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The Worst Thing About Watching My Grandfather Battle Alzheimer’s

Few memories of childhood can be as sweet as those involving grandparents. In many ways, they are the heroes of some childhoods. Think about it — who else at that time in your life may have unlimited resources, always willing and ready to give you candy, money or the latest toy? Who else in your life at that time may have the ability to put your parents in their place and overrule what they say? Who else may think you do no wrong?

This is the memory many people have when thinking of grandparents, but what happens when that is not the case, and speaking of memories — when they do not even know who you are? This is a reality for many people and families and the place they find themselves in when a loved one is battling Alzheimer’s.

When I was about 12 years old, we began building an addition onto our house, and we were told my grandparents would be moving in with us. My dad’s parents could no longer take care of themselves, because my grandmother had debilitating rheumatoid arthritis and my grandfather was progressing in his fight with Alzheimer’s disease. He was forgetting what to do, who he was and where he was and was bit by bit slipping away. No longer able to live on their own, they moved 500 miles to live with us.

To say it was an adventure was an understatement, to say it was a challenge was another. But it was one my parents gladly undertook, and they loved and cared for them. There were certainly funny moments, like when we would have to leave the house each evening and lock it up, climb in the car and drive around the block because my grandfather thought he was locking up the store. A few minutes later, we would arrive back home, get out and go back in the house and everything was fine. There was a time where our neighbor was digging in the flower bed, and my grandfather, who had just watched a western, was convinced the neighbor was actually a cattle rustler.

As a child and family, you learn to roll with the punches and laugh when you can. But there were also very hard days, days I saw my parents age exponentially due to exhaustion and worry for him. There were days where you could look at my grandfather’s face and see for a moment, he had some idea what was going on, but he could not share it and could not stop its march forward. ­As the days and weeks passed, little by little, he slipped away and ceased to be the grandfather and father we all knew and loved. He would say and do things he would never have done, all totally unknown to him.

More than anything, that was the hardest part. As I watched this disease turn my grandfather into someone he never would’ve wanted to be and never was, I also watched the weight my parents carried. And even though they lovingly did this, it was a strain. This disease like so many others doesn’t just affect one person, but the entire family. In some ways, it is harder than other diseases because little by little, the person slips away, powerless to stop it until they become somebody nobody may recognize.

Alzheimer’s isolates families in a very unique way. It can make it hard for them to maintain relationships, and even just get out of the house. It’s during these times those around them need to provide extra care and support and remind them of their life. I would encourage you to take the time to reach out. Take time to see the burden and the struggle and find a way to care and give. Ensure they know that they are not alone and they have people around them supporting them and helping them as they are battling this disease. That is probably the greatest gift you can give a family walking this path.

You can follow Charles’ blog at Day By Day: My Journey With Parkinson’s. 

Getty image by vadimguzhva