Learning a New Way to Be a Granddaughter

For World Alzheimer's Month, a writer shares what she learned after her grandfather was diagnosed.

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My mother took my grandfather to the hospital for a diagnostic test, in which he was instructed to do things like count backward or draw hands on a clock after being told to illustrate a certain time. Days later, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

Choosing the Right Treatment

Alzheimer's medication -- see a list of FDA-approved treatments here (pdf) -- like most drugs, behaves differently with each patient. My grandfather's doctor, under the supervision of my mother, began testing different options to see which worked best with his system to stave off the disease's progression.

First up was Aricept, which turned my polite, kind and agreeable grandfather into a moody grump consistently ready to argue. One day he and I were standing in the kitchen arguing over whether to change a lightbulb when he walked himself within five inches of my nose, then told me to "Get out of his face." Who was this guy? My grandfather fussed only when he, a die-hard Lakers fan, was coaching the TV while Kobe Bryant played.

Then his doctor prescribed Namenda, a small pill that complemented his system and his personality.

Familiar Surroundings

Though the medication was taken care of, there were other issues to consider. My mother, the only child of my grandparents, lives near San Francisco, I, her only child, live in New York, and my grandfather remained in Los Angeles. Like 800,000 other Americans (pdf) suffering from Alzheimer's, he lived alone without any family nearby to care for him full time.

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 And while "Downtown," as folks like to call South Central these days, isn't Boyz N the Hood, it's definitely not The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Still, with a trustworthy caregiver cooking his meals, cleaning up and monitoring his medicine from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, my grandfather was stable. He didn't want to move.

He'd just lost his wife, and simple things like counting his change before leaving the grocery store had become a problem. One of the key treatments for Alzheimer's sufferers is to keep their living space clean and household items in the same place, from food to soap and towels. Routine provides ease in a life filled with confusion.