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Remembering God While Fearing Alzheimer’s

At work on a book about his family’s history with the disease, an apprehensive author’s faith kicks in.

Gracie and Edward in the woods
Credit: Katye Martens Brier

“Can you see her?” I called upstairs to Julee as I peered through a window into the moonless winter night, the snow blanketing our lawn barely a shadow.

“No.” My wife’s vantage point upstairs was better than mine. She should be able to track our dog Gracie’s movements through our yard thanks to the bright green collar light I always turn on before I let her out. But had I? Had I remembered? It’s practically an automatic thing. I always remember.

“Maybe the battery is dead,” Julee said. No, I’d just replaced that collar light.

Panic welled within me with a sickening surge of cortisol. Not out of fear for Gracie. She’d be fine. Fear for myself.

As referenced in an earlier blog, I’m researching a book I am writing about the scourge of Alzheimer’s, especially within my family, which has a disturbing history of it, including my mother, both her sisters and a brother, and their father, my Pop-Pop. Already some of my older cousins on that side of the family are exhibiting signs. I want to know if science can predict my risk and what I can do about it. Are there tests and studies I can participate in? Can I know what the future holds?  Do I want to know?  One thing I will never forget is my mother’s dreadful decline. It was the most painful and bewildering thing I’ve ever seen, if even mostly from a distance. My brother and sister, who lived close to Mom, bore the brunt of the caregiving, which was endless. You can’t talk about Alzheimer’s without talking about caregiving.

Maybe I’ve been reading too many Alzheimer’s memoirs and brain health books. Every little misfire of my memory—and it seems to happen more and more often—ignites an inner frenzy of doubt about the state of my own mind. Like now, when I was quietly panicking over the fact that I couldn’t even remember if I remembered to turn Gracie’s light on. My mind was spinning like a top, my thoughts a whirring blur.

“There she is!” Julee shouted. A minute later Gracie’s cheerful bark at the side door proclaimed she was eager to be let in. Removing her collar, I ascertained the light was indeed off. Julee guessed Gracie might have extinguished it herself, rolling in the snow, which she enjoys, crazy golden that she is. I wasn’t so sure.

That night in bed, staring sleeplessly at the ceiling, thinking about the state of the 86 billion neurons—give or take—humming inside my skull, I couldn’t shut out a researcher’s words I’d read earlier about the grim course of Alzheimer’s. “In the preclinical stage of the disease, long before a diagnosis can be made, the prelude of Alzheimer’s is already brewing in the brain…amyloid plaque forming outside the neurons and another form of protein clumping on the inside. Until we find a cure, from the time Alzheimer’s manifests, it is a slow march to the grave.” No wonder I couldn’t sleep.

I was still brooding on it the next day and unloading on a friend. “Are you kidding me?” he said. “If I flipped out every time I forgot something I’d be in a constant state of stress. Dude, you forget more stuff than you ever remember in life. Lighten up. If your faith can’t help you with this, I don’t know what can. There’s your answer.”

It’s an answer I too often forget. God’s got this, no matter what my brain future holds. Worrying about it is just me trying to take it out of His hands. I must trust He will guide me in the writing of this book and with whatever is revealed.

It would be a comfort, though, to know that some of you share this anxious preoccupation with forgetfulness. Let me know at egrinnan@guideposts.org.



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