- Alyssa Nash’s early life was disrupted by her father’s Frontotemporal Dementia.
- The shock of genetic testing and her resolve to face her fate.
- Alyssa’s journey from despair to self-recovery and advocacy.
- Her dedication to research studies and making a positive impact.
- A glimpse into the bittersweet moments of reunions with her father and her vision of a brighter future.
Alyssa Nash shares a moving viewpoint on resiliency and determination in the face of extreme suffering in her account of a life that was profoundly affected by her father’s battle with frontotemporal dementia (FTD).
The upheaval began when Alyssa was a mere 11 years old. Her father’s inexplicable behavioral changes left their family bewildered. Initially attributed to a midlife crisis, though he was merely 38, it was a period marked by trepidation, as her father’s temperament grew increasingly volatile.
Because of the mystery surrounding her father’s condition, a severe anxiety disorder was mistakenly diagnosed, which resulted in many trips to psychiatric hospitals and emergency departments.
Alyssa’s mother became her father’s primary caregiver, leaving her to shoulder the responsibilities typically borne by parents. Cooking, laundry, and household chores became her daily routine.
Amidst this turmoil, school became her sanctuary, a place where she could safeguard her father’s health secret and maintain the facade of a conventional teenage existence.
Seven grueling years elapsed before a definitive diagnosis emerged: frontotemporal dementia or FTD. This condition, thrust into the spotlight following actor Bruce Willis’s diagnosis, uniquely affects individuals at a younger age compared to other forms of dementia.
In contrast to the usual memory loss frequently linked with dementia, it shows up as impulsivity, communication problems, and personality changes.
The diagnosis gave her father’s tremendous transition from a kind, compassionate man to someone who was unrecognizably different much-needed clarity. But it also fundamentally altered Alyssa’s life.
At the age of 20, Alyssa grappled with the revelation that approximately 30 to 40% of FTD cases, including her father’s, are attributed to genetic mutations. As her father’s child, she faced a 50% likelihood of inheriting the same mutation.
Instantaneously, Alyssa resolved to undergo genetic testing. She refused to let uncertainty define her existence. Although FTD remains incurable and resistant to slowing its progression, knowing her genetic status empowered her to formulate a life plan.
Alyssa understands the need for more thorough genetic counseling, which was missing at the time of her decision, after reflecting on it.
She is aware of the advances in genetic testing technologies as well as the importance of giving people the option to decide whether or not they want to be tested and who should have access to the results.
The test results confirmed her worst fears—she carried the same mutation as her father, conferring a staggering 99% probability of developing FTD. She found herself in a dark pit after the revelation.
She gave up her aspirations to major in chemistry and art history to pursue a career as an art restorer and left college. For a long time, she turned to drink for comfort.
But something changed this spring. Alyssa started a path toward self-healing. She was able to face her suffering head-on once therapy identified post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as her condition. She put her mental and emotional health first and accepted the difficult road to recovery. She emerged from the depressing haze stronger and more resolute than ever.
Alyssa’s awareness of her genetic risk impels her to participate in research studies aimed at reshaping the future of FTD. Regular visits to the Mayo Clinic involve spinal taps, MRIs, and memory tests, while blood samples are collected every three months.
These endeavors, though demanding, are an act of selflessness. In her words, if she can positively impact just one life, it will be a profound achievement.
Her father, now 53, resides in a care facility far from Alyssa. Their reunions bring moments of joy, yet his ability to communicate has dwindled, leaving her bereft of his voice for over a year and a half. She struggles with the pain of seeing a loved one deteriorate, thus it is a bittersweet experience.
Alyssa resolutely faces an uncertain future. Despite the daunting odds, she clings to hope, dreaming of a future that holds the promise of beauty—a bungalow, her faithful canine companion, and an array of painting supplies.
The specter of what lies ahead does not paralyze her; instead, she chooses to envision a life of resplendent possibilities, urging herself to hold on to that vision a little longer.