How My Dad’s Alzheimer’s Impacted My Daughter
It becomes easy to see your loved one with Alzheimer's through your own eyes. As I write about my personal experience, I wonder how it affected others in my immediate family. I decided to ask them. My daughter is an adult now, 26 years old, but was not when her grandfather was diagnosed. Here my daughter expresses some of her thoughts.
Learning that my grandfather had Alzheimer's
I don’t remember exactly when my grandfather was diagnosed; I know that the process of getting a formal diagnosis was long, complex, and involved a lot of back-and-forth with medical professionals. I know for sure that we started to notice a change (decline) in his memory and behavior well before the diagnosis was acquired. My first clear memories of that shift in him would’ve been around 2011 or 2012. I would’ve been 18 or 19.
The official diagnosis
By the time he was actually diagnosed with Alzheimer's, I wasn't very surprised. It had been a few years (I think) of gradual and then more sudden changes. We all knew something was going on that needed to be dealt with, and I think we all had a pretty good idea of what was going on, even if it was hard to accept or even put into words.
What I knew about Alzheimer’s
I honestly didn't know a whole lot about Alzheimer's before my grandfather was diagnosed. Most of what I knew (or thought I knew) came from books and movies that may or may not have been accurate information. Even if it was, nothing is quite the same as the lived experience of seeing a loved one with the disease.
The driving incident
The first real change that stood out to me was during my second year of undergrad; I was completing an arts and education degree program. I had gone to a school where my grandparents lived, a couple hours from where I grew up, and didn’t have a car. When I began having some practice teaching placements, my grandparents would often drive me. They would both pick me up, but my grandfather always did the actual driving.
The moment that stood out was the day he drove right through a stop sign in a residential neighborhood without even slowing down. Thankfully, there were no pedestrians or other cars nearby. My grandmother pointed it out to him right away, and he apologized and said that he had just missed seeing the sign. I guess that might have been possible, although the sign was clearly visible. Regardless, he was visibly confused and disoriented afterward. No one was hurt, but they could’ve been. I’m not sure exactly what I thought at the time, but it was a clear turning point, and it stuck with me enough to mention it to my mom (and to still have that incident in my head years later).
How his Alzheimer's diagnosis affectted me
I was affected more severely than I thought I would be. It was something I found creeping into my thoughts at odd moments, thoughts about illness and medical care and death. I hadn’t had much experience with loss or serious health issues in loved ones before that point in my life, and I really didn’t have a good idea of how to process my feelings. I cried a fair bit. I talked to people who were close to me. I also wrote a bit, both poetry and prose, to try to sort out the emotions. It wasn’t always that productive, though. I also spent a fair bit of time trying to compartmentalize and push away any sad or scary thoughts. More than anything, I worried about my mom and my grandmother.
When a loved one has Alzheimer’s
Remember that the person you love is still there, even if they’re different now. You’ll continue to see glimpses of them, even as the disease progresses. Those moments can be heartbreakingly beautiful; cherish them. Those moments can also be unexpectedly funny; appreciate the laughter and embrace the joy. You might not realize how much they mean, but the memories that stay with you the most clearly can sometimes seem trivial at the time. Try not to fall into frustration or hopelessness, but if you do, let yourself feel those feelings. Find a professional and talk to them as you process the changes. It’s harder than you might think. Remember that your loved one, and their other loved ones, need your support and love, but remember that you need those things too.
Do you have a loved one who would like to share their story on how Alzheimer's affected them? Have them share their story here.
Are you feeling burnt out?