What I’ve Learned About Grandma’s Memory
The story is told from the perspective
of a 10-years-old African American girl about her grandmother
who lives with advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease in a nursing home.
Some of my best memories
are visiting Grandma Ida at her farmhouse.
I love my grandmother very much.
A few years ago, she started forgetting things.
She has Alzheimer’s, a brain illness that changes the way
a person thinks, communicates, and remembers things.
Kids can’t get it, only older people.
I’ve been told that there is no point visiting her
because her mind no longer works
– “she is no longer there” as they say.
Growing up, grandma was always there for me.
Now she needs me to be there for her.
So…I decided to visit her once a week this summer
at the nursing home where she lives.
I’ve been told that she won’t recognize me
but I can tell that she does.
I’ve been told that she won’t respond to me
but when I slowly come close
look her in the eye
and hug her
she responds with all her heart.
I’ve been told that she doesn’t remember as much.
I do notice that
but I also notice
she remembers things from her early life
such as the joyful times growing up on her parents’ farm.
I simply need to ask: How was it for you to grow up on a farm?
I’ve been told that she won’t remember the names of people in our family
but when I show her an old picture album
I can tell that she recognizes many of them.
I’ve been told that there isn’t much we can do together
but she always enjoys planting flowers with me.
I’ve been told that she won’t be able to sing the way she used to
but she enjoys humming and tapping her foot
to the rhythm of the songs she loved listening to when she was young.
I’ve been told that she won’t be able to dance the way she did
but when I play her favorite song
hold her hands
and move slowly from side to side
she dances beautifully!
I’ve been told that she no longer likes to be touched
but when my mother gives her a gentle hand massage with lavender oil
she loves it.
I’ve been told that she won’t let the staff do her hair
but when I do it the way I know she always liked it
she is more than willing to let me do it.
I’ve been told that she no longer wants to eat much
but when I make her favorite pie
go at her pace
and encourage her
she eats better.
I’ve been told that she’s no longer able to paint the way she did
but when I give her a brush and guide her occasionally
she seems delighted to watercolor.
I’ve been told that Grandma won’t understand my words
but she clearly senses and responds to the way I feel.
I’ve been told that I should correct her
when she says something that doesn’t make sense
but what I’ve found is that correcting her often frustrates her.
I’ve learned that accepting and supporting her feelings
– rather than insisting on the facts – work much better.
I’ve been told to “ignore it” when she repeats the same question
– like “When’s lunch?” –
but I learned that she can’t remember the answer
and that each time she asks, she believes it is the first time.
So…I try not to get frustrated and do my best to answer it calmly each time.
On her good days, especially when she is well rested
it sometimes helps to write it down – Lunch at 12:30pm
I discovered that she tends to repeat her questions
when she feels bored and becomes worried about something.
So I gently hold her hand to make her feel safe
and assist her to engage in an activity she enjoys doing.
I’ve also been told “just ignore her”
when she becomes sad or fearful
but I’ve found that’s when she needs me most.
I’ve been told not to bring my little brother with me
to a nursing home where old and frail people live
but when I do, they have a great time playing together.
I’ve also been told not to bring our dog Laila
but when we say goodbye and Laila gives her a wet kiss
she laughs and makes me promise that I’ll bring her again next time.
I’ve been told that she can no longer walk far
but she is able to walk with me short distances
and sit together on a bench at the nearby lake.
I always make sure to hold her hand
and be ready to support her if she is not steady on her feet.
I’ve been told that she won’t remember that I just visited her
but the staff tells me that the good feelings we’ve shared
remain for a few hours after I leave.
During our visits this summer
the most important thing I learned
about Grandma Ida’s memory is that
I simply need to forget a lot
of what I’ve been told about Alzheimer’s.
[Story] Eilon Caspi on ChangingAging
[Art] Krisztina Laki