A few years ago, my grandmother was diagnosed with dementia. At that time, I did not know much about the illness or the effect that it would have on my family and me. For a few years after the diagnosis, it seemed as though my grandmotherΓÇÖs memory was still for the most part intact. She was still full of great stories; however, it was evident that her short-term memory was beginning to fade. Throughout the years, it became more and more difficult for me to be around my grandmother. I remember seeing her cry in frustration when she could not recall doing something that my mom or another family member told her that she had done.
Eventually, our conversations consisted of her asking the same set of questions over again even though our answers would always be the same. She would always ask me about what I was doing, so college would always come up and the conversation always went the same way: ΓÇ£OH! You are already in College, where do you go to school?ΓÇ¥ My response, of course, was always the same. ΓÇ£I go to the University of Kansas.ΓÇ¥ When my sister or I would go over to her house to say goodbye before heading back to school, she was never able to grasp the fact that neither of us lived at home, or even in Houston anymore.
After a while, I had gotten used to the repetitive conversations. ┬áI was glad that we could still talk to each other and that for the time that we would visit, she was aware of what was going on, even though we did have to remind her. ┬áI began to notice that the illness had gotten worse a few months ago. ┬áMy grandmotherΓÇÖs favorite dinner was Chinese food, so my sister and I decided to bring some over for dinner one night while we were in town. When we got to the house, I walked into my grandmotherΓÇÖs room to let her know we had brought in Chinese food for dinner. ┬áShe nodded and told me that it sounded wonderful. ┬áA few minutes later, my sister came in and told her the same thing. ┬áMy grandmother gave my sister the exact same response that she gave me which suggested that┬áshe did not remember that I had told her the same thing just moments before. A few minutes later, my mom walked in the room and told my grandmother the same thing, which she again answered in the same way that she had answered my sister and me.
As my grandmother lost her memory, I began to forget who my grandmother was before she got sick. All I could think of was this woman is my grandmother, but she does not remember me some of the time, and she does not remember a lot of the times we spent together. The woman who was once so full of life and always on the go had become a slave to her disease. It was not until her recent passing in August that I began to remember my grandmother as who she was before she fell ill. My biggest regret is that while she was still living, I couldnΓÇÖt see past her illness to remember the fun times that I had with her. ┬áThe memories of sleeping over at her house, playing with her dogs, trips to LubyΓÇÖs and visiting her at work when I had my extra-curricular activities at the Jewish Community Center were hard to come across. ┬áIt was almost as if her illness had caused me to lose my memories as well. Now, when I think of my grandmother, I no longer think about who she was while she was sick, instead I choose to remember who she is and always will be; the woman she was before she was diagnosed with dementia.
-Written by Hayley Rosenberg as part of our Lessons Learned blog series