Young Onset Alzheimer’s Disease: Giving Thanks

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At this time of year, we tend to reflect on what we have to be thankful for. And despite what our status in life may be, we can all give thanks for the blessings we’ve been given.

A young mother can be thankful she has food for her children, while an up and coming executive could be thankful that his proposal was accepted. A student can be thankful that he got into the college of his choice, while a destitute student can be thankful that he actually has a school to go to. A family can be thankful their loved one pulled through a difficult surgery, while another family can be thankful their loved one’s suffering is now over.

Despite my husband’s illness and all our sacrifices and hardships, I have always taught my children to be humble and thankful for all that we have been given and I tried to teach by example. I never wanted them to walk around with a “poor me” attitude. I tried to convey to them at a very early age that there will ALWAYS be someone worse off then they are and they need to be grateful for all they have.

For example: we have our health. A recent bout of kidney stones quickly put good health in perspective for me. I am thankful each and every day that my children and I are healthy.

I am thankful to have a home. I may struggle each month to pay my mortgage, but I am truly blessed to have a home. Mike and I were able to afford this house with the money we received after his parents passed away and my dad sold our house. I consider our home a “hug from above” and we are so thankful that we have a roof over our heads, especially on nights when it’s raining, windy and cold. On those nights I always pray for those who are not so lucky.

I am thankful to have a job. When unemployment is so high and people don’t know where their next paycheck is coming from, I am blessed in knowing I can go to work every day and get a paycheck at the end of the week. When my salary was drastically cut a few years ago I thought it was the end of the world. I still live paycheck to paycheck, but at least I have a job and for that I am truly thankful.

We have been blessed by the kindness of so many organizations (Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s Foundation of America and Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation), our church, schools, neighbors, hospital staff, friends and family who have stood by us for the last 10 years. We would not have our “hug from above” today had it not been for fundraisers that were held in our honor in order to assist us in paying our bills. Other people have not been so blessed and there is not a day that goes by that I do not give thanks for all that we have been given.

Yes, my husband was diagnosed at the age of 36 with Young Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Yes, we are devastated; and yes, each day is a challenge. Instead of dwelling on all that we don’t have, I do my best to be thankful for all that we do have.

One of the things I try to do is give back. For as little as we have compared to others, there’s nothing greater than the feeling one gets when they do something for someone else.

When I go shopping and the Boy Scouts ask if we can “shop for the hungry”, I take their list into the supermarket and buy a few bags of groceries for those less fortunate. My daughter has been known to purchase food for homeless people walking the street. At Christmas time we purchase gifts for the “angel tree” at our church and today when I found $5.00, I added some more to that and gave it to a homeless couple who had taken up “residence” in the back of our supermarket. I took a moment to look them in the eye and wish them a blessed Thanksgiving.

My point is simple: no matter how little you may have, there is always room to give.

Take a moment and reflect and I’m sure no matter how bad things may seem right now, you will be able to find something to be thankful for. There will always be someone worse off than you – pray for them and be thankful.

What are you thankful for? What are you blessed with?

About the Author

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Karen Henley is a legal assistant for a real estate attorney. She lives in Westbury, New York with her two children. Her husband was diagnosed at the age of 36 with Young Onset Alzheimer's Disease and raising awareness has been her passion for many years. She and her children cared for her husband at home for 11 years before he succumbed to the disease in February, 2012. She continues to remain a strong advocate for research and care. To help her through her life as a caregiver she began a blog: www.henleysheroes.blogspot.com.

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