Alzheimer's Part Two

Yesterday, I shared with you the story of my maternal grandparents and their descent into the depths of Alzheimer's disease. Un fortunately, my exposure to Alzheimer's does not end there. Today I would like to share about my paternal grandparents.

My grandparents have a beautiful love story à la Nicholas Spark's The Notebook. They fell in love at a young age, and married in secret. Fifty years later, they still held hands while walking down the street.

My grandmother was always a fierce champion for the entire family. If you had a problem with another person, even if you were in the wrong, she had your back. She was a pillar of strength to all her family, friends and even the entire community.

My grandfather is quite a character. He could talk to anyone about anything. He would be able to talk his way out of any situation that he might find himself in. (These situations usually involved being pulled for speeding.) He loves a good joke, and he loves to entertain.

During my freshman year of college, my grandmother went to the doctor complaining of numbness in her arms. Other than this numbness, she was in perfect health for heAr age. The doctor immediately sent her to the hospital where she had quadruple by-pass surgery. She did not have a heart attack, but she had been very, very close to one that would have ended her life.

Soon after the surgery, as the attendants were rolling her bed back to her room and explaining to her that she had just had by-pass surgery, she experienced a seizure-like episode. After a few moments, she recovered. Several of my family members witnessed this incident, and voiced their concern to the doctors and nurses at the hospital. They assured my family that she just went into shock. We knew it was more than that.

My grandmother was never quite the same in the months to come. She became forgetful and increasingly dependent on my grandfather. He found himself doing things, such as cooking, around the house that he never had to do before. He quietly assumed this role, and kept his concerns about my grandmother's mental state to himself.

After a couple of years, my grandfather could no longer hide the problems that my grandmother was having. She would have outbursts of frustration in public, and her conversation began to reflect that she was no longer herself. My family convinced my grandfather to let the doctor examine her, and sure enough - she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Even though we all tried to step further into the situation, my grandfather insisted that he could take care of her.

"She took care of me for years," he would say. "And now it's my turn." He was truly a shining example of "for better or worse."

A couple of years ago, my grandfather had to have surgery. During his hospital stay, my grandmother stayed with my aunt. None of us had realized how deep into Alzheimer's my grandmother was suffering. She tried to wander away from the house. She threw fits and became confused as to where she was.

The time had come where my grandfather needed to care for himself, and could no longer care for my grandmother 24x7. The family gathered together in his hospital room along with several trusted doctors. We broke the news to him with many tears that my grandmother needed to go to the nursing home.

My family learned from the experience that we went through with my maternal grandparents. We knew the proper steps to take to salvage what my grandparents had left (as far as their possessions).

After my grandfather recovered from his surgery, he worked a full time job, and went to visit my grandmother twice a day. He would stay with her until late at night when she would go to sleep, and then come home and pay bills. The stress was too much, but we could not convince him to take better care of himself. As a result, we are losing him too. Not even a year after my grandmother entered the nursing home, my grandfather had a series of strokes that resulted in his own diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease.

Now my grandparents share a room together at the nursing home. It's a much nicer facility than the one that my maternal grandmother is in. My grandfather started there in fairly good health, with only a few mental episodes of confusion. He even helped the staff with the other patients, and chores such as gardening.

My grandmother's condition has stabilized. She seems to recognize us, and some of what she says makes perfect sense. She still relies on my grandfather a lot, and she likes having him with her all the time. She stays pretty happy.

My grandfather slowly deteriorates every day. His case has been the hardest for me, I think, because of the type of person that he used to be. He stores a lot more anger than he has ever shown before, and some of his episodes have been difficult to handle.

Okay, well, that's about all I can say right now. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, my best advice to you is to do the research. There is a lot of information out on the internet about this terrible, horrible disease. Wikipedia and the Alzheimer's Association are great places to start.


Tash said...

Alzheimer's is tough isn't it. I do not have any family experience with it, but the grandfather of a childhood friend had it and when I went to visit him one day (as I used to do a lot) he was really confused and upset and didn't know me and that was painful enough, I don't know how I'd cope if it was a family member.

So, my heart goes out to you and your family and I hope that you are always able to find joy in your family no matter the situation.

(visiting via AllMediocre!!)

Scary Mommy said...

Alzheimer's sucks. I can't think of a more eloquent way to say it. I have family who have/are battling it and it is heartbreaking. I'm sorry you have a double whammy :(