26 Nov Caring for my Grandfather with Alzheimer’s disease: Kathleen’s Story
Kathleen Beveridge is a regular contributor to the Memory Ball blog. She has written other stories on the benefits of yoga on brain health. Here is her personal story dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease.
It’s been 10 months since my grandfather lost his battle with Alzheimer’s and 6 months since my family was able to all be together and pay him tribute.
His official diagnosis occurred between 5-6 years ago, and I’ve watched my family’s relationships with each other change and shift. When my grandpa finally let go in February there was a collective sigh of relief from his sons. This may come off sounding horrible and insensitive, but the loss suffered this year wasn’t one of mind, character, or soul, it was his physical body that left us, the rest had already slowly chipped away.
I was the youngest grandchild, and, when my grandfather was diagnosed, I remember thinking we didn’t have all the facts; that my typically rational father and uncles were making rash decisions, including placing my grandpa in a home too early because we were unable to find help to come to my grandparents’ house.
I remember trying to discuss with my parents why rushing into a home wasn’t a good idea that, as a family, we could do this, but it wasn’t until I started noticing the change in my grandma’s behavior – her moods, her interactions with all us, that I realized something had taken hold in my family and we weren’t able to shake it off.
She was dealing with my grandfather’s new found aggression. His previously engaging smile became like a shooting star – rare, but always stunning. Slowly we could see in his eyes that we were losing him. But, my grandmother was losing the man she’d loved since she was a teenager, her life partner, and she fell into a very pessimistic loop. Her natural tendency to be a worry wart turned into advice like “make sure you start taking fish oils, you know this runs in the family, Kathleen.” Scare tactics had never been a part of her vocabulary but she was scared for her husband, for her sons and for her grandchildren.
For me, it was hard watching the man who always led the charge in the family starting to take a backseat, and it forced my dad to step forward where he usually sat back. I watched him go into business mode a lot, taking care of finances because math has a final answer, and so far there isn’t one for Alzheimer’s.
There were constant whispered conversations between brothers and secrets being kept from my grandpa ‘for his own good’, which frustrated a lot of the grandchildren, but we went along with their decisions because he wasn’t our father. Eventually Grandpa got too bad for Grandma to live with alone, and he was placed in full time care. My dad’s childhood house was sold and Grandma moved into a retirement residence and became more herself again. Grandpa was never told and for a long time he expected to go home.
There were some good times, however. My grandfather later memorized the code for the elevator in that home, ‘escaped’ and walked up the Hamilton escarpment where he found my uncle and dad at a local pub. He crossed a busy street when he saw them, sat down and asked for a beer.
Describing how our family dynamics changed – the nuances in what I saw – from diagnosis, to action plan, to loss in my nuclear family and then my extended family could fill a textbook. This experience had an impact on all of us, but, since that collective sigh of relief because grandpa was finally at peace and back with the love of his life and eldest son, my dad and uncles have a peace around them, are more open, are more expressive and more aware of the shifts that occur within the family.
Not one us of processed, dealt with, or experienced the same thing in the last 6 years because everyone’s relationship with George/dad/grandpa/Skipper/Shorty was different, but individually we all had to adapt and with individual adaption the family was permanently changed because of Alzheimer’s.
What are your experiences dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease? Leave your comments below.