Dementia in the Family

This week I spoke with Brandi Blizzard from the Arbor Company about Understanding Dementia. This was a tough topic for me and I struggled with what made it so hard. It is an important topic. Dementia affects so many families and I wanted to facilitate a good discussion so the program was informative and helpful to the audience. But I was afraid.

My grandmother, Mama Ruth, had dementia. The last time I saw her she was in a nursing home. She was strapped into a wheel chair. She could no longer speak. She had lost most of her teeth. She had shrunk down to just a shell of who she had been.

My daughter Sondra, who was about 8 years old at the time, was learning to play the violin, Mama Ruth’s old violin. We brought the violin with us for this visit, so my daughter could play for her. As Sondra started to play a sudden light came into Mama Ruth’s eyes. There was a recognition. She began to point, maybe to Sondra or maybe to the violin, and then patted her own chest. She did this several times, like she was trying to tell us that she once played violin. She seemed excited and watching her I felt like even with all she had lost, there was still a small part of her buried deep within.

That is my last memory of Mama Ruth.

As she was starting to decline, I was aware of my father’s anger and impatience with her. At the time I thought he was just being mean. But he had been very close to his mother all of his life. Watching her decline frightened him, and I believe it frightened him more because he couldn’t fix it, he couldn’t control it. There were not the resources then for dementia education and support that we have today.

Dementia takes a lot away from a person. It is frightening to watch it happen to someone you love. It is frightening to think it could happen to you. All of these memories came back to me as I was preparing for the interview with Brandi. Understanding more about dementia because of the interview was very helpful.

She spoke about finding joy with who the dementia patient is now, and the importance of continuing to care for yourself, learning and finding support. I believe that with these things, and the recognition that you cannot control the disease, patience and acceptance will come.

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