Preparing For The Inevitable Assault of Alzheimer’s

My grandmother did not recognize me at Thanksgiving this year.

We sat down to dinner, and about 15 minutes into stuffing our faces with the glory of creation, she says to the table (of 14 people – all family or soon to be): “Well, I know who Rob is [my dad], but I don’t recognize any of the rest of you. Tell me who you are and where you’re from.”

Earlier in the day, I’d introduced her to my oldest son for the second time that day. Then my son says back to her, “Don’t you remember me?” I had to explain to my son that while GeeGee loves him, it’s hard for her to remember things.

Later she asked who I was and what I do.

This is my grandmother who was born and raised in the prairies of Oklahoma. Who told stories about the Great Depression and how her father thought it was ludicrous for cars to be made to drive faster than 45 miles per hour. Who needs to get anywhere that fast? The same grandmother I’d spend a week with in the summer. Who taught middle school for decades, and with whom I’d have drawn out conversations about grammar and literature.

This isn’t the first time we’ve walked our elderly family through Alzheimer’s or dementia. Three of my four grandparents have had it one way or another. My grandmother is just the one I’ve been closest to. My fourth grandparent – my father’s dad – died from kidney cancer. I was the last person to talk to him in his hospital bed, all splayed out, begging for somebody to pray for him.

Now, with age, my grandmother is losing her memory. It’s the long goodbye.

But to be realistic, it’s most likely my future. Seeing my Grandmother confused at the Thanksgiving dinner table – that’s probably me in 50 years.

There’s a tone of sadness about it. But there’s a harsh reality to it as well. Sin only grinds creation to bits. It can only pervert and destroy and take. The grave can only yawn for more death.

This has caused me to consider to how to prepare for these days. If Christianity has any practical importance, it is this: The Gospel prepares us to die. Certainly death in the spiritual sense, wherein we receive the life of Christ. But apart from the return of Christ, death awaits us all. And then the face of God. The Gospel prepares us to die well.

If Christianity has any practical importance, it is this: The Gospel prepares us to die. Certainly death in the spiritual sense, wherein we receive the life of Christ. But apart from the return of Christ, death awaits us all. And then the face of God. The Gospel prepares us to die well.

In light of this uninvited guest of slow decay and taking, how can I prepare?

I remember hearing a comment from John Piper a few years ago along these lines. For the life of me, I can’t remember where he said it (see, already losing my memory at 32). He commented that one aspect of the value of Scripture memory for him was to fill his head with as much Scripture so that when everything else goes (via dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc.) there will hopefully remain the truths from God’s mind. When the likelihood of losing all memory is coming at you, what do you want to remain? When the paint and drywall of the mind behind to be taken away, what’re the studs and foundation?

When the likelihood of losing all memory is coming at you, what do you want to remain? When the paint and drywall of the mind behind to be taken away, what’re the studs and foundation?

This has been a provoking thought for me. While I hope my life is built on Biblical, Gospel-centered principles, are actual chapter and verses the cement and framing of my mind? I’m sad to say that while I’m very familiar with Scripture and can give the sense of things, I probably have very few actual Scripture passages memorized.

I’m sad to say that while I’m very familiar with Scripture and can give the sense of things, I probably have very few actual Scripture passages memorized.

And so, I’m forced to wrestle with the question: With the inevitable loss of memory coming in my old age, what will I do about it?

With the inevitable loss of memory coming in my old age, what will I do about it? Click to Tweet

Psalm 119 has was has to be every youth minister’s dream verse: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.”

Ah, with this in hand, all the problems of youth ministry come into focus: How do you fight lust? How do you fight jealousy, bickering, and anger? All you punk kids? How? By guarding it your life according to God’s word. And what does that mean? Just two verses later: “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

Bible memory (+ Spirit) equals living obediently to God.

Now, I agree with that in many ways, and I think it’s obviously Biblical, practical and helpful for youth. But I wonder if Psalm 119 has more in view than just the teens in our churches.

The Psalm seems to be written in the later years of the author’s life. While meditation on a life joyfully depending on God’s Word, he comments in retrospect on a life well lived in God’s presence and faithfulness.

In speaking of keeping one’s way pure and not sinning, I think he has in view the whole life of a believer, up to the very end.

Thus, I wonder if the Psalm doesn’t have in view Scripture memory for the sake of preserving faith and growth in holiness for one’s later years? That is, while he speaks to youth, he has in view the end of youth: old age.

How can one joyfully depend on God when they are old? By storing up God’s word in my heart.

These factors have lead me to consider how I can more intentionally memorize Scripture. I’ve set goals and I have a plan, but I think those are less important to share here. To each his own.

In the end, when I’m not only bald but wrinkly and more ugly, what will remain? When I’ve (sadly) forgotten my children’s faces and can’t remember my wife’s middle name, what will remain?

For their sake, and for my own, I want it to be the very words of God’s mouth (Psalm 119:13) that I might know his presence as I step into his land.

Jacob Young

Jacob is the lead pastor of King’s Cross Church in Manchester, New Hampshire, and a church planter with Sovereign Grace Churches. He and Michelle have been married for 9 years and they have 3 boys, Lord help them. He’s a fan of a good pipe, the Patriots, and the Red Sox. Tom Brady is the best quarterback of all time. Of. All. Time.