Author | Photo Moritz Schmidt

What I’ve Learned From Watching My Mom Deal With My Granny’s Dementia

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of my granny is hot dogs.

Until a few years ago, she was in her late eighties and still living on her own in her condo. My favourite question to ask her was always what she had for breakfast. Sometimes the answer was true to her British roots: toast with jam and multiple cups of tea. But more often it was a combination of hot dogs and ice cream. That has always been the first thing I would tell anyone who’d ask how she was doing. 

I’ve spent endless hours playing scrabble with my granny and my mom. I was always amazed at the words my granny could still come up with and I loved how passionately we always tried to beat my mom and her obnoxious 300 points. Those few times we succeeded will go down in history. 

After my granny was diagnosed with dementia, we continued playing scrabble, but that’s when the disease became apparent to me. She would start words in random corners of the board or spell words backwards. Simple three-lettered words like cat or dog became celebrated achievements.  

As her disease progressed and nightly disoriented phone calls became the norm, it was clear that my granny could no longer be on her own. After months of her being cared for by my aunt and mom, things became critical and my granny was put in a home where she could receive the level of attention she required.

Her dementia has taken over and many of the things she says make no sense to the reasoning world around her. I recently visited with my mom for the first time in a while and my granny barely knew who I was. As I sat there beside my mom, who pretended to sip a cup of tea in order for my granny to drink hers, my granny asked me who my mother was. I smiled and told her that she was sitting right beside her. My granny snapped at my mom saying, “You didn’t tell me that!” This interaction wasn’t what overwhelmed me; it was my mom’s patience and kindness that took me aback.

My mom has always been the most loving and wonderful person around. She’s the mom that all my friends wanted as their mom. She makes the world’s best chocolate chip cookies (mine come pretty darn close) and tells my friends and I to “watch your purse” when we’re at the ripe age of twenty-six. Now, she spends her days in Mastermind looking at puzzles of flowers that my granny might not reject like she did the ones with the “ridiculous” pigs on it. 

Mom visits my granny almost every day with a container of four raspberries and doesn’t seem to mind that her ninety-three-year-old mother is more excited to see a stranger’s golden retriever than her. While there are many good days, a number are bad, and having always been her primary caregiver, my mom gets the brunt of her frustrations and nasty comments, but she continues to take it all in stride.

I’ve gotten used to the minimum three phone calls a day from my mom who’s just wanting to chat on her way to/from seeing my granny or is overly anxious about me going on a Bumble date because she simply can’t handle any additional stress in her life. If I can make my mom laugh at least once on the phone, I feel like I’ve done my own small part in helping.

Taking care of my granny has been a full-time job for my mom for years now and I don’t know how she does it. I also don’t know how other people manage caring for sick parents while still working or taking care of young children. I worry about someday seeing my own parents become strangers to me, but I can only hope that I’ve learned something by watching my mom and will have half the grace and strength she has. 

Dementia is a terrible, heartbreaking and exhausting disease for everyone involved, but I am grateful for the overwhelming amount of love and care my granny has each day, whether she is aware of it or not. My granny is still happily having ice cream for breakfast thanks to the thoughtfulness of the nursing home staff.

This experience has taught me the power of kindness. I shall now call my mom and tell her how I mistakenly texted the guy I was on a second date with that I loved him, thinking it was her. It’s the little things that we can all do to help one another make it from one day to the next.

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