Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Grandma, Alzheimer’s, and Me

My grandma has been displaying signs of Alzheimer’s and Dementia for some time now. Unfortunately, because she won’t allow anyone to go to the doctor with her or she forgets about appointments, we’re not exactly sure which she is suffering from. 
Here are a few links to some resources about these diseases. 
About Alzheimer’s Disease which is a form of Dementia, click here 

Dementia, click here.
Regardless of the finite medical description, I know my grandma is confused and troubled because of the deterioration of her mind. In her more lucid moments, she says more and more often that she is confused. During off days, she’ll say, “I’m just so mixed up today.”

She has a terrible time remembering names, even the names of her own children. She’s lost the ability to recognize time and calendar days. We’re also worried that she is forgetting to eat. There are many areas that family is focusing on to help my grandma. I don’t live near my grandma, so I’m trying to help in the topic of conversation.

If you’ve ever tried to carry on a conversation with someone who had Alzheimer’s or Dementia, you probably know it can be frustrating and depressing. It’s painful to watch someone you love struggle with something as simple as the name of the grocery store they went to that day or the name of their grandchild that just celebrated a birthday.

It’s hard to understand and deal with the embarrassment and confusion that ensues. For example, my grandma called me wanting to know when the parade was (for the 4th of July) because she didn’t want to miss it. I told her it was on Monday and I wanted to cry because I couldn’t just say, “It’s on the 4th of July, Grandma.” My mom said that she had told Grandma about the parade the day before also. My mom got my grandma a calendar to mark off the days, but my grandma gets confused and marks off the wrong days.

Most of my contact with my grandma is over long-distance phone calls.  This makes it tricky when she’s trying to tell me about a trip that she just returned from and she can’t remember the name of the city or country she traveled in. I’ve found it helpful to talk to my mom first and find out what my grandma has been up to. Then when my grandma struggles, I can fill in the blanks.

  • Keep the conversation going. I try to keep the conversation alive and help my grandma over these memory speedbumps. I’ve jotted down the names of my grandma’s siblings and parents so that when she talks about them, I can supply names. I think having a list of relatives and friends of your grandparents available is a great idea, so that when they can’t remember a name you can prompt them.

  • Enjoy the opportunity to reminisce about the past. As people age, sometimes current events slip through the cracks and old memories resurface. I’ve seen this happen with my elderly relatives. As they approached their later years they regaled us with stories from their youth. Some of these events happened thirty or even fifty years ago and yet they can recall them with vivid detail. 

  • Help your loved one have as much independence as possible. When my grandma first started to go downhill, she said that if she couldn’t drive, she didn’t want to live. Driving is a huge part of independence and it’s difficult for people to give it up even when they know they shouldn’t be driving. I would encourage you to make a plan for your loved one at the first signs of deterioration about what steps they would like to take to help them retain their independence without endangering others.

Finances, living arrangements, transportation, and other necessary aspects of life need to be arranged into a kind of living will with stipulations that will keep your loved one safe and happy.

  • Don’t give up. There will be many good days mixed in with the bad. There will be times when your loved one is quite aware of her surroundings even though she may seem otherwise. Continue to treat her as an adult.

My mom said that in some ways her mother is now in the role of child and my mom has stepped into the role of caregiver. It’s difficult to move into this stage of life because there is a great sense of loss attached to it, but there are also boundless opportunities for service and love.

I’m still learning about Grandma and Alzheimer’s. Each time I’ve seen my grandma over the past couple of years, I notice the changes. I’m trying to capture the special moments before my grandma’s memories are lost.

What positive experiences have you experienced with these diseases that take so much from those we love?

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