Making Life Better… Today

I love my grandfather dearly – he always took care of us when Mom and Dad had to work long hours, he served in WWII, and helped me become the person I am today. He has pretty advanced Alzheimer’s. What can I do to make his life easier and better?
Respectful Grandson

Dear Respectful Grandson
It sounds like your grandfather is a wonderful person. The reason I started working with people with Alzheimer’s disease is because of a very influential person in my own life who had the disease. My vow at the time of his death was that I would find out what he had (this was before the disease was understood and was often left undiagnosed) and I would do two things. I wanted to help the people who provided his care in the facility where he lived with a way to assist him. They were reluctant to spend time with him because they were afraid of him. In addition, I wanted to create cheerful places where patients with Alzheimer’s disease could live in comfort, and reduced the guilt family members expressed when they could no longer provide the care. Though we didn’t have an autopsy done when he died in 1972, I determined that he probably had Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia.

That was over 30 years ago, and we do now have excellent care available – I am sure someone is providing similar care for your dear Grandfather. What you can do is to continue to enjoy him, love him, and spend as much quality time with him as you can. Visit him as frequently as you can – the amount of time isn’t as important as the quality of the visit. Take him something such as ice cream, or maybe a yo-yo – something from your shared past that you both hold dear. Even if he can’t participate in the activity, as in the case of the yo-yo, you can and tell him how much you appreciate that he taught you how to use it and how much you always enjoyed your time together. If he is still getting around then go for a walk, enjoy his favorite things, talk to him by sharing your memories (but not asking questions). If he is no longer able to get around, it is fine – even to the last day or hour – to sit at his side, hold his hand, stroke his forehead and tell him all the wonderful things you remember and will hold dear. It is perfectly alright if both of you shed a tear, wipe the tear and laugh, hug, and enjoy these precious moments. It isn’t the current situation you should focus on, but the incredible memories and your appreciation for the past.