Apr 15, 2016

Seeing Dementia Through the Eyes of a Child

I didn’t understand my mother’s warning at the time. My grandfather, my dad’s dad, was coming to our house for dinner. It was a rare event. Even when my grandmother was still alive, they didn't come often.

Seeing through the eyes of a child
“If Grandpa Ward starts talking about selling house supplies” Mom started out “or something…” she hesitated groping to find the words a ten year old could understand “else different, it’s okay.

Grandpa sometimes thinks he’s living in the past.”

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By Elaine C Pereira

My mother’s remark stayed with me for decades. What exactly did she mean?

Grandpa’s “Living in The Past” was Dementia

That evening my grandfather sat across from me at dinner next to my brother. I waited all through dinner and dessert for him to talk about selling house products, but he never did. Later in the evening however, Grandpa’s behavior exploded becoming very bizarre.

Dinner time seemed to play out in slow motion. Attentively I watched for changes in Grandpa Ward’s mannerisms. As I stared at him waiting for some weird remark, I realized his face wasn’t symmetrical. It slanted on one side, drooping downward a little. And his arm was shaky.

Maybe my Grandfather always had a misshapen face and I never noticed. Mostly I remembered him sitting in his overstuffed chair using his cane to playfully tap at my fingers or toes. His efforts at engagement, however well intended, frightened me. I suspect he didn't know how to play appropriately with kids, a perception my mother also held.

Unbeknown to me, my grandfather had had a series of strokes, contributing to the facial asymmetry. They had also compromised his gait, hand skills, judgment and memory.

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Observing the Effects of Dementia in Real Time

After dinner my dad and brother helped Grandpa out of the chair and escorted him to the living room. Mom and I joined them after handling the dishes.

As I walked in, the atmosphere was tense. Usually I felt happy vibes when people gathered in our home, but this evening was really off. The conversation seemed benign but Grandpa’s tone was becoming hostile.

Events escalated quickly! Suddenly my grandfather’s usually raspy but quiet voice became deafening loud. He started yelling undecipherable phrases, simultaneously pounding his cane on the floor.

Droplets of drool and spit dribbled from his mouth; his nostrils flared; his face was flushed. He tried to stand but couldn't.

Mesmerized I stared at the bizarre scene playing out in real time. It was unexpected, bizarre, alarming. My trance was broken by Mom’s firm squeeze on my arm. “Maybe it’s best if you go.”

I started to leave but was sucked back in by the wild scene.

My dad tried to intervene and calm his father but Grandpa’s flailing continued along with the outrageous ramblings. It was several more minutes before he began to calm down.

Then, abruptly, the agitated movements stopped and I heard Grandpa distinctly say “Is Clara ready? I have to pick her up.” (Clara was my deceased grandmother, grandpa’s wife.)

Grandma Clara Ward

Numbed silence overcame me and I couldn't move. Despite my mother’s efforts to prepare me, even she hadn’t envisioned her father-in-law’s conduct escalating so far out of control.

My Grandma Clara Ward was a wonderful, engaging woman. When she died suddenly from heart failure, I was grief stricken. Now Grandpa thought she was still alive. Overwhelmed by stress and confusion, I finally went to my room.

My grandfather died a few weeks later from a fatal stroke. I never forgot that night.

A Daughter's Story of Her Mother's Arduous and Humorous Journey through Dementia

Stroke Induced Dementia

Alzheimer’s is a real progressive neurological disease; a point of fact I reinforce at every presentation I give. It’s unyielding assault on the brain, obliterating memories and distorting reality, cripples families.

Strokes are real neurological conditions also. Like Alzheimer’s they cause brain damage often resulting in dementia as well as physical complications. Grandpa Ward experienced considerable personality, judgment and memory decline from his repeated strokes and less motor loss.

Decades later, just like my grandfather, my dad suffered a moderate stroke affecting one side. Impaired judgment, impulsive and poor decision making, also marked his decline along with increasing dementia.

From I Will Never Forget

My dad wasn’t capable of logical thinking any longer. My pre-stroke dad would have hurled himself in front of a bus for my mom or, in this case, packed his things for the nursing home to save her from the physical and emotional burden of caring for him. The post-stroke dad, however, was quite different: self-centered, explosive, and difficult.”

Elaine C Pereira donates from every copy of I Will Never Forget to help support Alzheimer’s research. "Help Me Help Others" Buy a Book!


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