Like most families, mine has not been immune to the hardship and adversity of caregiving.
During my junior year of high school, my grandmother’s Alzheimer’s progressed immensely. My grandmother became a different person altogether. A strong, sweet woman in nature, she became emotional and withdrawn. She began to forget events from her own life. She became delusional, believing that a “strange man” had entered her home. She would run down the street to escape him. In reality, the strange man was my grandfather.
My grandfather agreed that she would be safer in a nursing facility, but after just two months, my he checked her out and brought her home. His behavior made it clear that he too had developed Alzheimer’s. His disease had progressed so rapidly that he forgot he had to care for his wife.
She became delusional, believing that a “strange man” had entered her home. She would run down the street to escape him. In reality, the strange man was my grandfather.
It felt like I was losing my grandparents before they passed. Watching someone battle Alzheimer's is like watching bits of someone you care about slowly wither away. They would forget things that seemed impossible to forget, like their children's names or what food they liked to eat.
My entire family was actively grieving despite my grandparents still being alive.
No matter how difficult things became, we were determined to make their remaining time on this earth as happy and comfortable as possible. My family went to work immediately, scrambling for my father to be granted legal guardianship. We hired a visiting nurse and my family would visit every day, but it still wasn’t enough.
It felt like I was losing my grandparents before they passed. Watching someone battle Alzheimer's is like watching bits of someone you care about slowly wither away.
My grandfather overdosed on his medication, and heirloom jewelry was stolen from their home. For four long months, everything seemed to be falling apart, until guardianship was finally awarded and spaces were made available for them in a nursing facility. While my grandparents’ health improved, there was still work to be done.
Outside of school and our jobs, all waking hours were spent caring for my grandparents. Despite the emotional, financial and physical hardships of caring for them, it was all worth it.
Though seeing them could break your heart, there were many moments of happiness. Instead of crying during the difficult moments, my family and I tried to always resort to laughter, making light of the nonsensical comments and strange actions. Even if it seemed like they were no longer themselves, my grandparents would still light up whenever we came to visit, and that's all that mattered to us. They couldn't always remember our names or how we were related, but my grandparents still loved us and we loved them.
There are many memorable moments over the years of my grandparents Alzheimer's care, ranging from completely heartbreaking to heartwarming. One Christmas Eve, my family had brought my grandparents to our house for dinner. Suddenly, my grandmother began having a seizure, which had never happened before. My grandfather had no idea what to do, and trying to explain the situation to a loved one also suffering from Alzheimer's was horrific.
They couldn't always remember our names or how we were related, but my grandparents still loved us and we loved them.
However, there were an incredible number of light moments.
A personal favorite was when their nursing facility had their annual "Senior" prom for all of their residents. My grandfather wore his tuxedo (usually only reserved for Masonic events!) and my grandmother wore her fanciest dress and a fabulous feather boa. All the music that was played were songs from when they were young, and my grandparents could remember every word! I was able to watch my grandparents dance like they were young again, still completely in love with one another, and was able to dance the whole night with them. And like all proms, there needed to be a prom king and queen, and my grandparents won! Their sixty year long love deserved to be recognized, and I couldn't picture a more well deserving, beautiful couple.
I am grateful my grandparents had one last wonderful year of being married -- holding hands while walking the halls of their nursing home.
My grandfather passed away from terminal cancer in 2012, and my grandmother passed away from complications due to Alzheimer’s in 2014. This was a difficult time for my family, but there is no doubt in our minds that it was well worth the time and effort. We were able to take care of the monarchs of our family, bringing them comfort and aid through the difficult end of their lives.
Korrinne Ivey, an aspiring Physician’s Assistant, recalls the challenging experience of caring for her grandparents, Dorothy and Leigh (affectionately known as Grammy and Grampy), throughout their journey with Alzheimer's. Her story embodies her love for her grandparents. But her desire to provide the best possible care isn’t unique, and sadly, neither is the story of watching loved ones lose their memories. The need for better treatment options for Alzheimer's patients like Dorothy and Leigh is clear. We believe that efforts of passionate caregivers, brave patients, and tireless research will, someday, lead to a cure!
Korrinne is a Northeastern University Graduate working towards a career as a healthcare provider.