Without memories I am nobody." --Grace Falzone
According to the Alzheimer's Association, an estimated 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, and as many as 26.6 million worldwide. With an aging baby boomer population, Alzheimer's will continue to affect more lives each year. From 2000-’06, Alzheimer's deaths increased 46.1 percent, while other selected causes of death decreased. More than half of all diagnosed Alzheimer's patients continue to live at home; 80 to 90 percent of these rely on family and friends for care.
This ongoing project documents the daily life of my Aunt Grace, who suffers from Alzheimer's, and the impact the disease has on her family. My father, Joe, is Grace’s only living sibling in the United States and has been her only caregiver since her symptoms began several years ago. He refuses to consider a nursing home for her care. Aunt Grace still lives alone and relies on her brother’s daily visits for food, medicine and, most important, companionship. As the years pass, it is becoming more difficult/dangerous for Aunt Grace to live by herself. She has wandered out during the night to be found by police and brought home. After living independently for many years, she will be moving in with my dad, Joe.
I was born into a small and very close Sicilian family. My father and aunt, along with another brother and their parents, came to the United States more than 50 years ago. Grace, who never married, lived with her parents in their home in Ansonia, Connecticut, and took care of them for their entire lives. She still lives in the same house.
I began photographing Aunt Grace last year. It was my way to spend more time with her, to understand how she is coping with this terrible illness, and to share my family’s story as a way of bringing awareness to this disease. The experience has been very emotional. My Aunt Grace and I both take joy and comfort in our time together. But I also feel helpless watching her sense of reality slip away as she attempts to hold on to her memories.
Grace is the second family member that we know of to have this horrible disease. My grandmother (mother’s side), who helped raise me from a young age and took on the role of mother in my life, died from Alzheimer’s after a long illness. She initially lived at home after being diagnosed but later moved to a nursing home. It was soon afterward that I decided to do this photo essay. I realized the dominant and continued presence Alzheimer’s has had in my family for so many years. I needed to do something. I hope sharing my family’s story will serve as a voice for the countless families going through similar situations.
These photographs are in honor of Aunt Grace and her struggle to hold on to her memories.