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Student Shout-Out: Japera Benson

The 16-year-old Heights High student wrote an essay about Alzheimer’s disease from her grandmother's perspective. It is now on display at the Great Lakes Science Center

Japera Benson hadn’t realized her grandmother was losing her memory.

But then her grandma forgot who the 13-year-old was.

“In high school, I really started to see the change in her memory … I remember talking to her, then she would not remember who I was and ask me, ‘Do you have kids?’ or ‘Did you drive over here?’ or ‘Where do you live? I haven’t seen you in years,’” Japera, now 16, said.

Since then, sometimes she’ll remember her. Other times, she’ll think Japera’s one of her sisters who now lives in Alabama.

Japera, a student at Cleveland Heights High School, said she doesn’t get frustrated, but others around her do.

“I just see her as my sweet grandma who just happened to lose her memory ... It just makes me sad to see her be like that. But it bothers me more to see people get angry with her,” said Japera, who visits her grandmother regularly.

Then, Japera found an outlet to express her feelings. Her English teacher introduced her and her classmates to a program run by Cleveland Clinic's Office of Civic Education Initiatives called eXpressions, where students read research by other students who have completed research internships with doctors and nurses. The eXpressions students use art and writing to interpret and present the information provided by other students.

Japera came across a research paper about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and thought about her grandmother.

But instead of writing from her own perspective, she tried to imagine what her grandma was thinking and feeling.

“I can see the frustration I cause them when I cannot answer a simple question. They no longer come to me with questions or concerns. They look at me with shame like I am lying to them. I hold no motherly authority anymore. I am a stranger to my own children," Japera wrote.

The essay is called “An Elephant Never Forgets" and is included with this article. Her grandmother has collected figurines of the animal for years, and Japera referred to the elephants throughout her essay.

"A large blue elephant was given to me by my granddaughter. For Christmas? I think I hugged her for it. Maybe I did. I hope I did," Japera wrote.

Her grandmother saw Japera's work honored. Rice attended the eXpressions exhibit opening at the Great Lakes Science Center, where students’ work from several area schools is displayed through April. Japera was one of the winners and received $75.

“I was happy, and I feel like I’ve made a difference. People tell me that they have a family member with Alzheimer’s and that they’ve calmed down with being frustrated. People say (the essay) impacted them, and I didn’t really know I could do that.”

Shawanna February 17, 2012 at 03:25 PM
That is an Amazing Article! Continue to Shine! Continue to Enlighten! Continue to Educate! We all can learn from this illness along with others that has affected so many families. We all must Honor and take care of our elderly family members. God Bless, Mom
Michelle Simakis (Editor) February 17, 2012 at 04:01 PM
It was such a pleasure to speak to your daughter, Shawanna. Thanks for your comment. Her essay is really beautiful, and I love that she chose to write it from another person's perspective instead of her own.
Stressfree February 29, 2012 at 03:09 PM
This article truly touched my heart. I can recall when I was fourteen and my great-grandmother began loosing her memory. All the adults chose me to tend to her every need. As I looked back on those times, I realized that the adults were afraid and scared within and God chose me to assist her in her time of need. Your article is a true blessing for those who don't understand the fears of one who suffers with any form of dementia. You are a blessing because you were able to see and feel what your grandmother is actually going through and not many would be able to do that. Stay blessed and stress free.

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