My grandmother, Alzheimer's, and pharmacy school
As a child and now as a student pharmacist, Katarena Nalbandian’s inspiration has been her grandmother.
During several different periods in my life, one constant has been my grandmother. While Alzheimer’s may have changed her, nothing will ever alter the impact she has made on me and my future.
My face lit up with joy as the smell of my favorite food, mante, filled the air. The aroma of the freshly baked dough, generously seasoned meat, and tomato stock permeated throughout my nene’s house. The oven timer went off; my sister and I dropped our toys and ran toward the dining room table. Unable to contain our temptation, we quickly said a prayer in order to begin the feast.
I slowly began to notice my nene’s inability to remember. From small things to more considerable losses, I longed for her to be herself again and denied what my family already knew: that my grandmother had Alzheimer’s. I began to research and felt stunned by the words on the page: “irreversible,” “no cure exists,” “brain cell death.” I cried, feeling helpless.
One rainy afternoon, I craved mante and felt desperate to cook with my nene. As I drove my grandmother to shop for the ingredients, sitting in the passenger seat, she asked, “Where are we going?”
Back at her house, we began the 3-hour cooking process. She looked at me with a blank expression, eyebrows knitted close together, and it hit me that she was unaware of the meal we were about to prepare. I reassured her and floured the table to roll out the dough. She followed my lead as I seasoned the meat. My mind wandered to the time she taught me how to precisely size each square of dough. It stunned me that a task so natural to her before was unrecognizable.
That night, and many nights following, I immersed myself in Alzheimer’s research. I would discuss Alzheimer’s with my teachers and physicians, searching for answers. I felt an obligation to my grandmother. I felt an obligation to 40 million individuals worldwide to work toward understanding and unraveling Alzheimer’s.
I gravitated toward the field of pharmacy because of its focus on medicine. I hoped to gain a deep understanding of the disease and treatment, and learn about the process of drug research and development. I was inspired by the capability of innovation and hoped to have the opportunity to contribute my ideas to a field I am dedicated to.
Through conducting research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, I have confirmed my passion for the field and have gained a deep appreciation for the role of scientific and clinical research in determining patient outcomes. In the future, I hope to conduct research on possible treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, driven by the hope that no grandchild should have to watch a grandparent progress through this detrimental disease.
My grandmother, she’s hanging in there—and although she does not recognize most of us, she continues to smile, laugh, and bring joy into our lives.
Katarena Nalbandian is a third-year PharmD candidate with a minor in Public Health at MCPHS–Boston.