to ensure Gladys knows she is not alone in her journey.
“We remember for her when she can’t. That’s what we’ve told her many times -- not to worry because we’ve got her,” Lisa González said.
The family has also taken up responsibilities in terms of making decisions about her care, scheduling doctor’s appointments and ensuring she stays on her routine.
“We keep her on an upbeat routine. It’s important because she has more moments of being absent-minded than moments of lucidity, so having a routine keeps her on track,” Coshignano explained.
The sister duo also makes great efforts in keeping their mother active and stimulated to ensure her brain is as healthy as possible. Their mother has always been independent, so making sure she gets out of the house is imperative both to her mental and physical health.
“For one thing, walking and exercising have helped me. I would say getting out of the house helps my mental health. I never liked being locked up in the house and I know that isn't good for me now,” Gladys González said.
Even though there has yet to be a cure, groups such as the Alzheimer’s Association have proven that doing exercise and other stimulating activities can positively affect brain health, overall slowing down the progression of the disease. There is hope on the horizon with new genetic testing that could help families such as the González’s. New drugs and research are being fast-tracked by the FDA now more than ever.
With new research emerging constantly, people are stepping in the right direction to end this disease that robs people of who they used to be.
By Daniella Pacheco