Dealing with my grandmother's dementia?
June 6, 2004 8:14 AM   Subscribe

My grandmother is nearing 90 years old and experiencing increasing effects of dementia. She's been forgetful for a while, but only lately has she started mistaking individuals for others - typically, she thinks I'm a niece of hers, instead of her granddaughter. As her confusion increases, so does my discomfort. I want to spend as much time with her as I can while she's still here, but when entire conversations are filled with misinformation and paranoia (she can't remember where she "hides" money and important objects, so she thinks people steal from her), it's difficult to witness. Any suggestions on how I can get over myself?
posted by ferociouskitty to Human Relations (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Ouch. Sorry.

What I suggest is that you first remember that it's not about you (I don't mean that in a "get over yourself" way, but in a "it's not your fault/isn't to do with you/whatever" way), because that will allow you to distance yourself just enough to remember that it's the dementia causing this so that you can try to avoid taking it personally, and second, to find something to "reward" yourself with after your visits to help you centre yourself again. I know it can be really distressing and disorienting to spend lots of time with people with dementia, and sometimes you need to find a way to ground yourself from time to time. Maybe go to the movies or something after your visits.

As to the dementia itself: you can either gently remind her of who you are, or just "go with the flow" - it may be an idea to discuss the best course of action with the staff where she's living (I assume she's in a nursing home). Hang in there.
posted by biscotti at 9:35 AM on June 6, 2004

In similar fashion my paternal grandmother's dementia/Alzheimer started about five years ago when she turned 85. She started with the paranoia where people were plotting against her, stealing from her, and trying to kill her. The sad thing is someone really did steal money and all her jewelry later on when she was placed in what I call the "facility". Her mind started replacing all the current people in her life with those who had already passed away. I became her sister(who had died from lung cancer several years before)that she was mad at for some childhood argument. Funny thing is I learned a lot of things about her during that time and it was endearing but so sad. There were some very deep dark things that came out of her those first two years that she cried about, felt guilty about, got angry about, and it was like she was trying to cleanse her soul of guilt or whatever. That's how I personally thought of it so I could come to grips with what I knew was happening. I tried to see it as something positive for my grandmother who knew her life was coming to an end. I just humored her and went along with whatever she said because it seemed to calm her down. She had always been very feisty and argumentative anyway. I tried to convince other family members and people around her to just let her be right and go with the flow but some people simply cannot do that. They want to try and fix something that is just not fixable.

It got to the point where no one could handle her so my father was forced to put her into a "facility" where she promptly tried to escape the first night and was found wandering around the parking lot looking for her Cadillac and screaming it had been stolen. So they put her in the secured part of the "facility" so she couldn't escape again. Man it's so terrible to even recall. At first everyone visited daily and tried to make it home for her but all she would do was cry and beg us to take her home. I was mad at my father for a while that he had put her there but eventually I realized there was nothing else that could be done mostly for her own safety if nothing else. And of course it just gets progressively worse. At this point she really doesn't remember anyone. My visits went from daily to weekly to now a couple times a month. I went from trying to have a conversation with her to now just putting lipstick on her poor little mouth because she never wanted people to see her without it. But that is really just to comfort myself. I doubt she knows a thing about it anymore but I pretend she does. So I guess the only thing you can do is decide what effort you want to put into your grandmother's remaining days. Do what makes you feel good about yourself because it's something you have to remember long after she is gone. I just hope for my own children's sake that history doesn't repeat itself and I wind up the same way. I'm doing everything I can now to try and remain as mentally stable as possible and just hope I take after the maternal side of my family where the women have died younger from heart disease before they had a chance to develop this horrible horrible disease called Alzheimers. I feel for you and your grandmother. Just love her the best way you know how and support stem cell research.
posted by oh posey at 9:48 AM on June 6, 2004

Who is your Grandmother? Is she the body that was born in 1914? Or is she the personality that evolved since then?
posted by falconred at 10:00 AM on June 6, 2004

The comment above mine is probably the most thought provoking comment I have heard on Ask Metafilter.
posted by Keyser Soze at 4:13 PM on June 6, 2004

Best answer: I'd suggest that you think of life as a circle, not a straight upward climb. It's incredibly difficult to watch as the parent figures we've looked up to our whole lives begin to crumble and fall, but the very end of life can be a bitch and a half. No doubt about it. It's a fact that you are in the prime of life, stronger, more lucid perhaps. Don't be ashamed. Remember that an elder whose light has begun to fade is no less special or human than a newborn whose candle has just barely been lit. We wipe our childrens' asses when they shit on themselves, we tolerate their explosive moods and ridiculous sensitivities, their uncooperative attitudes, their ignorance, and we do it with grace, not resentment or cringing. It's natural. Alzheimer's presents very particular challenges (if that's what you're referring to) but no one gets into their 90s without some trouble. Try to take it with the same grace, patience, and confidence. You'll be there yourself someday *if you're lucky enough* to live so long. Take the time that remains for what it is, take each day as a new day, and take them only one at a time.
posted by scarabic at 5:51 PM on June 6, 2004 [3 favorites]

My grandmother died a year and a half ago, the last of my grandparents to go and probably the hardest as she was the one I was closest to. She and I were both living at my parents house at the time. She didn't have Alzheimers, but she couldn't speak well anymore, and while she was usually aware of what was going on in the present, she had some trouble tracking it and more trouble placing the order of events. And worst of all, you knew she knew what she'd lost and she was ashamed of it.

How do you spend meaningful time with someone you can't hold a conversation with? This isn't your puzzle per se, but it was mine, and after some initial discomfort, I a few things out. Sometimes I'd just go sit by her and play the guitar. Sometimes I'd just go hold her hand. Sometimes (not often, and I wish I'd tried more) I'd talk to her, telling her what I was thinking and worrying about. Sometimes I'd just try to make sure that if others were over, we'd go in the room with her so there was activity she could follow.

I didn't do any of this stuff as often as I should have, come to think of it, but I've had it happen with a few other friends or acquaintances where an injury or debilitating illness has caused a change that made things awkward and put a wedge inside. I am still sad for her decline and death, but happy that I managed to keep myself in the ring on this one, and find some semi-succesful ways of relating. The reason I bring this up is not that what I tried specifically will probably work for you, but to reiterate that it's important to stay in the game despite awkward moments or bigger failures, and as scarabic said, do your best to handle it with the grace, patience, and confidence of a good parent.
posted by weston at 6:17 PM on June 6, 2004

My grandmother suffered through the same thing as you described, ferociouskitty. She didn't recognize my sister or my mom (and in the end wouldn't even talk to or acknowledge them), kept thinking my father was her late husband and that I was her son.

biscotti has pretty much said everything I would have said.
posted by grum@work at 8:25 AM on June 7, 2004

I am 53. I support the war in Iraq and forget people's names. Is this work stress or the beginning of the end?
posted by terrymiles at 2:31 PM on June 7, 2004

kitty: I had to check your bio entry, to see if you were my niece. My mother has dementia and what my sister has reported sounds much like your experience. Which only goes to say, you're not alone.
posted by Goofyy at 8:09 AM on June 8, 2004

« Older PhotoBlogging   |   Fred Rogers speech defending PBS funding? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.