A few tips and tricks to stay sane, as our golden generation goes a bit loopy
Lets take a moment to think about our Grandparents. Have they always been an image of solidity in your family? Have they been the ones to keep your family together, making sure everyone takes the time to see each other on holidays and special occasions? Many of us are lucky enough to have someone like that. For me, that person has always been my Grandmother (Yup! That’s her smoking from a shisha pipe). For as long as I can remember, she has been the rock of the family.
Whenever my Dad would have to go away for work, my Grandma would pack her bags, leave her home in Montreal and come take care of my brother and I in Quebec City. She would sometimes be there for two, or even three months at a time, and we never heard a single complaint about it from her. She kind of felt it was her duty.
Today, my Grandma is 92 and suffers from Alzheimer’s. For several years, the disease has been slowly progressing. She still remembers who most people in her family are, but she gets a lot of the details mixed up. For example, she sometimes thinks her daughter is really her sister, or she’ll forget her kids (now in their fifties and sixties) are all married and have families of their own.
My grandmother’s case isn’t quite severe yet. She knows who I am and although I sometimes have to remind her I’m her grandson, she’s doing OK. But I’ve seen her looking around her house in confusion a few times, saying “Well I guess this is my home. I guess I must live here.” I can’t imagine how scary it must be to live in a house you no longer recognize as your own. For some, living with Alzheimer’s must be a nearly perpetual state of fear and unease.
Many people use the word “suffering” when they’re talking about those afflicted with Alzheimer’s, and this would be a fair statement to make. But I’d have to say that the family of these people suffer just as much. When my Grandma’s kids realized that she was at the point where she would need extra care at home, I thought this would be a good way to give back a lot of what she gave to me throughout the years.
I knew it would be a challenge, but when dealing with someone that has a form of dementia, you can find yourself getting frustrated, especially if it’s a loved one you’re trying to care for. It takes a while to get used to being argued with when there’s no point in arguing back. Your patience has to be strong.
I’ve noticed that as my Grandma’s disease progresses, she herself is regressing back through her life. Most of the time, she thinks she still lives on the Nova Scotia farm where she grew up. At dinnertime, she wonders where her five kids are. She thinks her parents are still alive and she sometimes thinks she hasn’t seen my Grandpa since they first met during the Second World War.
At first I tried to remind her that she hasn’t lived on the farm in over 70 years, her kids are all grown up and she lived a happy life with my Grandpa, who unfortunately passed away almost 22 years ago. But then I had to tell myself there’s no point because she’s just going to forget it all in a minute anyway.
Sometimes, she’ll have a temporary moment of lucidity where everything’s back to normal for a minute or so. But these moments are becoming fewer and farther between.
I wouldn’t call myself an expert in caring for people with Alzheimer’s, but I’ve learned a lot in the last few months. The biggest piece of advice I have for anyone who may be dealing with a loved one with Alzheimer’s is to be patient. It’s so easy to get mad, but you have to keep in mind that your parent, or grandparent isn’t the same person they were before this awful disease started taking them away. They can be stubborn and unreasonable, and this will take a toll on your ability to cope with them. But if you get upset, all they will remember is that you’re angry with them and they won’t know why.
Another thing to keep me from being too affected by this is that I try to find the humour in the situation. Sometimes my Grandma will be talking about her kids and what they do. I’ll ask how old they are now and she’ll tell me they’re in their forties. Then I’ll ask her how old she is, and she’ll say she’s thirty something. Instead of trying to explain the logic in all that, all you can really do is laugh, because you know what? It’s funny. Sure it can be disconcerting at first, even scary, but you get used to it.
My Grandma is actually doing slightly better since I started going out there every day. I don’t mean to say that her memory is coming back, but the progression of the disease definitely seems slower. There’s really no way of reversing the effects of Alzheimer’s. But keep in mind that your mood rubs off on those around you. Follow these two pieces of advice; be patient and be happy. They will be too, and it’s going to make a world of difference.
By Owen Nagels