Montana Tucker, 28, is a singer, an actress, a songwriter, and a dancer.
She’s also one of an estimated 15.7 million adult caregivers to a person living with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States. For the past 12 years, Tucker’s grandmother has been living with the disease, which is the most common type of dementia that leads to progressive brain cell death and memory problems.
When Tucker was growing up, her grandmother helped make her meals and pick her up from school. As a Holocaust survivor, her grandma has always served as an inspiration.
“My grandma’s just always been the strongest lady I’ve ever known, and it’s definitely been passed down to my mother, who is the strongest lady, and then hopefully that’s been passed on to me,” Tucker said. “ She’s just always taught me to never give up, no matter what.”
Spotting signs of trouble
One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s is difficulty completing familiar tasks, and for Tucker’s grandma, this is how the disease manifested at first.
“My grandma is the sharpest lady in the world. You could never get anything past her and she always handled everything,” Tucker said. “She called my mom one day and was crying to her that she couldn’t remember how to fill out her checkbook.”
Other tasks that had become second nature for her grandma, such as taking daily vitamins, also became challenging, Tucker explained.
“I think especially for someone like her, who was used to being so independent and so on top of everything, it was hard,” Tucker said. “She has to have someone there 24/7 helping her. It’s just so incredibly sad.
“It definitely hit us hard because she was always the leader.”
Finding flickers of joy
Tucker pointed out that Alzheimer’s — unlike diseases with physical side effects like hair and weight loss — happens in the brain, so it’s harder to understand.
“We have no idea what they’re (people with Alzheimer’s) thinking or what they’re not thinking,” she said. “And so I think that’s what makes it so difficult. My grandma physically is 93 but she looks like she’s like in her 60s; she’s in incredible shape. It’s crazy that this disease is taking over her brain and you can’t see it.”
The disease has also been unpredictable for Tucker and her family. While irritability and anger are potential effects of Alzheimer’s, Tucker’s grandma is anything but those things.
“My grandma is just still full of life,” Tucker said. “She is always happy; every time I see her, she just has this smile on her face and she’s so loving to everybody around her,” she said.
There have also been moments when Tucker’s grandma shows signs of her former self.
One of the times that happens is when Tucker visits her and they dance — as Tucker explained, her grandma is a former line dancer. She added that her mom will take her grandma to the beach for walks, and the aides at her care home keep her company while showing empathy. One aide, Alyssa, even dances with her and treats her as if she’s her own grandma.
“You have to, no matter what, not give up on them (people with Alzheimer’s), and still give them life as if they were fully there and fully knowing what’s going on,” Tucker said.
Educating and inspiring online
Tucker chose to speak out about the disease not only because she is close with her grandma, but also because she wants to increase knowledge and education about Alzheimer’s disease. What’s more, Tucker wants to encourage her millennial peers to not take their loved ones or their health for granted.
“I’ve had comments from people writing to me, saying that when I post stuff about my grandma, it’s inspired them to go out and do things with their grandma and make them happy, and to not give up on their grandparents,” Tucker explained. “So to me, that’s really, really special that I can inspire people to do that. If I have that opportunity to educate or help or whatever I can do, I want to make sure I’m doing that.”