It is often said that Alzheimer’s, for which there are no treatments and no cure, has a more profound impact on the families of patients than on the patients themselves.
Angel Serrano lived in the town of Talavera de la Reina, an hour’s drive from Madrid, with his wife Dioni, youngest son Carlos and daughter Cristina. His family devoted virtually all of their time to caring for Angel in the final few years of his life.
When they noticed his memory failing several years ago, the family immediately recognized the classic early symptom of Alzheimer’s—Angel’s sister had suffered the same illness and died a year and a half before. It would claim Angel’s life on October 15, 2004.
She was just 48 when she died; he was 56—the same age as their father when he succumbed to the disease. These are uncommonly young ages to die from Alzheimer’s, which is usually diagnosed in patients over 65. However, a form of the disease is inherited and can appear in middle-age.
For Dioni, Carlos and Cristina, looking after Angel became increasingly onerous and all-consuming. In the final two years of his life, he needed their full-time care and attention even for the most basic routines of daily life. Angel lost the power to speak, walk, and wash and clothe himself—and finally, a week before he died, the power to eat.
“It was a difficult time for us all,” recalls Cristina. “The worst thing was seeing him deteriorate every day. He had once been such a strong, energetic, outgoing person but the disease robbed us of the man we knew and loved so much. I think about him all the time, the conversations we had, the advice he used to give me, most of all I miss his smile. He is at peace now.”
Kenneth O’Halloran was born in the west of Ireland and is based in Dublin. He recently received third prize in the Portrait Stories category of the 2011 World Press Photo awards. To see more of his work, visit his website.