Dear Grandparenting: I am writing about my wife of 52 years diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She is fading away before our eyes. For most of the last 15 years she made a point of making her grandchildren the center of her life. (I wasn’t jealous because I got her to myself when they left!)
The changes that have come over my wife are devastating to our grandchildren. Sometimes she gets into moods and angry spells around them. A couple of times the small ones left in tears after she cursed at them.
The grandchildren don’t know what they’re going to get when they visit. It could be the good Grandy they remember, or the person who struggles to make sense the simplest things. Our grandchildren range in age from 18 to four years old. The little ones act dumbfounded. The older ones can get nervous and don’t know what to say. I started introducing the grandkids to my wife after the young ones began asking her questions like “Do you know who I am, Grandma?”
When she snaps at them, I say her disease is doing all the talking. But hey, it’s tough on everyone. How can I help the grandkids get through this? I don’t want them to stay away. Joseph Fields, Charlotte, North Carolina
Dear Joseph: Alzheimer’s is the most prevalent of the cluster of dementias that afflict about one in three grandparents. Among the 10 leading causes of death, Alzheimer’s is the only one that is not preventable, curable or capable of being abated.
Even as your wife loses her memory, she retains her emotions and is able to pick up on the vibes of visitors, read their body language. The right communication calls for the four S’s — slow, simple, show and smile. Use simple sentences, speak slowly, use gestures and smile.
Like most grandparents, we bet you have a wealth of photographs from the good old days of your wife and grandkids. Pick some with big smiles and sunny days. Why not blow them up and hang them around the house and in her room? It’s important that your grandchildren remember her as she was, in her glory as a loving grandmother. Your equanimity is commendable. Good luck.
Grand remark of the week
Emerson Haber from Everett, Washington has “no problem giving my grandkids a compliment when they deserve it. Some say praise gives kids a fat head. I say it rewards good behavior. They’ll get plenty of negatives down the road.”
Dee and Tom, married more than 50 years, have eight grandchildren. Together with Key, they welcome questions, suggestions and Grand Remarks of the Week. Send to P.O. Box 27454, Towson, MD, 21285. Call 410-963-4426.