Learning a New Way to Be a Granddaughter
For World Alzheimer's Month, a writer shares what she learned after her grandfather was diagnosed.
One year later, in 2011, I returned to Los Angeles to care for my grandfather and saw firsthand how much his dementia had changed him. Instead of adhering to his regular schedule of breakfast, a few hours at the senior center to play dominoes and then lunch and dinner back home, he'd "fix" things around the house. Sometimes he wouldn't want to go to the center, or he'd disappear and his caregiver and I would tear around trying to find him.
Then his balance was a problem, and steps he'd usually take in stride made me so nervous that I started walking directly behind him, just in case he got turned around or slipped. In November, Alzheimer's took a little more of his identity.
Last Thanksgiving, my grandfather visited my mother's house for the holidays. While this was normal -- he'd often fly by himself, with the nurse dropping him off at the gate and my parents picking him up on the other end -- his behavior was not. He began to faint sporadically.
Fortunately my mother was present when these dizzy spells occurred, but his doctors couldn't identify the cause. This, of course, meant that the agreement among my grandfather, mother and me -- that he would remain in L.A. until he could no longer care for himself -- had expired. What if he passed out at home alone and hit his head on the stove? What if he was on the ground for days?
Though my mother had wanted him closer long before, the realization that my grandfather was officially moving into my parents' house cast a somber shadow. Because he is as courteous as his name, Curtis, suggests, when my mother broached the "Daddy, you can't go home" conversation, he was receptive and said he'd rather stay with her than in a nursing home.
And while he's treated with love, affection and attention at my mother's, the transition was a blow to each of us. My grandfather couldn't ignore his aging process and how the disease had robbed him of his independence; my mother watched her father, in a way, become the child by living under her constant care; and I realized that my grandparents' home was no longer one of warmth and love but a reminder of our family's history and the ultimate path of Alzheimer's and aging bodies.
Soon my grandfather adjusted to a new Northern California schedule of water aerobics, domino games and Sunday school classes with my parents. But I know that a small part of him wishes he were still in Los Angeles, in his favorite recliner, watching the Lakers and eating a banana all by himself.
Hillary Crosley is The Root's New York City bureau chief. Follow her on Twitter.