~my thoughts about life~

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Gram and Gramp enjoying their
Christmas gift last year
My Grandmother's Alzheimer's gets worse every day.  How my Grandfather continues to care for her blows my mind.  She hasn't known me for quite a while, although sometimes she'll talk about all my kids.  She still has a sense of humor from time to time, joking that I have a lot of kids. 

She forgets my mom often now, saying things like, "Did she leave yet?"  My mom will respond, "Who are you talking about, Mom?  I'm the only one here."  My Grandmother, who never had a mean bone in her body, has adopted a completely new personality.  It's astounding.  I've heard that many people afflicted with Alzheimer's end up swearing like a sailor, when they never cursed in their lives.  Fortunately, Gram hasn't taken to swearing yet.  It will shock me if it ever does happen.

Today, I dropped by to bring a casserole.  We try to cook often for them, since Gramp is left with all of the household duties.  She approached me with a desperate look on her face and grabbed my arm.  She started mumbling something incoherent but stopped suddenly.  Gramp was approaching and she eyed him suspiciously.  We chatted for a couple minutes about handkerchiefs that she had been folding.  He took his pocket squares into the bedroom to put away and Gram's look of desperation came back.  "Call my husband right away and tell him to get here right now."  Confused, I offered a supportive, "That is your husband, Grandma.  That's him."  Not convinced, she pleaded with me to get her husband there right away.  There's no arguing with her.  She's firm on whatever she believes at that instant.  When Gramp returned, she stopped speaking and looked away nonchalantly.  He sat in a chair and she started whispering to me again.  He heard  his name mentioned and asked her who she was looking for.  She shook her head and refused to answer.  He told her that he heard his name and that's him.  He's her husband.  She refused to accept this information.

With my kids waiting in the car, I tried to wrap up the visit.  She wouldn't allow me to leave without asking one more time for me to call her husband.  I patted him on the shoulder and once again told her this was him.  I tried to joke that he's just looking a little older, that's all.  She didn't dismiss it this time but still looked at me with a desperate expression.  "I promise," I said, "this is him.  I wouldn't deceive you."  She finally relented but didn't look convinced.  "Well," she said, "I guess that does look like the shirt he was wearing this morning."  So she can't remember her spouse of 61 years but recognizes his shirt.  I guess that's the way it goes.

I left the house with my heart breaking.  I couldn't say much to Gramp or Gram would have thought we were conspiring against her.  "I'm sorry you have to deal with that," was all I could say.  I pray for God to give him the strength to handle her every day.  Even though her dementia has been progressing for years, I still have such a hard time accepting it.  She was my favorite person growing up and I was so honored to be the only descendant to inherit her green eyes.  I even named my first daughter after her.  I reminded her of that again today and told her that I also named my son after my Grandpa.  She didn't pretend to remember that but acted honored.

As soon as I arrived home, I got a call from Gramp.  He explained that Grandma wanted to talk to me.  I could try to remember the conversation but none of it made sense.  The beginning of a sentence in no way matched the end of the same sentence.  I just replied with several "sures" and "OKs."  But at the end of the conversation, she seemed to be asking me to call her husband again. 

The worst part of an ailing mind is not that the person has lost their memory.  It's the fact that they no longer are able to find happiness in any part of their life.  If she was confused and happy, I would be happy.  But seeing her constantly upset is what causes me the most pain.  I try to find the positive in the situation, even though it's nearly impossible.  Our days with her are numbered so I need to enjoy her while I can.  I like to look at her and pretend that she's still my Grandma from ten years ago.  Even if the present isn't happy, at least the past is.


k said...

This broke my heart. I'm so sorry.

Mimsie said...

Have you ever read Naomi Feil's book, "The Validation Breakthrough: Simple Techniques for Communicating with People with 'Alzheimer's Type Dementia'"? This was the book that changed my whole approach with my mom, who developed dementia over a period of years. Today's her birthday--she would have been 89 were she still alive. Your story of your grandma brought back lots of memories of Mom's paranoid behavior. I hope you might find the validation technique useful for you and perhaps your own mom and grandpa. It's a heartbreaking disease, for sure. My email is mimsietwo at gmail dot com if you ever have a chance to read the book and have comments on it.

Theresa said...

So sad. It's just so sad.

Jason's grandmother had Alzheimer's. She lived in CA until 2003. She had come for our wedding and I had met her once when we were out there. But it wasn't until she started living with my grandmother in 2003, that I really got to know her. I had just had a baby and she would tell me all about her baby. Or she would think she was pregnant. She had no idea who I was, but we did have nice chats when she thought we were both new moms or I was a new mom and she was pregnant. That is what I will always remember about her.

Hillary said...

Oh I'm sorry. I have spent a lot of time with Alzheimer's patients and it's such a heart-wrenching disease.