Graduate Studies


Date of this Version



Stauffer, Heather. "Memory Thief: My Family and the Scoundrel, Early-Onset Alzheimer's Disease." MA thesis University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2012.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: English, Under the Supervision of Professor Joy Castro. Lincoln, Nebraska: August 2012

Copyright (c) 2012 Heather E. Stauffer


My mother was diagnosed with the early-onset form of Alzheimer’s at the age of fifty-four. At the time, she could not recite her birthday, let alone describe important events in her life because the disease had already robbed her of her ability to convey details. Slowly, my father, my sisters, and I have taken on the domestic responsibilities my mother had usually completed, while simultaneously learning to care for a woman unable to care for herself.

The “old-timer’s” disease alienates those diagnosed by creating a living reminder that one’s mind is susceptible to failing. Generally believed to be one of the most feared diseases in theUnited States, it affects millions of people around the world and holds the same place in cultural mindsets as cancer did forty years ago as a “family matter” that should be taken care of in the home and let run its course. The concept of “Alzheimer’s” is so ominous and unapproachable that, perhaps, a way to cope is to vilify the disease (as a scoundrel), not the people afflicted by it.

Memory Thief is by no means a manual for dealing with Alzheimer’s, but a narrative to battle the stereotypes that this is an “old-timers” problem and life ends with the diagnosis. The narrative blends humor and heartache to illustrate how this is a complex illness of intense emotional and physical loss, walking contradictions, false hopes, mistaken identities, guilt-ridden laughs, simple pride, and sleepless nights.

The same question always remains: Will this be her last time? And, more selfishly, how much longer will she remember me? Is this the year she forgets her friends, her family, her daughters, her husband?

Thankfully, she has not yet lost her sense of humor. She still responds to old comedies with a hearty, contagious kind of laugh that emanates from the soul. This is what she should be remembered for, and not as a victim of the scoundrel who stole her memories.

Adviser: Joy Castro