Anitra “Nia Mo” Mostacero has spent most of her adult life in the U.S. Air Force. She originally joined due to her mounting student debt and didn’t plan on making a career out of it.
“I wasn’t going to stay in for very long. I ended up staying in for the long haul and I loved every minute of it,” she recalls. I was a health administrator by trade. I loved being a First Sergeant, and that’s what I retired doing. The First Sergeant’s job is making sure that the people can accomplish the mission.”
But Anitra was only 40 years old when her life began turning upside down. She started experiencing memory loss, which was making it difficult to do her job effectively.
“It was hard because I felt like I was working doubly hard to keep up. I was making mistakes on paperwork and missing meetings. I was very moody.”
It was all she could do to force her hazy brain to keep up with her job as she tried to figure out what the problem was.
“I used a lot of sticky notes. I doubly wrote things on my calendar and on my phone because I was on call. I always had to be alert. If you made mistakes, then you could mess up someone’s livelihood.”
At first, Anitra didn’t know what was causing her memory loss. Her primary care doctor thought it was stress. A Veterans Affairs doctor told her it was PTSD. She went on anti-depressants, but when those weren’t working, she switched doctors and requested referrals to specialists.
“They ruled out diabetes, heart problems, and so many things,” Anitra says. “The neuropsychologist and neurologist were the ones that diagnosed me with young-onset Alzheimer’s.”
The diagnosis came as a shock. Anitra says she doesn’t remember much about that visit to the doctor and that she merely mimicked the doctor’s emotions, as she was unable to process her own thoughts and feelings.
“His words of, ‘You have five to eight good years’ spun me into a depression that lasted over a year. All I could think about was the later stages,” she says.
However, she wasn’t—and still isn’t—ready to give up.
“It’s okay to grieve because we’re naturally going to grieve our abilities. We’re going to grieve our futures that we thought that we were going to have. I was grieving the fact that I wasn’t going to be starting a second occupation after retirement, that I wasn’t going to be doing prison ministry or working for a nonprofit. I was grieving that person.
“It’s natural to grieve, but don’t stay there. Reach down into whatever spiritual base you have that’s greater than you, that tells you it’s going to be okay, and really, really hold onto that, because it’s going to be okay. And forgive yourself when it’s not okay.”
Having dementia is hard regardless of how you handle it though.
“I forget things. My attention span is very short,” Anitra says. “I have reminders on my phone for everything. I even have a reminder telling me to set my reminders for the next day. I live by my reminders. But when things happen in the moment, I try not to beat myself up, and I forgive myself for it. I mean, what can I do but pick up the pieces?”
Anitra has found it’s important to maintain a close connection to her friends and family, especially her son, during this difficult time. She even moved to Idaho to be near her son after her retirement and diagnosis. She has also become an advocate for people with dementia; she’s an early-stage advisory group member at the Alzheimer’s Association, and she’s involved in the Black Dementia Minds group of the National Council of Dementia Minds.
She’s making the most of what time she has left, living a healthy lifestyle, leaning on her spiritual foundation, and giving herself grace when she forgets. Check out her story in the video below.Whizzco