Living Gracefully with Younger Onset Alzheimer’s

By Susan Frick

Every month for many years, I have had the wonderful opportunity to listen to an amazing group of people. Their knowledge and insights have taught me about living while facing some of life’s most difficult challenges.

Sponsored by the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center, this monthly group is for people living with younger onset Alzheimer’s disease (diagnosed under the age of 65). Our group, called Without Warning, is for both the person experiencing memory problems and the family members or friends who are also on this journey. We meet to talk about how to live gracefully with Alzheimer’s. We talk about the difficulties, but also the triumphs. I’m one of the several staff people who help coordinate this growing and vital program.

As you can imagine, having Alzheimer’s disease at such a young age is often unexpected and can be an overwhelming experience. These individuals describe Alzheimer’s as feeling like they have fallen into a pit and can’t find the way out. They talk about feeling disconnected from people who are right around them. They talk about a tired feeling they have never felt before. And, they talk about realizing that they are not the same spouse, parent, child or friend.

Through our monthly conversations, these individuals have taught me profound life lessons. They have shown me how important it is to face life’s challenges with honesty, humor and grace. They have shown me the power of going through life’s journey with others who understand and embrace you unconditionally. They have shown me the courage of being open and truly vulnerable. And, they have shown me that we are so much more than our memories. I am deeply blessed to learn from their immense wisdom.