I could say something nasty here about how the events of the past few days has got me contemplating age, alzheimers and dementia – but in actuality Jan and Michael both had beautiful and thoughtful posts recently about these subjects so I decided to throw my two-cents-worth into the fray.
My mother died when I was little and her father passed away a few short months later. My grandmother, her mother, had lived right next door to us at the time. I was very close to my grandmother and when she decided to leave Iowa and move to California to be closer to her other daughter and family when I was in my teens, I was crushed. I missed my grandmother greatly.
When I was in high school I found out my grandmothers' sister still lived in the same town I did. I hadn't seen my great-aunt for many years, since I was small, but I remembered visiting with my grandmother. I found out through my grandmother that my great aunt, Ruby, had been suffering from dementia and although she was living in her own home with a caretaker, she was deteriorating. My heart went out to her.
I was supposed to be attending a youth church group every Wednesday night. Realizing the group was located three blocks from my great-aunt's house, well, you can imagine the rest. I would be dropped off at the church, then quickly hightail it over to Ruby's. (God and I had an understanding.) It became a ritual that the three hours I spent with her the caretaker would go run her errands, grocery shop, whatever, and I would fix supper for Ruby and keep her company. It opened my eyes.
My aunt lived in Des Moines, one of the biggest cities in the state. She didn't live in the center of town, but in an older neighborhood that was part of the main town, not one of the suburbs. She'd lived there all her life in the house her father had built when she was a little girl. This was an old, two-story house with big old trees and an actual boulavard. Not many of those around anymore.
My aunt would have good days and bad. On the bad days, which were more often than not, she would claim the caretaker abused her. (No signs were ever found.) She would look around her home at her grand piano she could no longer play… I was told she could play beautifully and had given lessons to many people… she would just glance over it and not even acknowledge it being there. She would look at the red velvet sofa she had picked out herself and loved dearly and claim it was the ugliest thing she'd ever seen and who had put it there? She would watch the evening news, but swore the newscasters were sitting in her livingroom talking only to her.
One of the freakiest things for me was as she would look out the big picture window in the livingroom, she would talk about the cows in the fields… the ones she could see right there out the window. I'm sure when her father built the house, that was the view from the livingroom window, but now? Houses, cars, the boulevard, the heart of a city neighborhood.
Then there was the night she was convinced "they" had moved her into a "home". Not just any "home" (yes, a nursing home) but she was sure it was a duplex. Where she got this idea, I have no clue. As far as I know she'd not ever lived in a duplex, always in this large two-story house! As a teen I was perplexed with how to handle this one. She was a bit beligerant about it all and was not wanting to accept a simple "no they didn't, you are in your own house". So, with her on my arm and logic in my teenaged pocket, we walked from room to room and looked out all the windows to see that yes, it really was a house because if it were a duplex there would be one wall with no windows! (Mr. Spock and logic have nothin' on me!) It took a few times, but she finally got it! I was so excited!
Unfortunately, it gave me hope. Hope that maybe she wasn't as bad as we all thought. Hope that maybe all she needed was more attention. More time, More love.
A month later she passed away.
I don't know if there was anything more I could have done. I like to think that just my going to see her brightened her lonely days a bit and gave her a change of scenery… if only to cows in a field or a walk around her house. I do know that I pray I never put my children or grandchildren through that. It is such a deeply saddening way to go. (Note to my children: I realize there are days you think I have already gotten to this stage. It is a false alarm.)