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These Photos Are a Reminder That Our Loved Ones With Alzheimer's Are Still People

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“Nana said, ‘Bill’ today!” my mom exclaimed before she even had both feet inside the house.

She’d just gotten back from spending the day at Mary Manning Walsh Home, the nursing home on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where my grandma lived for the last few years of her life.

It shouldn’t have been a big deal that an 80-something-year-old woman said her late husband’s name, but for us it was.. My nana had not uttered a lucid sentence in about two years. Since her dementia diagnosis and two mini strokes, she barely reacted to those around her, including her three children. She gurgled off syllables that made no sense and needed to be hand fed. She wasn’t Nana, really.

Except that she was.

Her mind was slipping away, but with that one word — “Bill!” — we remembered she was in there. She was still Nana, a mother of three, a woman in love with the husband who stood by her side until his dying day (I’ve written about their relationship in more detail here, if you’re interested).

With Julianne Moore’s Oscar win and important acceptance speech, the film “Still Alice,” which follows a woman living with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, rocketed into the spotlight. I’m thrilled about this.

I’m also thrilled that the film’s title inspired the Alzheimer’s Association’s most recent Twitter campaign, where followers send in photos of their loved ones living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. With each picture, users include a hashtag like #StillMom or #StillPopPop. I love it because even though my nana passed away in 2010, it’s comforting to think she didn’t die as someone else. Her mind’s deterioration was sad and painful and at times even cringeworthy, but she was still Nana.

Nana with her five grandchildren.

So to me, and I’m sure to many others, the hashtag is more than a social media trend or this week’s buzzword. It’s a tribute to the ones who won’t be around to see a cure for Alzheimer’s.

It’s a reminder that when they died, they were still nanas and moms and brothers-in-law and best friends and husbands. They were still people.

Take a look at some of the submitted photos below and follow the campaign on the Alzheimer’s Association’s Twitter page here.

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Originally published: February 24, 2015
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