John O'Connor illustration
McKnight’s Editorial Director John O’Connor
John O'Connor
John O’Connor

You’ve probably heard about the difference between minor and major surgery: minor surgery is when you’re not the patient.

Like many jokes, the punch line contains a troubling kernel of truth. Let’s face it — we humans can be a somewhat selfish lot. It’s baked into our DNA.

And although the tendency to lead with our self interest probably has helped us survive for centuries, it also can dull our senses to the larger world around us. We’re basically wired to focus on the nearby. Or to be more specific, the nearby as it affects us. But when something from that larger world drops in for an unfriendly visit, our focus can change in a heartbeat.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than five million people in this country suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Intellectually, we understand the numbers and, of course, realize they are bad.

Given that many senior living residents suffer from cognitive impairment, we’re quite aware of the usual disease progression. And for as sobering as that reality can be, it’s still not quite the same as finding out a family member has joined the club.

I was reminded of this stark contrast during a recent visit to my parent’s homeland: Ireland. While there, I learned one of my dear aunts has begun losing her memory. Fortunately, it’s in the early stages. But there’s little doubt about what’s ahead.

You could say that in some ways she is a statistic. And that she’s hardly alone. After all, millions more are grappling with the same loss.

But she’s so much more than a mere statistic. She’s a mother, a sister, a wife an aunt — and more. And she is one of the sweetest people God put on the planet. The unfairness of it all simply sucks.

So yes, she has plenty of company. And many other caring, decent people have been — and will be — struck down by a disease that robs them of their memories — and ultimately who they are.

But this time it’s different. This time, it’s personal.

John O’Connor is editorial director for McKnight’s Senior Living and its sister media brands, McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, which focuses on skilled nursing, and McKnight’s Home Care. Read more of his columns here.

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