My 90-year old grandmother was recently moved to a long-term care facility. She had been on a waiting list for close to 2 years when the room became available. Prior to the move she was living on her own in an apartment building. My mom and aunt would take her shopping for food and would help her bathe once a week, but up until about a year ago she was still cooking.
Now, this wouldn’t be a big deal except for the fact that my grandmother has early stages of dementia, or she did a few years ago. Her disease has progressed in the last year. Her MMSE (mini-mental status exam) scores have declined. She scored 28/30 a year ago and 1 month ago her score was 21/30.
Let’s just that she was not impressed with being told she had to move. In fact, she had forgotten all about it until the day my aunt took her to the home. Those first few days were really hard, not only on my grandmother but on my aunt in particular. See, my grandmother also has a vicious streak. She always has. It’s never been directed towards me or my brother, mostly towards her two daughters (my mom and aunt). I don’t know what kind of trauma she went through back in the Old Country, but something hardened that woman and she is not an easy person to relate to. My brother and I learned that very quickly growing up. She is a very religious woman and when we stopped going to church as kids she never failed to remind us that we were going to hell. When I didn’t get married in a church, she refused to attend my wedding – a decision she later admitted to regretting.
The sad thing is that I don’t really have any heartwarming memories of being with my grandmother. Well maybe that’s not true – I do remember her taking me as a child to the local beach, which was always fun. But honestly, that’s about it. As I mentioned, my grandmother was never really harsh with me, but I witnessed a lot of antagonism between my parents and her growing up. The relationship between my mom and her mother has always been difficult. Thankfully, my children will have much fonder memories of their grandparents.
I noticed a significant change in my grandmother’s general demeanor after my first child was born. It was so profound, it had me in tears. Never had I seen her so loving, animated, delicate even. It was astonishing. Despite everything, I am grateful that my daughter will have some memories of her great-grandmother. In fact, I think all of my children will remember her – she’s as strong as an ox. Her memory may not be but her personality and overall general health will certainly make up for it.
Watching my aunt go through this ordeal has prompted my brother to have the discussion with our own parents. When the time comes, we do not want to go through what my aunt went through. We’ve made it clear that when it’s no longer safe for them to live independently, they will have to go to a retirement/long-term care facility. Frankly, it sucks getting old. Losing one’s independence has to be terrifying, never mind one’s memory. Alzheimer’s disease has to be the most awful thing a child can witness in a parent. Short term memory usually goes first, often the first symptoms are relatively mild. But over time, the person can’t carry on a meaningful conversation anymore. Confusion sets in, it’s almost like the person become child-like again, they have no memory of their life, of their children or grandchildren. Heartbreaking, to say the least.
This past weekend, I took my daughter to visit her great-grandmother in her new home. She looked the best I’ve seen her in a long time. She’s eating much better and she seemed to really enjoy herself at the activities that were organized for the residents. It was a good learning experience for my daughter as well. Getting old is difficult, but it’s important she see that her great-grandmother is happy, safe, and well taken care of.