Loving people with Alzheimers


I hope everyone is doing well. Today I am going to be discussing the topic of Alzheimer’s.

According to the Alzheimer Canada website, 564,000 Canadians are currently living with dementia, 937,000 Canadians will be living with the disease in 15 years, and 1.1 million Canadians are affected directly or indirectly by the disease. (http://www.alzheimer.ca/en/about-dementia/what-is-dementia/dementia-numbers)

Personally, I am one of those 1.1 million affected indirectly. My grandfather has Alzheimer’s and while I know it is probably more tough on my grandmother and my father and his brothers, it doesn’t minimize that it’s also tough on me. I have these memories of him being so nice and happy but it seems now those parts are dimmed because all I see when I visit him is this man that doesn’t know me or his wife or his son. A man that has trouble eating and speaking and, if I allow myself to really think of it, all those break my heart a little.

I remember the day I found out. We were at my grandparents house (which is also a cottage for the rest of the family). It was a treat to go there. I remember seeing the adults talking seriously in the kitchen but I didn’t want to bother them so I went back to playing with my cousins or doing whatever I had been doing before. In the car on my way, home my parents were whispering a serious conversation. I asked what was going on and they said that some of the aunts and uncles thought my grandfather was getting a bit too forgetful, while some thought it he was ok (they didn’t want to admit it).

The months progressed and it started being more obvious. I was at their house/cottage again and as I was an early riser I was sitting in the kitchen watching the water and drawing while I was waiting for everyone else to get up. My grandfather walks by looking a little lost and I ask him, “Grampa where are you going?” he looked at me and not really seeing me said, “I have to go to work, the students are waiting for me” (he was a teacher). Keep in mind that the man saying this is long past teaching age. It was then that it really hit me, that I knew he really had Alzheimer’s. I looked at him and tried to explain that he didn’t teach anymore that he didn’t have to go but it just got him more antsy so I switched tactics and told him there was no school today, which seemed to calm him down, he walked off and was back soon after, same as he always was.

Eventually he was put in a home. He no longer had episodes or forgetfulness, like the previous example, instead he was constantly in the haze of Alzheimer’s.

Today he is still in that home and getting worse and worse. But I love my grandfather because the man he was with his memories is still there. When we come in to see him, he doesn’t know who we are but he always gives us a big smile. He also still cares about others. My favorite story on this took place right before he was put in the home. He was watching TV with my grandmother, an old western that he loves, and in the show a women was being hurt or abused or something. The way my grandmother tells it he stood right up charging towards the TV to “protect the girl” in the screen (don’t worry he didn’t break the TV and calmed down afterwards).

Like the story suggests and countless other stories I won’t write at the moment, it’s easy to see that he still a great person Alzheimers or not. But he is different because of this disease. It’s hard to see someone, a family member, anyone, go through this. It’s hard to talk to them when they can’t even recognize you or even respond. This is why I am writing this post, to share awareness of this issue. To talk about the fact that even if the person suffering from Alzheimer’s does not know you ,or can’t talk to you,  you still have to treat them with kindness and understanding even if it’s hard or seems pointless. Because they are still a person, still a grandfather(or uncle or friend or dad etc…) still a good person. (don’t be the person in this article, just don’t http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/caught-on-video-elderly-ottawa-man-with-dementia-punched-in-face-11-times-by-personal-support-worker)

The mind works in weird ways, one day you go and the person with Alzheimers looks through you and can’t say one word. Sometimes you go and they seem to be trying to speak, seem to look at you like they know there is something there that they might know.

The other day I had proof of just that. Keep in mind that my grandfather has not said a sentence that has made any sense in a while, that he doesn’t know who anyone in my family is, including his wife and sons (there’s some faint recognition, like the smile I talked about and the fact that he will go for a walk with us but, that’s it). Keep this in mind, when I tell you a story I was told that happened about two weeks ago that really astounded me. My grandfather was at my uncle’s house, he had a sandwich that was packed by the home for his afternoon snack. He was sitting with my uncle, cousins and grandmother, my uncle’s dog Max was there as well. Someone was feeding him pieces of his sandwich and at some point he stopped them and said (very clearly from what I hear) “give it to Max”. Four simple words that just make a world of difference. It showed that my grandfather, who was always a dog person, who always wanted to help others, is still there even with those memories being gone.

This is Max. I love this dog!

This is Max. I love this dog!

In all honestly, we know what Alzheimer’s looks like from the outside but no one has the capacity to know what it looks and feels like from the inside. Which is why we need to treat everyone with respect and understanding, we need to treat everyone equally. No matter if you think they can understand you or not. No matter if they are non-verbal or can’t remember what you say them. Like with all the differences in the world be it a disease or a different culture or religion or belief system we are all humans and we all deserve the same rights and respect.

So let’s be part of a powered crowd and help raise awareness for causes like Alzheimer’s, let’s share out stories, share some compassion and understanding and spread some kindness!

*** To end this post I want to give a shout out to two girls who are raising awareness for this issue, Samantha Clusiau and Amanda Bernardo. They have made a book called Little Voice, and part of the profits go to causes tied to Alzheimer’s. The author of the book (Amanda) also has a family member suffering with this disease, which is why she decided to donate some of the proceeds. So far they have raised 7,310 dollars! They are both so kind so if you want to check out their website here is the link (http://littlevoicethebook.com/)

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