MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now we have a story about coping with a disease that's becoming more common in the U.S. When Greg O'Brien discovered he was going to be a grandfather, he says he was both happy and worried. That's because the 67-year-old has early-onset Alzheimer's disease. NPR's Rebecca Herscher has this report.
REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: For years, Greg and I have been checking in on the phone every month or so. We mostly talk about his Alzheimer's symptoms - depression, anxiety, paranoia, confusion and, of course, memory loss. It's been eight years since he was diagnosed. And beginning last fall, we also talked a lot about his impending grandfatherhood. He had a lot of concerns.
GREG O'BRIEN: They're just not going to want me to be alone with the baby because they're afraid. They're not going to let me pick the baby up when the baby's crying and hug the baby and pat the baby. By the way, I haven't talked to anyone about that before. You're the first person I've talked to, but it's been on my mind.
HERSHER: Another problem - Alzheimer's has affected Greg's balance. His feet and legs get numb.
O'BRIEN: They're not going to want me to put the baby on my shoulders, OK? They're not going to want me to play babies in space.
HERSHER: What is babies in space?
O'BRIEN: Well, where you - I pick them up in my hands, and I swirl them around over my head like a rocket ship. And I always say, babies in space. And they all laugh and, like, I turn them down like they're going to land and then up like they're going to - you know, I do it gently. But that ain't going to happen. No one's going to allow me to do that.
HERSHER: And there was a deeper issue eating away at him.
O'BRIEN: My granddaughter or grandson isn't going to really get to know the real me, and that bothers me. It's sad for me. It's almost like someone's going to have to reconstruct it. So it's kind of bittersweet. Does that make sense?
HERSHER: That was last October.
COLLEEN: It's been really incredible watching him, very, like, moving to watch him with her.
HERSHER: In November, Greg's daughter Colleen gave birth to little Adeline. They live a plane ride away, but that hasn't stopped granddaughter and grandfather from bonding.
COLLEEN: Yeah. Thank God for FaceTime because we do that a lot. He sings a little song to her a lot.
You want to say hi? Hi.
O'BRIEN: Oh, God, yeah, she just lit my life up. And, you know, as she's childlike and I become more childlike, we kind of connect. And so I make funny faces at her 'cause I make funny faces at people. And she makes funny faces back at me. And I stick my tongue out, and she sticks her tongue out. And I purse my lips, and she purses her lips. And we're having a hell of a conversation. So it's, you know, she pees in her pants, and I pee in my pants. So we're - we've kind of connected on that.
HERSHER: Greg is a writer by trade, worked at newspapers on Cape Cod for most of his career. Since Adeline was born, he's written extensively about her and to her.
O'BRIEN: Here's some text messages I sent to my infant granddaughter, Adeline. Here's the first one.
(Reading) Adeline, too bad you couldn't make it to the Cape on your tricycle last night. The Christmas tree on the deck turned into a snow monster and ate Conor and Mary Catherine - one gulp. I'm here alone and need you - lots of snow, lots of sap. Love, Grandpa.
Adeline, my sweet little slubs, the snow monster is now gone. And the Christmas tree on the deck is back. You saved the day, you snow angel. I suspect Conor and Mary Catherine...
HERSHER: Greg O'Brien is publishing a revised memoir this summer. He's written a chapter titled Sweet Adeline. In it, he writes of her birth - new life, new hope, something new to live for. Rebecca Herscher, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
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