I rode over with my dad one summer’s day to my grandparent’s new condo to help him organize their mail, throw out bad food in the refrigerator, and take care of their dog. Really, I was hoping to persuade my grandma to join me at the neighborhood’s pool so I could catch some rays. She has always loved swimming, but on that day she wasn’t up for it (it’s not uncommon to lose interest in favorite activities when you have Alzheimer’s). So we stayed inside. Grandma and I worked on a crossword puzzle while my dad, with unbelievable patience, went through the pile of junk mail and bills with my grandpa.
After about an hour, the tone changed at the kitchen table. My grandpa raised his voice, and began throwing accusations at my dad. You’re taking my money! I don’t know where my money is and I think you’re the one who stole it! My dad, who had received these paranoid allegations before, tried to calm my grandpa and explain that he was helping him. He was making sure his bills were paid and his check book was balanced. But it was no use. My grandpa continued yelling, and my dad’s frustrations continued to build.
Meanwhile, the loud noises and aggression did not go unnoticed by my grandma. She joined the yelling match, hysterically begging the two—who were now nose-to-nose—to stop. We were all involved now–my dad and grandpa yelling, my grandma crying and trying to resolve their fight, me trying to calm her. I took the sobbing woman—who had once taken care of sobbing me—into her bedroom just in time to miss my grandpa’s best attempt at a right hook.
And that’s when I heard the words that will be etched in my memory for as long as I have one.
“Dad, don’t you know who I am? I’m your son,” my dad pleaded. Now he was crying, too. “I’m the same son who built sandcastles with you on the beach, who built houses with you. Who packed up your house at the lake and moved you here. I’m your son.”
Tensions eased for the remainder of the half hour that we were there. But the ride home was silent.
I have to admit their confusion was amusing at times, and we tried to find the humor in it. Like when they called us about 20 times because they kept reading the note we had left on their refrigerator to call us—despite how many times we told them to throw the note away. Or when my grandpa informed my dad that the Navy had stopped by his room at the nursing home and was trying to “re-up” him, but he told them he’d had enough. Or when he asked if my dad would go with him to see about a potential job (my dad and grandpa once owned a construction business together).
These instances, while mildly amusing, were overall devastatingly sad.
Moreover, I am grateful for everyone who cares for anyone with Alzheimer’s or Dementia, who continues to fight this horrible disease—whether they volunteer, look for innovative programs, or donate to research for a cure.
I was fortunate enough to have my first job out of college be with Community First Solutions, an organization that—among other things—provides numerous services for older adults. In its two continuing care retirement communities, it serves a range of residents, from independent living to assisted living and healthcare. I have seen people with Alzheimer’s light up at the opportunity to express themselves artistically with volunteers from a local university, and I have seen the way the staff treats every resident like they are part of their family.
On the flip side, I have interviewed and written about older adults who are so full of life, so active—physically, socially and spiritually. They paint, they attend fitness classes, they volunteer, they dance. Everyone should have the chance to live that fully as they age, and I am optimistic that one day they will.
Community First services can help
Among Community First’s diverse range of services, are Colonial At Home and Bridges Rehab at Home, a partnership with the Kettering Health Network. Colonial at Home caregivers can provide a much-needed break for family members. In addition to monitoring your loved one’s physical health, caregivers play a vital role in their social wellness. For more information, visit colonialathome.org or call 513-889-2461.
In addition, Bridges Rehab at Home, a new partnership between Community First Solutions and the Kettering Health Network, provides physical, speech and occupational therapy—in addition to specialized programs–at home for clients. One specialized program they provide is a Memory Care Program, designed to help both caregivers and clients struggling with dementia with cognitive exercises, dementia education for caregivers, and more. Call 513-332-0081 for more information or to schedule an assessment.