Essay: 'Teen Caregiver,' by Lindsey Jordan

Lindsey Jordan talks about caring for her father who has Alzheimer's Disease.

Oct. 19, 2010 — -- 16-year-old Lindsey Jordan's father is in the late stages of Alzheimer's Disease, and she helps provide his care. Jordan is a speaker and advocate, who talks to fellow teens about the disease, and she shared this essay with The Shriver Report.

"My childhood is filled with so many wonderful family memories. My Dad was a healthcare professional and taught at various colleges. My Mom worked part-time, and I was blessed and lucky to be a working actor and singer. My Mom and Dad introduced me to volunteerism when I was very young. Over the years, I learned the importance of bringing hope and happiness to others and feeling very fortunate every moment for all that I had. I learned and believed that together, ordinary people could do great things.

But nothing in my life prepared me for Alzheimer's, the unforgiving and relentless disease that stole my Dad's memories and robbed us of a lifetime of adventures.

My Dad began showing signs of dementia in his late 40s. In 2002, when he was only 51, he was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's Disease. I was 8-years-old when Alzheimer's chose me to be a caregiver. It didn't care how old the patient or caregiver was.

Care-giving is a 24-hour-a-day job, and I helped Mom wherever I could. As a young child, I remember helping Dad get dressed, tying his shoes, and preparing his breakfast, all before I went to school. I often held my Dad's hand so he wouldn't wander and get lost. I worried when he did. To calm both our fears, I often read and sang to him. All the simple things we took for granted became much more difficult.

When I was a child, Alzheimer's meant my Dad was sick. Now as a young woman, my knowledge of Alzheimer's has led me to understand the harsh reality of this disease. My biggest sadness comes from knowing that this Alzheimer's has already taken my Dad from me. Although I know he will always be with me in my heart, the reality is that my father will never see me reach those special milestones in my life, and I will never get to see the love and pride on Dad's face as I realize my dreams. He won't see me graduate from high school or college. He won't be by my side walking me down the aisle or smiling as his grandchildren take their first steps.

Although I try to be strong, it has been extremely stressful and absolutely devastating to watch what this disease has done to my Dad, my family, and our friends. I wish no one ever has to learn first-hand what it's like to struggle financially because of this disease, or shed tears of frustration and pain because they are worried about their loved ones and their own future.

As for me, I find comfort in being an Alzheimer's advocate. I participate in the Alzheimer's Association's Memory Walks, give speeches, and coordinate Alzheimer awareness events. I have had the opportunity to travel to Sacramento and Washington, DC, where I've shared my story with our elected officials and have asked for their continued support in the fight for a cure.

I am now 16-years-old and sadly, my Dad is in his final stages of Alzheimer's. His once warm eyes stare blankly at me now. He's unable to remember I am anyone he knows, let alone his daughter.

My Dad's legacy of goodness and compassion live within me. Although his memories are long gone, I still remember."