Some of my best memories are visiting Grandma Ida at her farmhouse.
I love my grandmother very much.
A few years ago, she started forgetting things. She has Alzheimer’s, a brain illness that changes the way a person thinks, communicates, and remembers things.
Kids can’t get it, only older people.
I’ve been told that there is no point visiting her because her mind no longer works – “she is no longer there,” as they say.
Growing up, grandma was always there for me.
Now she needs me to be there for her.
So…I decided to visit her once a week this summer at the nursing home where she lives.
I’ve been told that she won’t recognize me, but I can tell that she does.
I’ve been told that she won’t respond to me, but when I slowly come close, look her in the eye, and hug her, she responds with all her heart.
I’ve been told that she doesn’t remember as much. I do notice that, but I also notice she remembers things from her early life such as the joyful times growing up on her parents’ farm. I simply need to ask: How was it for you to grow up on a farm?
I’ve been told that she won’t remember the names of people in our family, but when I show her an old picture album, I can tell that she recognizes many of them.
I’ve been told that there isn’t much we can do together, but she always enjoys planting flowers with me.
I’ve been told that she won’t be able to sing the way she used to, but she enjoys humming and tapping her foot to the rhythm of the songs she loved listening to when she was young.
I’ve been told that she won’t be able to dance the way she did, but when I play her favorite song, hold her hands, and move slowly from side to side, she dances beautifully!
I’ve been told that she no longer likes to be touched, but when my mother gives her a gentle hand massage with lavender oil, she loves it.
I’ve been told that she won’t let the staff do her hair, but when I do it the way I know she always liked it, she is more than willing to let me do it.
I’ve been told that she no longer wants to eat much but when I make her favorite pie, go at her pace, and encourage her, she eats better.
I’ve been told that she’s no longer able to paint the way she did, but when I give her a brush and guide her occasionally, she seems delighted to watercolor.
I’ve been told that Grandma won’t understand my words, but she clearly senses and responds to the way I feel. I’ve also learned that using fewer words usually works much better.
I’ve been told that I should correct her when she says something that doesn’t make sense, but what I’ve found is that correcting her often frustrates her. I’ve learned that accepting and supporting her feelings – rather than insisting on the facts – work much better.
I’ve been told to “ignore it” when she repeats the same question – like “When’s lunch?” – but I learned that she can’t remember the answer and that each time she asks, she believes it is the first time. So…I try not to get frustrated and do my best to answer it calmly each time.
On her good days, especially when she is well rested, it sometimes helps to write it down – Lunch at 12:30pm
I discovered that she tends to repeat her questions when she feels bored and becomes worried about something – So I gently hold her hand to make her feel safe and assist her to engage in an activity she enjoys doing.
I’ve also been told “just ignore her” when she becomes sad or fearful, but I’ve found that’s when she needs me most.
I’ve been told not to bring my little brother with me to a nursing home where old and frail people live, but when I do, they have a great time playing together.
I’ve also been told not to bring our dog Laila, but when we say goodbye and Laila gives her a wet kiss, she laughs and makes me promise that I’ll bring her again next time.
I’ve been told that she can no longer walk far but she is able to walk with me short distances and sit together on a bench at the nearby lake. I always make sure to hold her hand and be ready to support her if she is not steady on her feet. In fact, every week, she seems stronger and more sure-footed.
I’ve been told that she won’t remember that I just visited her, but the staff tell me that the good feelings we’ve shared remain for a few hours after I leave.
During our visits this summer, the most important thing I learned about Grandma Ida’s memory is that…
I simply need to forget a lot of what I’ve been told about Alzheimer’s.
And…I’ve learned that Grandma is always there!
That is, if I make the time to be with her.
Special thanks to Terry Eicher for his extensive and very helpful suggestions for improvement of the story.