Picturing the ‘patience, love, and devotion’ of Alzheimer’s care

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
Source: STAT