Dani Moore knows how Alzheimer’s disease can rip into a family.
The 18-year-old has watched her grandmother slowly fade away for more than a decade. Dorothy Bjorklund hasn’t fully recognized family members for several years. Dorothy is one of 5.7 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease.
Moore, a recent Pendleton High School graduate, wrote about how Alzheimer’s disease affected her family in a national scholarship essay competition sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. In June, the phone rang and Moore picked up. She got some news of the essay contest that made her jaw drop.
“He told me out of thousands of people who applied, I got second,” Moore said. “I was in shock.”
The honor came with a $2,500 scholarship. The teenager said she loves to write, but almost didn’t enter the competition. Her mother Karen Moore, who was filling in as director of the high school’s ASPIRE program at the time, urged Dani to enter. Still, Dani dragged her feet.
“I didn’t think I had a chance,” she said. “It was a national scholarship and the essay required 2,000 words minimum.”
“Dani’s a pretty gifted writer,” Karen said. “Even if she didn’t win a scholarship, I thought it would be a great gift to my dad.”
Finally, Dani got to work. Because her grandmother had been on the decline since Dani was a young girl, Dani wrote that she never truly knew the woman — a nurse and mother of five who loved to travel, bake pies, go on walks and watch football. The disease slowly stole her memory and her independence.
In her essay, Dani focused on her grandfather’s selfless love for his wife. Ken Bjorklund, who lives in Athena, is a retired Wheatland Insurance agent and one of 16.1 million Americans providing unpaid care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. He took on an increasingly heavy load as Dorothy’s condition worsened.
“He was there with her from the beginning and stuck by her side. Even when she kept him up at night. Even when she pushed him away and refused to let him help her. Even when she no longer resembled the woman he met so long ago, the woman who he had fallen in love with and started a family. To me, that’s an entirely different genre of love. That’s a selfless, pure sort of love, a love stretching on further than just romantic or platonic. That kind of love, that kind of devotion, was foreign to me before I witnessed my grandma’s downfall. It surprised me. It still surprises me,” Moore wrote.
Eventually, Dorothy couldn’t be alone. She would wander off, and she needed help getting dressed.
“It got to the point where he couldn’t take care of her,” Dani said. “It was a hard pill to swallow.”
“The words ‘care facility’ and ‘nursing homes’ became more and more frequent, at first spoken in whispers, then casually voiced around the dinner table,” wrote Moore.
A couple of years ago, the family moved Dorothy to Ashley Manor in Pendleton. Ken visits regularly and takes Dorothy to Sunday mass. Karen takes her for daily walks or breakfast dates.
“Even though my grandma could barely speak and didn’t know who she was, my mom remained patient and true to her cause,” Moore wrote.
The teenager said her grandmother’s illness also brought the family closer together.
“It’s a bit odd, that something that would be seen as a tragedy was almost the opposite for my family. Our bond improved drastically. Instead of falling apart, we fell together, and leaned on each other to support and love my grandmother. I may have lost a grandma, but I gained a relationship with not only my grandpa, but my aunt and uncles, and my parents.”
Moore offered some advice for families embarking on the Alzheimer’s journey.
“Don’t treat it like a burden,” she said. “Don’t make a big deal about it. Take it one step at a time.”
Ken, cheerful and outgoing by nature, said he teared up as he read his granddaughter’s essay. As he revealed this, he teared up again and couldn’t continue for a beat. He said it was tough to go on some days, but “you have to.” He said he manages with the support of his close family and by focusing on the part of Dorothy that still remains.
“She still has a beautiful smile,” he said.
Moore will make good use of her $2,500 scholarship. First, she’ll attend Blue Mountain Community College for a year, then head to a university. She loves both writing and art and dreams of someday writing and illustrating books.
Grand-prize winner Laurence Crandon, of Clarksville, Maryland, received a $5,000 scholarship.
Contact Kathy Aney at email@example.com or 541-966-0810.