A co-worker's father passed away this week due to complications of Alzheimer's disease. I decided to write some of my thoughts on the subject. This is really difficult for me to think about, let along talk about, so please bear with me.
My grandparents (both maternal & paternal) played a huge role in my life. Both sets lived nearby, so I saw them often. I never had babysitters as I was growing up - I always stayed with one set of grandparents or the other.
My maternal grandparents came down with it first. One day, as my senior year of high school was coming to a close, my grandmother called us in a panic. "He's talking out of his head, and he thinks he's lost and I can't get him to come in the house." As she spoke, she got more and more hysterical until we could barely understand her. We immediately went over there.
My strong and dependable "Papaw" was lost in the past. He spoke of going home and his parents. Some of what he said made no sense at all. The doctor at the emergency room told us he had probably had a stroke at some point during that day.
In the days that followed, he continued to go downhill - more rapidly each day.
The same man that would pick up a piece of fuzz on the floor as he walked down a hallway or wash his car if he saw a smudge - forgot to comb his hair. Soon he forgot to eat and lost the ability to control his bladder. The episodes of disassociation and disillusionment grew more frequent.
Soon after our family doctor diagnosed with Dimentia - a form of Alzheimer's disease.
"And I think your grandmother may be in the early stages too."
Honestly, we hadn't noticed. She spent so much time taking care of my grandfather, that we didn't notice she was slipping too. She would do things that were completely absent-minded - like put the cereal in the fridge - but we accepted that as stress.
As the weeks went by, the signs continued to be more apparent in my grandmother. She let things go that used to be tremendously important to her. We figured out that she stopped cooking. My mother began to bring every meal to them.
After time, the situation became more than we could handle. We had to opt to put my beloved grandparents into a nursing home. My grandfather had to have a feeding tube because his body had forgotten how to do something as simple as swallowing his food. Six months after entering the nursing home, my grandfather died.
My grandmother's mind had become so distorted that she could not process his death. One minute she would be looking for him, and then have to remember (or be told) that he died all over again.
The costs of the nursing home took everything that my grandparents worked so hard to have. They were so frugal during their lifetime, but every penny they earned ended up paying for their long-term care. That was a hard lesson for not planning for something like this to happen in the future. They had always thought that they would pass everything to my mother.
My grandmother's condition rapidly declined even more after my grandfather's death. Within a couple of weeks, she lost all sense of her surroundings, and she remains in that state today. She has no idea who I, her only grandchild, am. She has no idea who my mother, her only child, is.
Most days she seems happy. She mumbles happily. She enjoys singing. She may not remember who she is, but she remembers words to hymns like "Amazing Grace."
Other days she gets very agitated and angry. Language comes out of her mouth that she would have never used.
Alzheimer's disease is a terrible, horrible disease that revokes dignity and takes away the identity of the sufferer. The disease seeps into their family and loved ones. As a family member, the person you once knew is gone, but still alive.
When I visit my grandmother, I know that she is not the person she was. I had to say goodbye to that person a long time ago. I hope that the person that she is now has no idea of the horrible effects the disease has had on her. That is the only peace that I find about the situation - that maybe she doesn't know.