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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Dementia

My 'Nana' Tombazzi has Alzheimer's Disease The symptoms started over 10 years ago, but some family members couldn't accept the signs and attributed it to her being forgetful or her age.  I've watched the slow progression and it has been tough.  I try to visit 4-6 times a year, and every time I question:

"Will she remember me?  Is she having a good day or is she completely disoriented?  How can I offer her support without getting upset myself?"

She still knows my name and that I am her oldest granddaughter.  For a while, she could remember Chris's name, but now she doesn't know whether I'm married or single, go to school or have a job, have children or am still a child myself.  She introduced me to her daughter, my Aunt, recently as if we didn't know one another.

What started as forgetting a few things here and there has progressed very steadily as she slowly loses more and more of her memories and thinking skills.  She is now forgetting her own childhood, which she used to look back at with such joy, always telling stories about how her sister (and best friend through it all) and her grew up with a Mom and Dad that she adored.  It hit me hard when she couldn't recall her childhood or her favorite story, which is the story of how her Papa and her met and fell in love.

Nana & Papa with their 2 sons
Nana and Papa with their sons.
This is before Nana's diagnosis. 
Yet, she sings, remembering every word to every song she hears.  Those lyrics haven't left her, and when she goes into a daze, we can try to bring her back by starting to sing.  Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin are remembered with a smile, but she has no idea what year it is or what is happening in the world at any given time.  When I tell her my age, she goes "Oh my, then I must be very old!"

My Papa, whom she always referred to as her hero, has really filled that role as Nana's mind has continued to deteriorate.  Despite being in his eighties, he cooks, does all of the housework, and tends to her every need.  He has to answer her questions over and over again, give her pills, make sure she naps, that she eats and drinks water, and that she goes to the restroom enough.  She says "He takes good care of me".

Is she still there?  Still the same person?  Yes, but different.

Memories and experiences shape who we are, and she has lost a lot of that.  However,  her personality shines at moments, when she is singing, looking at photos and family videos, and when she is genuinely excited to see someone she loves.  When I spent a week there last year, every morning she'd exclaim "Angela!  I missed you so much.  Are you staying here with me?"

Every time she sees me, she tells me it has been too long since I've seen her, and it probably has.  But how long does she think it has been?  One time she thought she hadn't seen me since I was a very little girl, and she thought I had been missing for years.  I'll see her in two days and I'm preparing myself to stay positive and patient.  Negative emotions only upset her, so I try to be all smiles around her.  When I squeeze her hand and tell her that I love her, she says "I love you too."

Alzheimer's is taking her away from us bit by bit, and every time she is a little different, a little worse.  A mind is a truly terrible thing to lose, and it is also very difficult to witness in slow motion.  Learn more about the various types ofdementia here, prevention tips, and how to tell the signs early.

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