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I leave the assisted living center with a lump in my throat and fighting back tears. Followed with a hopeless feeling. I would watch what appeared to be my grandmother walk off down the hall to her room. As I turned to go out of the door with my youth and freedom, grandma stays on lockdown. I would get in my car and head home which was barely a minute from the facility.
Never fully knowing how to process it all. My thoughts would overwhelm me and the emotions would come. I think that is why I only did it maybe a couple of times a month, despite living so close. I would sit with my guilt day in and day out, longing to go see my grandma while on most days never working up enough gumption to go and sit with her. I wasn’t sure what to do with this version of my grandma.
There are only so many times you can talk about the weather in an hour or hear about her waiting on my grandpa who had been gone for 30+ years. Answering the same questions over and over until finally you end up making up lies. You can’t talk about anyone or anything else because then she gets terribly confused.
Confusion eventually leads to agitation and anger. Not to mention the times when she grabs her purse and thinks she is leaving with you; those days were heart-shattering. As unbearable as it was for me sometimes, I know it was just as worse on her children; my mom and uncles. Later, at home, I would often think about grandma. I always wondered if she is confused, scared, lost? I hoped and prayed that if she ever was that it would pass just as quickly as all her other thoughts and lucidity did.
The Beginning of the End
Grandma landed in the assisted living center after a fall which resulted in breaking her femur while at her senior citizen apartment where she lived alone. After the surgery to correct the broken femur grandma’s mental state never returned to normal.
The ideas that our family was all beginning to suspect before the accident about her forgetfulness were soon confirmed after surgery…. dementia. The surgery just seemed to exacerbate the onset of her Alzheimer’s and we were forced to accept that this was it, it would never get any better and grandma would never be able to be independent again. When she first started living at the center, we would take her out a lot. Shopping, restaurants, family get-togethers, and picnics, we tried to include her just as we all always did.
Soon trips like that weren’t working out. She would get too tired or confused. It is very similar to having a baby to take care of. So, we just stuck to visiting her and as her mental state got worse, everyone got more and more reluctant to visit as often. I guess in some ways it didn’t seem worth it knowing that as soon as you left, she would never even remember you were there.
Loss of Motivation
It is absolutely heartbreaking to witness this disease. The only initiatives to go are to 1-make sure she is doing okay and being taken care of and 2- to hopefully catch her on a good day. For selfish reasons, you always hope for a lucid day to get to enjoy and talk to the person you know. And when those good days or moments hit when she was lucid and her real self would shine through, it made it all worth it, and you actually felt like you were visiting someone you knew.
It is the strangest sensation in the world to physical see your loved one but not get to connect with them in the ways you always did your whole life. To still be able to be with them but not necessarily enjoy the company. It truly is a very very long goodbye.
It’s the feeling of waiting, always waiting for better days, for this not to be happening anymore. But that’s the thing, the only way it wasn’t going to be like this anymore is not the way you want it either.
Never Knowing What the Right Move is
There were days that would break your heart to pieces. One day I went to visit her and she was out in the recreation area and told me she was going to run down to her room and use the bathroom and would be right back. Sensing her need for privacy I waited in a chair up in the rec room for her for 30 minutes until the owner had told me that she had forgotten I was there.
At that moment, I had to make a decision to either go start the visiting process over or take my squirming inpatient baby I had with me and just leave without saying good-bye; to avoid confusion on why I would be telling her bye when she didn’t even remember I was there. So, I left without letting her know I was leaving and a little piece of me died that day.
Communicating with someone with Alzheimer’s makes you do things you wouldn’t normally do and act the way you don’t want to act. You second guess yourself constantly and you never know what the right move is, or the right or wrong things to say are.
The strong urge in your gut that says “get her out of here, taker her home, get her off the millions of meds, that don’t seem to help anyway, and see if she will thrive better.” Knowing in reality it is too much to take on and wouldn’t be able to help her the way she needs.
I wish I would have had the skills and knowledge of how to handle this disease. To be the kind of caretaker for her that she always was for me. I should have had more to offer the woman who always did anything for me. But I sucked! I really did. I would feel my anxiety skyrocket when I walked through the door every time to go visit. Because you never know what to expect.
Some people in this life are natural caretakers for the sick or elderly. I am not one of them. I know that. I marvel at the nurses and staff that took care of my grandma alongside about a dozen more elderly patients in the same condition at the same time. God has blessed them with an incredible gift.
There is No Happy Ending
Alzheimer’s is relentless. It is mourning someone that is still alive. Alzheimer’s is hard to witness. Watching the physical body still seem so capable while the mind has no idea how to take care of it. My sympathy goes out to everyone that has had to encounter the destruction it takes on their loved ones. I wish I had a solution or even something helpful to offer. All I can say is; when you don’t know what to do to help, your love is enough and you are not alone.