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Alzheimer’s disease runs in photographer Jalal Shamsazaran’s family: his aunt, grandfather, and father, Majid, all have been diagnosed.

So as he documented the final years of his father’s life, in Tabriz, Iran, Shamsazaran recognized his own potential future.

“Perhaps the character and behavior of my father is a part of my character and behavior in future,” he told STAT via a translator. “I can say that I am photographing myself.”

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Shamsazaran’s photographs depict grief and loss, but also show the strength and love in his family. In the photo above, Shamsazaran’s mother, Aliyeh, tightly embraces her husband during the late stage of his illness. In another, a portrait drawn by a young grandchild is placed by the elder Shamsazaran’s sleeping face — a reminder of the passage of time that a diagnosis like Alzheimer’s makes all the more apparent.

Majid passed away several years after his diagnosis. In a photograph of Aliyeh visiting his grave, she holds a photo of him as a younger man.

Shamsazaran took these pictures for himself and for his family, but said he also believes their story will resonate with others. “I hope that those who watch these photos, can feel the patience, love, and devotion,” he wrote via a translator. “Since I think that living without devotion and sympathy is not possible.”

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“The Loss of Oral History” by Iran-based photographer Jalal Shamsazaran was the recipient of the 2020 Bob and Diane Fund grant to support visual storytelling about Alzheimer’s and dementia. Shamsazaran is represented by NVP Images.

The Loss of Oral History
My mother is preparing my father’s morning medicines. After Iran’s economic sanctions, the cost of drugs, medical supplies, and services has doubled, which makes a heavy burden on families. Jalal Shamsazaran/NVP Images
The Loss of Oral History
My father Majid is 83 years old. He lives in Tabriz, one of the big cities of Iran. It was five years ago that after a doctor’s examination, the doctor discovered that he had Alzheimer’s. This year he has completely lost his short-term memory. He can’t walk easily, and also can’t talk. My father is crying most of the time, my mother is comforting him. Even antidepressant medicines can’t stop him crying. Jalal Shamsazaran/NVP Images
The Loss of Oral History
My father is praying — he often forgets that he has prayed and he recites it again. It often takes longer for him to pray until he gets tired or someone reminds him. Jalal Shamsazaran/NVP Images
The Loss of Oral History
My dad is sleeping more these days. His youngest grandchild painted their grandfather sleeping and wants to show him. Jalal Shamsazaran/NVP Images
The Loss of Oral History
My dad is sleeping more these days. He only watches television while at home. The Baku channel, which broadcasts Azerbaijani music, is his favorite channel. Some nights the signals are not good and the pictures are not clearly seen. That night there was no signal from his favorite channel and he decided to go to bed. Jalal Shamsazaran/NVP Images
The Loss of Oral History
The key to my father’s safe, in which he keeps his documents and money. He has not referred to his safe recently. Jalal Shamsazaran/NVP Images
The Loss of Oral History
My mother is feeding my father. He is no longer able to chew his food. My mother prepares mashed food for him. Jalal Shamsazaran/NVP Images
The Loss of Oral History
That morning my father asks: “Where is here? I want to go to our own home.” My mother takes him by the window and shows him the yard and tells him here is the house you built many years ago. Most of the time my mother shows him all around the house and reminds him of their past memories, and also moving and exercising is good for him. Jalal Shamsazaran/NVP Images
The Loss of Oral History
My aunt is reading the Quran for my father, and my mother is dripping rosewater on his face. After a moment, he departed his life forever. Jalal Shamsazaran/NVP Images
The Loss of Oral History
My mother is praying for my father while holding a picture of him in her hands on a cold, snowy day. Jalal Shamsazaran/NVP Images
  • Fortunately I have a sister and together we chose to keep our Mother in her home when she developed Alzheimer’s. We alternated 3 weeks at a time for 4 years caring for her. It was hardest for me when my mother looked confused and I asked if she was alright. She said “no, I’m losing my mind.”
    She didn’t know who we were and asked “how do I know you girls?”
    Laughed and said ‘I don’t think so’ when we told her we were her daughters. It’s very difficult to watch a loved one lose touch with their
    life and be unable to function day to day.
    I wish I’d taken some pictures like yours to remember it all.
    Thank you.

  • I moved into my brother’sduplex to take care of my Mother with my 11 yr. old son. It had 2 bedrooms, one that we had to share. It was an extremely difficult period of our lives that I would never want anyone to live through. I also had a full time job (8:30-5:00). My siblings agreed that we needed a caregiver during my working hours. I worked in a high stress law firm. It was hard for my son too. His life changed drastically, we both gave up a lot to keep Mom out of a care facility. When it became difficult for my siblings who who agreed to be responsible for a weekend (Saturday overnight and return on Sunday) to give us a break, found it too difficult to care for her, it was time for the Alzheimer’s care facility. I cried daily while trying to keep my job. Hardest days of my life. I am sure everyone who has cared for a parent or family member with Alzheimer’s could write a book about their experiences. Through all of the heartache, I would do it all again and wished that my Mom was still sitting on the couch next to me. She and I were never closer than that time. Prayers and support can and will get you through the toughest times.

  • Thank you for sharing such a beautiful and heartfelt description of your parents journey of living with Alzheimer’s. My 87 year old mother was diagnosed 4 years ago. Thankfully, she still lives independently, as my father passed away in January. I’ve worked with geriatric patients, many with Alzheimer’s or dementia for 23 years , consequently I know first hand what to expect and have all of the safeguards in place for my mother. We have a large family, and strive to keep every day and event upbeat for her. It is difficult to see her gradually slipping away from what she once was. She is still a beautiful person, inside and out, just in a different way. Daily, I have to remember to focus on what she still can do and what she is good at and be thankful for those moments. Thank you again, for sharing your touching photos of your parents and their beautiful story. All of the best to you.

  • My mom had Alzheimers. She was such an easy going woman, never really any problems caring for her. She was never disagreeable while I cared for her. And I was with her 17 months staight 7 days a week 12 hrs.a day M-F and 44hrs. every weekend. Only took time out to work .
    It was an honor to help care for a mother that gave all her children a childhood many only dream of. I’ d do it all again.
    I visited my mother almost daily most of my adult life as my dad died at 49. She was always a good sport, great cook and compassioate loving mother.
    It wasn’ t until the last year she started having realtrouble remembering some names. However, she was still aware of my name right into the final couple months when she became mostly bed ridden and sleeping.
    I wish I would have taken more photos of her through those years because she was still the beautifull woman she always was ; just needed a little guidance to keep her safe and eating properly.
    There is no way Alzheimers patients lose all their memories; I can’ t believe a loving God would strip a person of their memories.
    I miss her so very much. Love you mom.
    Thanks

  • I quit my job to care for my father until the end of his life and to make sure Mom was alright. I had to go home across the country and later spent a year back with her. There is nothing to prepare any of us for what life entails and one of the hardest things is caring for someone. Seeing the love your family showed brings tears to my eyes. It is hard work and unless you’ve done it, no one has a clue what it is like for the care taker and survivors. Bless you all

  • This is the essence of caring that our culture and healthcare system need to adopt in the care of older adults.

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