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Sunday, July 17, 2005

Don't get old

My grandmother was always full of advice. A few months before she died she offered this bit of wisdom: Don't get old.

She was right.

I've always wanted to write about what I called "The Gift of Alzheimer's." My grandmother had a touch of Alzheimer's Disease that became progressively worse in the final months of her life. But the effect it had on her was to replace the here-and-now with a subtly altered corresponding set of perceptions. Her room in the nursing home became the living room of her house. She mapped the various people in her life to people from her past: my mother to my grandmother's sister ("Cioci", meaning "Aunt", pronounced "chicchy"), me to my grandmother's brother, my uncle to my grandfather (or "Pop").

I would visit her and ask her how her day had gone, and she would tell me about how she had gone for a walk downtown to shop in stores that had closed 20 years before, or how Pop and Cioci had come to see her today, or how she had sat on her porch eating peaches. After Princess Diana's funeral in 1997 I asked her if she had seen it on TV - and she said "Yes, I laid on the couch in the living room and cried and cried." I was glad that these were the things that she remembered, rather than the fact that she was spending her days in a bed or a wheelchair in a nursing home, with food provided to her via a tube passing through a hole in her stomach.

But it's not always the case that Alzheimer's is a boon companion in your twilight years. No, sometimes Alzheimer's just really, really sucks.

Don't get old.

Update, 7/17/07: This was written a few days after my father had been admitted to a nursing home. His dementia had apparently worsened, though it was entirely possible that this was due to overmedication by the facility.

4 comments:

dee said...

No -- get old surrounded by people who love you. Unless she was in pain (and it doesn't sound like she was) your grandmother went on to whatever is next in the company of happy memories. All things considered, it's not a bad way to exit.

Unlike Certain Republican Senators, I won't assume that I know what was best for your grandmother. It's always hard to seem someone we love transformed by age and illness. And I'm certainly not a "choose life above all" advocate. But as long as our existence here doesn't cause us pain and it grants the ones who love a chance to demonstrate that love on a daily basis, life has meaning.

Anonymous said...

and don't get sick either, it's expensive.
I watched both grandmothers wither away with Alzheimer's, it is not a fun thing, both them seemed frustrated at times but it really takes it's toll on their loved ones, to see these beautiful strong woman forget what time it is, who is visiting, where they are is truly heartbreaking. it is a sadness that lingers evrytime you visit them and is still with me today. the feeling of helplessness you feel for someone you love is possibly the worst feeling. there is a show on FX called Rescue Me where one of the charector's wive's is clearly getting Alzheimer's it is rare that a show would tackle such a horrible subject especially from the point of view of a spouse.
Both of my grandfathers were dead by the time my grandmothers got it. It must be 100 times worse for spouses than annyone else in the family. Seeing that show brought all of those feelings of depression and helplessness I felt when I would visit them.

-dude

D.B. Echo said...

I think I've been way too opaque here.

To put this post in context: I wrote it just a few minutes after coming back from visiting my father in the nursing home that he was relocated to last Wednesday. His Alzheimer's is galloping along at a much more furious pace than my grandmother's did. He is now on what I call a "10 second cycle": the period between the time that he asks you a question, makes a series of unrealated comments and inappropriate physical actions, and then asks you the question again - without remembering he had already asked it - is about 10 seconds.

He was someone you could tolerate when he was on a 45-minute cycle, maybe six months ago. A 20-minute cycle from three months or so ago was a little more irritating. A 3-minute cycle at the beginning of June was maddening, and a 45-second cycle was almost impossible to deal with. At a 10-second cycle, the staff at the nursing home is having a hard time coping with him. My mother and I could never handle him at this point.

And I still can't write about it directly. So I'll leave this buried in a comment for now.

Betz said...

Harold, I could not reply to this yesterday when I read it as I did not know how to respond properly.
I still don't.
You and your family are to be commended for the wonderful care you give your Dad. I agree with Dee, get old surrounded by people who love you.