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The last time I visited my grandmother she didn't know who I was. This is very hard for me. Do you have any advice?


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 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 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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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. January 21, 2012 at 7:37 am | Posted by Jo Hargis

    I think that is the single hardest point in this whole disease: when they no longer know you. But I'm not so sure about that! Perhaps you are a familiar face, I'd almost bet you are, but they can't remember your name, or are a bit confused. My daughter and I were the two people closest to my father, and we were the two he remembered all the way to the end. He couldn't remember our names, but we knew he recognized us by some of the things he would say. As for your children, take them to visit! I've always taken my two grandkids up. Kids take in what they can handle, no more and no less, and it may be the very thing that brightens your loved one's day! Again, I agree, there's no reason to shelter them. I'd say just use age appropriate explanations like I did...."Pop has trouble remembering words" or "Pop has trouble thinking now". They accept it quite easily. I'm sorry your loved one has reached that point, I know it's very painful, but just remember, they still really need you, maybe more than ever now.


    • April 2, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Posted by Amy D'Aprix

      Thanks, Jo for your encouraging words. I think you are absolutely right. We may think someone with dementia isn't understanding something or doesn't recognize us; but we can't know for sure. I frequently hear from family members who tell me that their Mom or Dad had stopped recognizing them, but that every so often there would be a glimmer of recognition. And even if our family member no longer does recognize us, I think we can get comfort from looking at the situation in a different way. I heard this illustrated best in a story I was told. Here is that story: An older man who went every day to the nursing home to visit his wife who had advanced Alzheimer's disease. One of the nurses was concerned about the older man and the stress that it put on him to come there every day and see his wife when she no longer recognized him. The nurse very gently suggested to the older man that he didn't need to visit so frequently since his wife no longer recognized him. The gentleman turned to the nurse and said, "yes, but you see, I still recognize her." So, although it is difficult to see someone we love and feel they don't recognize us, we can still give them the gift of our love, time, and attention. And what a wonderful lesson you are giving your children about how to be loving in the face of difficult circumstances! All the best to you. Warmly, Dr. Amy


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