I remember it vividly. It was Christmas Day…
A day for celebrating and sharing time with family. We arrived at the Nursing Home. I was anxious to see her. In a physical sense, she was that same beautiful person I remember. It broke my heart to show pictures of people she’s supposed to know. “Who are they?” She’d ask me.
We used to share life stories in her small apartment in Downtown Toronto. Unfortunately things started to change. While staying down there, she had forgotten to turn the stove off. Let’s face it, I’m sure we’ve all done that. This was different. There were other little things that were going on and that’s usually how it starts.
At the tender age of 75, she taught herself how to play the violin. “I can’t talk now! I’m practicing.” She’d often say when we called. Granny could play the Piano like a pro. Once again, practiced ferociously for hours everyday. My mom regails stories to me of a woman who never sat down. Granny rode her bike everywhere. She helped teach my Uncles to play Piano as well. Raising seven kids, it’s a wonder she had the time.
When I’d stop by to visit and asked her to play for me. By this time it was her mid 80’s. She wouldn’t play anymore. In fact, she’d look for reasons why she shouldn’t. “I may miss a note. I haven’t practiced in a while.” I didn’t really mind. “That’s okay Granny. I love hearing you play.” Sometimes I would coax her in to playing. I knew if I had to coax her, something was wrong.
The decision was made to sell her car, piano and her entire apartment. Everything she once knew was gone. Slowly her mind became the same. Everything that made her independent was now slowly being removed. I wish deep down inside that it hadn’t happened. I wanted her to keep playing. I wanted her to keep trying. Slowly but surely, the woman I’d come to know was slipping away.
There’s a hard fact to accept with someone suffering from Dementia or Alzheimers. All you have is the moment. Your loved one may recognize you briefly but in that same moment wonder who you are. A lifetime is literally wiped away. “And who are you?” She’d ask me. “I’m your granddaughter.” I’d reply with a smile. I knew as soon as we parted, she’d forget who I was or even that we were there.
The one image that sticks out in my mind on that day was a woman. She was sitting in a wheelchair. I sat and watched her as she cursed at someone who wasn’t there. Slamming and banging her hands on the tray. I looked around me and saw people who once had a childhood and memories. These people were young and I could only imagine the lives they lead.
From then on I promised myself, if there was something I could do to help someone in that situation I would. If I could use my power to help somone maintain their quality of life in a healthy way, I would. I work with many seniors who suffer these same ailments. I do my best to help them stay active mentally and physcially.
Any research I’ve done on Alzheimers and Dementia states a few key facts. The mind and body need to move. Socialization is such an integral part of keeping the mind active. Feeling a connection to others is so important. I came across this article that further elaborates.
Being a part of a group and having that sense of purpose and belonging is imperative. When that is taken away, I noticed a sharp decline in my Granny. Physical exercise is at the top of my list of importance. The mind and body are connected at all times. Your brain is a muscle that needs to be used. It keeps the connections strong and can learn an infinite number of patterns.
The sad part is that when people are diagnosed with these issues, we are inclined to believe there’s nothing we can do. The worst thing you can do is nothing. The sooner you can get someone active after being diagnosed, the better. Social connection and physical exercise adds to a persons’ sense of self worth and self esteem.
Sadly my Granny passed away at the age of 86. A few days after my 30th Birthday. I’ll pass on the advice she gave to me,
“Live for the day, because it’s all you have.”
If I can help someone do that, I will.
Thank you Granny.