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What My Children Teach Me about Dementia

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Photo Courtesy of Page Robbins Adult Day Center

My grandmother was one of the strongest women I know. She was smart and business savvy. She was the most organized person and didn’t need Pinterest for inspiration. She knew how to hold her own in conflict or stressful situations. She was hilarious, talented, and oh-so-stubborn. She was the best new car deal haggler ever. She was a Supermom who raised 6 kids while also owning a business and working hard. She was firm when she needed to be but so gentle and kind at just the right times.

She still is that amazing woman; she just doesn’t know it anymore.

My grandmother has dementia and while she still walks and talks on her own, her mind disease has dramatically changed her. It has put her in an invisible prison where she is basically serving a death sentence. That may sound harsh, but that’s the reality of the disease. Dementia does not get better.

While it is difficult to watch her decline, I can hold close the memories we made. My children, on the other hand, will not remember a time when she was her and all there. As her condition became more obvious, I knew I needed to broach the topic with my daughter, who was 6 at the time.

To my surprise, the conversation was not as difficult as I anticipated. My daughter is very observant and had already noticed a change in her great-grandmother. She told me that she knew her mind was old and I helped her understand that it was a disease and not every single elderly person suffers from it. I explained to her that it was not something that would get better and while it was sad, we want to enjoy the things she can remember. And I let her know that one day my grandmother may not remember her name. My daughter – ever so innocently – told me,

It’s okay if she can’t remember my name. She will know it’s me deep in her mind. But I will still remind her anyway!

Hearing her acceptance of the situation was instrumental in my own grieving process. I may have lost the grandmother she was during my childhood but we haven’t lost her. My kids don’t seem to have suffered a loss at all. Kids are resilient and we could all learn something from them.

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I have also come to learn that my grandmother needs the kids just as much as they need her. When she is around my children, she comes to life. She dances and plays with them. Her spirits are lifted when she talks to them and gives hugs and sugars. And even if she doesn’t remember each time with them from one day to the next, she enjoys the time she is with them. Watching my kids interact with her has taught me to appreciate the moment. They bring her joy and she helps them understand how to be patient and gentle with others. And they all remind me that family is about loving one another.

Though the matriarch of our big, close-knit (yet somewhat dysfunctional) family shows less of those qualities I listed, they live on in all of us – my mom, my aunts, my cousins, my brother, me, my children, my nieces, and my nephew – I just won’t tell you who inherited the stubbornness!

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If someone you love suffers from dementia or Alzheimer’s and needs a regular place for structure and care a few days a week, Page Robbins Adult Day Center has been a wonderful community for my grandmother. They also offer Caregiver Support.

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