5.7 million American’s are estimated to have Alzheimer’s disease with African American’s and Hispanics being most likely to suffer from the disease. Two-Thirds of those Alzheimer patients are women but I never thought my grandmother would fall into that category. I’ll admit when my mother told me the doctors diagnosed my grandmother with Alzheimer’s, which leads to dementia, I had no idea what it completely meant. But what I knew for sure was, one day my grandmother would look at me and have no clue who I was. Just the thought broke me down and made me wish I would have built a better bond with her.
For those who are unaware what dementia is, it’s an umbrella term that Alzheimer’s disease can fall under. With Alzheimer’s, the more time passes the more severe the symptoms become, which I’ve noticed with my grandmother. Right now, I’d list her in the moderate stages, and it hurts to know she isn’t the same woman that she used to be.
Though I didn’t spend much time getting to know her personally, I knew she was filled with so much life. Along with my great-aunt (my grandmother’s sister) she was the glue that kept this family going as far as keeping us updated on our family tree and history. She loved doing those things; making family trees, putting together DVDs of home videos and pictures, and linking family together on Facebook. Oh, and when it came to dancing, she loved the hell out of it. She’ll still bust a move if you throw on some music. I remember her creating a YouTube channel before people started making money off of them. She would dance around her condo in San Diego alone and post videos about loving yourself, which received thousands of likes. YouTube sent her the paperwork for her to get paid for the videos but I don’t think she every sent them in. Listening to stories from my mother I also knew she loved to travel. My mom always reminds me about how she came to the hospital while she was in labor with me to tell her she was heading to Reno and let her know when I’ve arrived. If that’s not living life I don’t know what is.
Now, I look at her and I see a woman that’s reverted back into a child and at times it can be frustrating because it’s like dealing with my 4-year-old son. There are times she doesn’t comprehend what I’m trying to say to her or she’ll start telling a story and gets confused and can’t get out what she wants to say. She forgets certain words and if you ask her to do something all she says is okay over and over until finally, you just do it for her. It scares me to think that when I’m getting her dressed I’m hurting her. At times, she moans and grunts without saying a word, which are the late stages on this disease. Showers are no longer easy, so giving her those myself have become part of my days.
See, she once had a caregiver who would come and take care of her while the rest of us worked but the month I lost my job I was starting to notice things were becoming difficult for her as well. Her caregiver was an older woman, probably in her 60s and as the days would come to an end she would always vocalize to me how dealing with my grandmother was no longer easy and that she’s not the same. Part of me thinks that’s why she stopped working for us.
I decided to take on the job for my mother, which I will say I was hesitant to do. Just watching my mother and seeing the somewhat violent outburst my grandmother would have terrified me inside. With dementia comes a whole lot of strength and my grandmother is a little women. At nights I’d lock up my room because sometimes I would wake up to here standing there. I know you can only imagine how scary it is to wake up in the middle of the night to see a figure standing in front of you. As bad as I thought it would be being here caregiver, it’s really not bad at all. It does take a lot of patience and if you aren’t one that has it then maybe it’s not for you. At times she’ll look at me and randomly smile or laugh. At first I used to be confused but now It brings joy to me because I know she is having a moment were she doesn’t feel like her world is ending; just because she isn’t always there she’s aware this disease is taking over and she hates it. Other times I’ll hear her randomly talking about her parents and her sibling. It reminds me that she hasn’t forgotten about those closest to her even if she can’t recall who we are at the moment. The worst part about it is I can no longer call her granny. Well, I can but she won’t respond to it because I know she doesn’t completely remember that she has grandchildren.
Watching dementia take away the one person you knew is heartbreaking. Physical they are here with you but everything that they once were is slowly drifting away. If i could, I’d go back in time and call my grandmother more. I’d spend more time getting to know about her upbringing and what she enjoyed most about life. I’d talk to her more about her writing. As I packed up her place in San Diego about a year ago, I realized I get my passion of writing from her. She had so many letters and journal entries that she probably forgot all about, I have the same. My biggest thing is wishing I started that story of her life she always talked so much about. What I can say is, although I hate the relationship she has with dementia, I love that it put me in a space to be a little closer to her. Not many people get to have their grandparents in their company and for that I am grateful.