This piece is a reflection on an article from the New York Times this week. The story is told about a large family from Colombia, and their many relatives who have developed early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The case has been baffling doctors and scientists, both in Colombia and the United States.
It is suspected that Alzheimer’s disease has been affecting family members for generations. The family tree has been traced back to the 18th century and legends have been passed through the ages about an act of burglary being the cause for the family’s curse. Various family members were interviewed and their narratives reveal an embedded fear of developing Alzheimer’s disease even during childhood, and relationships being affected due to the way that this fear manifests itself latently throughout the family’s perception of the future.
It appears that symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are beginning to show across another generation of the family, and their experiences of these symptoms range from denial to fright. The family are well-known in Colombia, and are recognised by their ill-fate. From the article, I gained the sense that the most potent, most poisonous aspect of Alzheimer’s disease for the family is, ironically, one of remembrance. Each generation remembers the previous suffering of their relatives. The daily caring for relatives requiring constant nursing instils a memory of the present, and a fortune for the future.
It is the memories of such suffering which become the fear. Aside from the obvious relevance for medical investigation, this family reveal a great deal about the significance of interpretation of illness during their narratives. The family members who’s condition has deteriorated to such an extent that communication has faded, and slowly their faculties are disappearing, are seemingly unaware of how their lives have changed. Alzheimer’s disease has taken away life as they once knew it, but its legacy is the prophecy of those who can still remember what their mother or father used to be like before they fell victim to this illness.
It makes us realise just how much illness can affect the lives of the healthy. Illness does not just inhabit the individual body – instead it is a collective experience and one that is subjected to different interpretations pending a families projection of their beliefs. In this family, the saddening fact is that they feel doomed to an ancient curse blighting their futures and a continuation of a powerless suffering.
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