From Oatmeal Cookies to Soup on a Plate
My grandfather was my best friend, but dementia has changed a lot.
My grandfather is a retired Navy Chief of 30 years. He has always told his favorite Navy stories. When I was little I used to get tired of the same story over and over again, but now I crave to hear the story of how his buddies gave his friend a swirly for losing a bet just one more time.
When I was about five years old, my grandpa went on a plane to Pennsylvania for a funeral. Unknowingly, he had boarded the plane with a blood clot in his leg. A few days later, and he was left with only one leg.
My grandma, mom, and I moved my grandparents into a downstairs apartment directly across from my own apartment. We welcomed home my grandfather when he was released from the hospital. I was five, and I didn't think much was different. My grandpa and I still made oatmeal cookies every Friday (forgetting a new ingredient each time, making it interesting). We still played Uno and Scrabble while waiting for my mom to get off work, and he still attempted to teach me how to make Japanese dishes like sukiyaki.
When I was 10 years old my mom and I moved into my grandparent's house to save some money. That was when my relationship with my grandpa changed. No longer did we make cookies together. We became more aware of the sanitation issue with him, seeing as he was, well, old and in a wheelchair with only one leg. We talked less about his Navy stories and there was more confronting him about how loud the TV was at 3 AM when my mom and I have work and school in the morning. A distinct memory is when he grabbed my arm and twisted it backward. He usually did that and saw how long it took me to defend myself as I tried to sneak by him to steal a cookie. Except for this time, he didn't let go. My grandma had to come out of the room and yell at him. I didn't understand why he wasn't just messing with me this time. His bad habit of eating too many cookies or adding too much salt to his food became serious as my mom (a medical assistant) warned her father about being prediabetic. He never listened to her.
Just before I turned 11, we moved out. We had an apartment about 10 minutes away. I can remember my mom saying, "Things are going to change with grandpa's health now that we won't see him every day." I didn't know what to think, not quite understanding what she meant.
A few years later and my grandparents moved too. My grandpa was way in over his head, wanting to move states. There was no way that was happening, considering their health statuses. When they moved 15 minutes away from us, my mom called it again; that things were about to change. And I believed her this time, because I had noticed slight changes in my grandfather's behavior.
In 2016 he was clinically diagnosed with dementia. My mom and I visited him more often. We sometimes brought my stepdad along with us. My stepdad is also a military man, and we noticed when he talked with my grandpa about the Navy he seemed more lucid. I urged my dad to visit my grandparents before my grandpa couldn't remember him anymore. For a while, we visited almost every other day, and usually on both Saturday and Sunday.
On December 2, 2017 my grandparents moved in with my mom, stepdad, and I. I didn't know how to feel about this change. My mom was hesitant yet anxious to make the change already. My stepdad was not very excited about having to drive them to doctor appointments nearly every day, but he still does it anyway.
My grandpa was diagnosed with Alzheimer's a couple of weeks ago. My family and I already knew he had Alzheimer's disease, as we noticed his dementia was progressing at rapid pace. His neurologist tried telling us he had beginning stage dementia last month. My mom looked him in the eye and laughed, telling him what goes on at home. How we are going to get childproof locks for the cabinets and oven because he keeps trying to make food at 3 AM. How he has smoked up the whole house multiple times. How he forgets people's names, so he just calls everyone "hey you," or refers to my mom, grandma, and I as "the girls." She mentioned December 5, when my grandpa forgot who my mom was, thinking he lives with his daughters from another marriage and that I was his daughter. She also reminded the neurologist of December 29, when he decided to put a pot of boiling water on the stove on top of an empty pan in the middle of the night. My stepdad woke up who knows how many hours later to a room full of smoke. Or how he continuously hears jazz music playing that isn't there. The amount of sugar he eats despite his diabetes, how he forgot who I was the other day. How his sun-downing was currently taking place and how he should test something.
Then the neurologist turned to my grandpa and asked him what the date was. After 30 seconds went by, he said he couldn't remember. He then asked what the year was. It took another 30 seconds before he answered, saying 2012. He informed my grandpa it was 2018. My grandpa just nodded and said OK. He then asked where he had his dementia study done about two weeks ago. The answer was the office they were sitting in, but instead, my grandpa searched for doctor's business cards in his bag. Eventually, he gave up and said he didn't know. My mom nodded at the neurologist, who finally admitted he hadn't personally seen him as a patient for six months, and didn't realize it had gotten so bad. In the same appointment, my grandpa asked my mom what she was doing talking to herself. She was obviously not talking to herself, as she was discussing his health with the doctor right in front of him.
The other day my grandpa took everything out of the cabinet he isn't supposed to eat. A bunch of bread, crackers, and peanut butter. Then he saw some soup that caught his attention. He grabbed a plate and poured the soup on the plate. My stepdad caught him and asked what he was doing, to which he replied, "I'm makin' soup!" He didn't see anything wrong with all the soup on the floor and the lack of anything actually on the plate.
There will be many more moments like these as my grandfather's Alzheimer's progress. I know I need to make the most of our moments. I should probably be taking more photos. I need to be cherishing the few times he calls me by my name.
We went from making oatmeal cookies every week to now stopping my grandfather from starting a fire in the kitchen. But I know that while he may not remember any of the memories we made back then, he is the same person. Alzheimer's disease is taking him away from me, and all I can do is hope that the good memories of his family are the ones that stick with him.