Remembering Alzheimer’s

Gabrielle Forman High School Journalist
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Every summer, the Broadcast Journalism Institute at Georgetown University welcomes a group of about 85 high school students from around the country and the world to learn about journalism and write an op-ed (this year’s speakers included The Daily Caller’s own Michelle Fields). The best editorial is published in The Daily Caller, and previous winners have gone on to real jobs in journalism. This year’s winner is Gabi Forman, 16, who wrote about her personal connection to Alzheimer’s disease.

It was in fresh, halcyon surroundings that I first became a slave to the bedeviling world of Alzheimer’s. Only 15 years old, I was dumbstruck to learn that 20 years of my life might be spent in utter confusion, that I might be cornered into an inevitable nightmare.

I was on vacation, bathing in the Hawaii sun. In a matter of moments, paradise turned into pandemonium.

It all happened so fast, and I wasn’t the least bit prepared. My mother had reluctantly pulled me aside and walked me down to the water, away from my father and brother. It was there that she told me our family stood in a perpetual crisis. I could see her trembling with fear as she explained Alzheimer’s to me for the first time. As she described it, my feet sunk deeper into the sand, along with my soul.

Alzheimer’s runs through both sides of my family and it is horrifying to know that in the time ahead, my brother or I might inherit this debilitating disease. When I heard the news, I started to question my purpose in life and my responsibility toward finding a cure. I have since taken it upon myself to learn more about Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s is a tsunami sweeping 5.4 million Americans to a slow and dreadful death. The outcomes of the disease are inconceivable. How could one dismiss her own identity and forget a lifetime of accomplishments and triumphs? The statistics are even more confounding. I was astounded to learn that Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

My grandmother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s has helped spark my interest in the disease. She is in her early seventies, a clever and sharp-witted woman. A widow for 20 years, she has long been independent. But now Alzheimer’s has begun to take its toll. I can see the effect of the disease in her big blue eyes. When we speak about convoluted topics — topics that she once so intriguingly debated — she quickly becomes confused. She is no longer opinionated, not even interested.

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s. It is one of the few diseases without one, which is one of the reasons the disease is so horrifying. Because Alzheimer’s is a progressive mental disease, it can leave a person’s thoughts muddled for 20 years while their brain slowly degenerates.

I have often wondered why there isn’t already a cure and what an individual like me can do to help find one. My theory is that raising awareness could be part of the answer.

Raising awareness can make a difference. Earlier this year, the Kony 2012 campaign won the hearts of millions of Americans. Similarly, the Occupy Wall Street movement has raised awareness about greed and the power of large corporations. The Penn State molestation scandal has raised awareness about sexual abuse.

Who’s to say the nation can’t raise awareness about Alzheimer’s, a simple disease with impenetrable consequences? If more Americans were aware of the disease, more Americans would work toward finding a cure. The fight against Alzheimer’s need a push, and awareness is that push.

Alzheimer’s is a scary disease. While the world waits for a cure, Americans can help spread awareness about this formidable ailment.

Gabrielle Forman is a 16-year-old rising junior in high school. She writes for her school newspaper and is interested in journalism and political science.