Taking care of a loved one with Dementia/Alzheimer’s
When my husband's job brought us to Wheeling, I thought we would be starting a new chapter in our lives. Little did I know what a big chapter it would turn out to be. At the time of our move, my grandmother, who was 86 years old, hadfallendown her steps and was in a Pittsburgh hospital. While in the hospital, she was diagnosed with dementia, and I was told she could not be in her home alone. So we did what any loving family would do; we brought Grandma with us to live
in West Virginia. I had no idea how hard and how much fun it would turn out to be.
Our two boys were eleven and six years old at the time, and having their great-grandma who was now acting like a child herself was very challenging. I'd be up half the night with her because she was very confused on where she was and would try to leave the house. When it was time to get the boys ready for school, and us ready for work in the morning, I would be a walking zombie. We tried to have people come to our home and stay with her, but they never worked out. I was blessed to find Family Service-Upper Ohio Valley in downtown Wheeling; a business that offered adult day care for dementia/alzheimer's adults. Now we all had to get up and get ready for work, school and adult day care. My mornings started at 3:30 a.m. to get everyone on the buses to their destinations and be at work by 7:30 a.m. This went on for nine years.
Grandma was a big part of our family; she loved the dogs and the kids. The boys always included her in any activities that they had and all my sons' friends who came to the house would come in and talk with her. Sorting socks and folding laundry was what she loved to do. The socks were always miss-matched, but it kept her busy and for crying out loud it was only socks. We could always find a match, right?
Grandma could be so mean to me at times, and I want you to know she was never mean to any children, the dogs or my husband. Her anger and confusion was directed only towards me because I was the one who made her take a shower, brush her teeth and make her take care of herself. It was very hard, but I always reminded myself that because of her illness, she was much like a child and just didn't want to do these things. Grandma would pitch a fit, hit me, throw things at me and spit in my face. After the episode was over, she would calm down, look at me and say "I love you Jeanne;" that always made things better.
Just like a small child, she could only take one instruction at a time. If you gave her more than one, she would sit there with a blank look on her face. If you asked her why she wasn't doing what you needed her to do, she would say, "You told me to do something? Are you sure it was me and not someone else you asked to do that?" Most of the time she was funny and sweet, but other times it would turn into World War III with her.
As time went on, Grandma got a lot worse. Adult diapers, waterproofing the bed and childproofing the house all had to be done. Our boys were now teenagers, and I still had a baby to take care of. Unfortunately, she broke her hip and we had to put her in nursing home. That decision almost killed me especially because I have seen so much negligence in nursing homes through my job. Lucky for me, I was blessed that her doctor found one of the best nursing homes in Wheeling for her. She was well taken care of, and was bed-ridden until she passed away at the ripe old age of 98 years old. She always wanted to live to be 100.
Grandma is gone, but will never be forgotten in our home. She couldn't remember our names at times, but, boy oh boy, when she wanted something she knew who we all were! I miss hearing her yell out "telephone," when she heard it ring, "Where are the boys and what time will they be home?" or "Oreo (who was Otis the dog) come see Grandma." One of my favorites is when she would ask, "Where did you put all the food? The refrigerator is locked," when she was trying to open the wrong door.
Grandma, you are missed and there is never a day that goes by in our home where you are not mentioned.
If this story reminds you of something going on in your own life, please remember you are not alone in taking care of a loved one who has dementia/alzheimer's. There are so many places in the Ohio Valley that offer you help; don't be afraid to call.
Rock on Wheeling, WV, rock on.