Question: My grandmother has been declining for a number of years and is currently in an assisted living home. I feel a lot of pressure from my aunt and uncle to go to see her. Unfortunately, the last time I saw her she didn't know who I was and that hurts deeply. My memories of my mother changed after she had a stroke. While she had her memory, she wasn't the same. I don't want the same thing to happen with the memories of my grandmother. I am also concerned about exposing my four and five year old sons to the situation. Any advice would be appreciated.
Dr. Amy: It sounds like you are still grieving your mother. I encourage you to seek grief counselling to help you work through your grief and put it to rest. That way, you will feel better and be more able to enjoy visiting your grandmother. It’s natural to feel painful emotions in the situation you describe. At the same time, we really don’t know what people with dementia know or feel. Your visits with your grandmother may mean a great deal to her, even if she gives no sign of this and seems not to know you. I encourage you not to give up.
Since you may not be able to rely on your grandmother’s short term memory for conversation topics, you may find it helpful to bring conversation starters with you when you visit. That way, you can tap into her long term memory and steer the conversation to interesting and fun topics. Home Instead Senior Care carries the product Caring Cards. This handy deck of cards contains more than 50 questions you can ask your grandmother. Each pack of Caring Cards can provide you with hours of conversation inspiration. I encourage you to contact your local Home Instead Senior Care to see about getting a pack. As for your sons, illness and disease are part of the life cycle. You do not have to shelter them from this. In fact, I have often found that children fare better in these situation than adults and are actually able to reach through and make a connection. Perhaps it is because they are more naturally focused in the moment and are not burdened by past hurts and memories. Your sons may enjoy the time they spend with their grandmother. At the end of the day, you do not know what gifts might come out of this time you have together.
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