In 2015, I was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease. My father, 85, and the youngest of 10, is living with Alzheimer's, as well as one of his brothers. Their father also had the disease.
Still fresh in my mind is an early incident at my grandparent’s home. My grandmother was trying to tell my grandfather where the closet was so that he could hang his coat, as he had done so many times before. He was standing right in front of the closet, but couldn’t seem to find it. I recall her looking at me, saying, “He’s confused, honey.” At that time I had no idea how he could have been possibly confused. That event, more than 45 years ago, left an indelible mark in my memory that resonates today as I live my daily life with Alzheimer's.
My faith helps me approach each day with hope. Almost every morning I stand in the shower and I say to myself, “I won’t be here forever, but I’m here now, so I need to live and advocate today.” I know that God has my back. I’ve always been a doer and God has given me another opportunity to glorify him, as I know I have been prepared for this journey.
My wife Kim is amazing, and her compassion and faith are exceptional. She has stood by me 100 percent through this entire experience. As soon as I was diagnosed, she began researching the disease and joined a care partner support group through the Delaware Valley chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. We are an eHarmony success story, married 10 years now! This is the second marriage for both of us and blending our families over the last decade has been both challenging and rewarding. We credit the success of our marriage to our strong faith. We know that we could not navigate the complexities of this illness without God to sustain us.
My mom is my dad’s caregiver. Kim and my mom drive us to our appointments, as we’re both unable to drive. They share the belief that Alzheimer's is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not contagious and it does not define who a person is. They advocate for us and support us every step of the way.
Although my dad can’t lead a very active lifestyle due to a stroke, he loves to tell stories about his family and his time serving our country during the Korean conflict. It may be challenging to pull everyone together for family activities these days, but we get together as much as possible. We spend a week every year in Ocean City and go on camping trips. We are also very involved with our church; Kim and I have been working for many years as missionaries to a children’s church in Jamaica.
In addition to her monthly caregiver support group, Kim attends state advocacy meetings and is my main source of support at the Walk to End Alzheimer’s where I have spoken on behalf of others living with Alzheimer’s at the promise garden ceremonies. She does so much for me and I try to show her gratitude all the time. I recently surprised her with a weekend to a cozy bed and breakfast in Lancaster, Penn., to enjoy the autumn colors!
I often think that it’s the family members and caregivers that struggle more than the person with the disease. I know the job of a care partner or caregiver is very challenging and can so often go unrewarded or underappreciated, so I make sure to thank Kim for the things she does for me on an everyday basis.
Kim and Mom, and all care partners and caregivers: I know your job is not easy. Seeing your loved ones change in such a drastic way, the promise of a long life together seemingly dashed with the diagnosis—I know it’s difficult. You have to do everything in your power to maintain what control you do have over the situation. For myself, and for some of those with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis who have become incapable of expressing our emotions – thank you from the depths of our hearts.
Our hearts are still beating. We're still here, we still love. Thank you for loving me … thank you for loving us.
About the Author: Jeff Borghoff is raising awareness of Alzheimer's disease as a member of the Alzheimer’s Association 2016 National Early-Stage Advisory Group (ESAG).