Personal column: Dazed and confused

by Nicole Rode
edited by Whitney Dowds

She reaches down next to her and picks up something that she can’t see. I know she can’t see it because as she hands it to me, there is nothing in her hand. My grandmother is mostly blind due to macular degeneration, which only adds to the disorientation she experiences through her dementia. This is not the first time she’s acted this way.

To amuse myself and the caretaker in the room, I take “it” from her hand and throw it behind my shoulder dramatically, receiving some giggles from her caretaker which I know has had to do the same thing multiple times. My grandmother stares at the TV, I watch her as she closes her eyes and drifts into sleep. Naps really mess with her, she will wake up even more disoriented and usually angry about something or other.

Upon waking she starts grilling me about where her black boots are, again. She has never owned a single pair of boots in her life, her face is turning red as she demands that I find her “damned boots.”

I lie to her and say we left them in the hospital and that they are in the mail. It’s only a temporary fix. She thinks she catches me in a lie as she tries telling me how she was “never in no damned hospital.”

She has no memory of being home alone and having a stroke, which caused her to fall and break her hip. We have to remind her how my dad had to break the window to get in because we did not have a key. She nods her head as if she remembers when she was in the nursing home for six months and then the hospital again for another month.

She does not remember having three more strokes and three separate UTI’s that brought her dangerously close to death. Six months of her bursting into tears as soon as she saw someone came to visit. Six months of her screaming for my father whenever a nurse would not give her what she demanded, which for our family was six months of hell. She recovered from her surgery, but she cannot walk. Most of the time she does not know she cannot walk and pulls at her wheelchair seat belt angrily. This also results in her cursing us out for anything and everything.

Instead of keeping her in a nursing home, where she cried everyday, my father worked very hard to keep her at her own house with a care taker. Nearly ten million people over the age of 50 are caring for their aging parents, according to a study conducted by the MetLife Mature Market Institute. She lives in a house near mine through a path in the woods. Even with a care taker, my parents and I find ourselves at her house more often than not. She is a feisty woman and has plowed her way through five different caretakers. Assisted living can cost about three thousand dollars a month which is about 40 grand annually. The government helps pay for the costs only when almost all personal funds have been expended.

Alone with her one day, I learned the value of these care takers. As I held her up over my shoulder, fumbled with the toilet paper, she was sobbing and crying out for her mother in Italian. She didn’t see me as I ease her back into her wheelchair. She didn’t see my own tears running down my face. She cried until she fell asleep in her chair, eventually waking only to forget the entire episode that is forever burned into my brain. I still do not regret not pushing to place her in a home.

My grandmother was taking at least 17 different medications at one point. Being an over protective granddaughter who understands science jargon, I was very wary of her doctor prescribing more medication to fix side-effects of other medications. Once, after taking her to her routine doctor appointment she was given three new medications that I thoroughly examined, only to find they were not recommended for elderly or for people with dementia or heart problems. I chose not to give her the medication. After another hospital visit for yet another UTI, the doctors there commended me on my decision and even took her off five other medications her regular doctor had her on.

Living with someone with dementia is similar to taking care of a child, there is no handbook. My grandmother used to walk everywhere, drive to New Hampshire in the middle of the day because she just had to get out of the house. At 73, she is stuck in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Today, she is a sassy, whiny, deaf, blind, dementia ridden, diaper wearing, wheelchair bound old lady, but she is my grandmother. I can only pray to have family that will sacrifice as much for me as I have for her if I ever find myself with the same fate.
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With all the commercials on TV telling us to ask our doctors for advise, malpractice is terribly common and leads to a tricky question: do I trust my doctors?
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With that in mind, most doctors advise the flu vaccine, but the choice is really up to you.
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