Madeline Brogdon—a 21-year-old Los Angeles native and fashion photography major at Columbia College—spoke with Bianca Smith about the impact Alzheimer’s has had on her family in the past, present, and future.
Madeline: My grandmother left in the middle of the night from her home; we tried to get her into an assisted living facility with her husband but they got out, and went back home—refused to do it, even though her husband should’ve been more responsible and accepted the help because he couldn’t help her on his own. But they lived on a farm, and it was in November so it was cold. She got out and was walking along the road in a robe. I don’t know who found her—it was a car—but they asked if she was okay and she said that she had been kidnapped and raped. Which wasn’t true, but disturbing, and they put her in a hospital and we found her the next morning. Days later she panicked, had a heart attack, and passed away.
Bianca: What stage of the disease was she in, do you know?
Madeline: She had been suffering for a bit. I know, initially, we would go over there when she had just been diagnosed and it would just be little things. We’d be down at the pool and she’d ask if we wanted a drink, and then go in the kitchen but not come back. A couple of years later we’d come over and she would forget who her husband was, but I don’t know if she knew who I was at the time. I’m not sure if I’d want to know or not.
Bianca: Was she prone to panic like that?
Madeline: We think that she had anxiety issues like I do. She wrote a lot in her diaries and no one knew this until she passed that she had those issues and had seen a therapist who had diagnosed her. It made a lot of sense.
Bianca: Why do you think those mental illnesses aren’t talked about?
Madeline: Especially in that generation of people, no one seems to justify mental illness as a real thing. Even with my parents.
Bianca: You talking about how you think stigma that comes along with dealing with trauma is generational—I think, to them, it’s seen to be a burden to others.
Madeline: From both my mom and dad’s side of the family, there are opportunities. There are issues with anxiety on my mom’s side and my there’s alcoholism that runs on my dad’s side of the family. After an accident, his mom’s mental health declined. His brother passed when he was 11, too, and on the anniversary of his death when my dad was 20, she took her life. Going through that was really hard for my dad.
Bianca: Do you think that history repeats itself in a way?
Madeline: Yes, I do. It makes me mad and frustrated because of course, we say we can prevent it. But that takes a lot. I mean we definitely reflect our parents in ways we don’t want to—it’s all learned behavior. You just have to take a step back, look at things, and assess how you can change them.
Keep your eyes peeled for my quest piece about Alzheimer’s and its fallout in our Flux Issue this summer!