After decades of enthusiastic greetings and powerful hugs in which my Grandmother smushed my face into her bosom, I was shocked by the blank look on her face when I walked into her room. I realized she had no idea who I was. Worse, I could see that she didn't remember my father, her son, either. The pain on his face broke my heart.
This was one of my toughest eldercare moments. Even though I knew she was forgetting more each day, I expected her to remember us forever. I rarely cared that she forgot shared activities from earlier in the day, but I couldn't bear to see her forget the people closest to her heart.
If I'm really honest with myself, I think I was scared that her memory loss was indicative of the quality of our relationship. I thought that if we were just close enough, she would have no choice but to remember. If you are a caregiver struggling with memory loss in your loved one, I offer these tips to help:
- Understand the disease. It wasn't until I began researching the toll dementia was taking on my Grandmother's brain that I was able to come to terms with the process. I realized that she was losing the ability to recognize our faces because her brain could no longer remember things or put information together in a coherent way. I suppose I am lucky she didn't think I was an intruder that day. Sites like HelpGuide.org and MayoClinic.com have excellent articles to increase our understanding of dementia.
- Let yourself off the hook. It doesn't matter how close you were, or how good of a caregiver you are now. Reassure yourself that their memory loss has nothing to do with the quality of your relationship. At a certain point, the person's brain just doesn't make the proper connections anymore, and it's not your fault!
- Talk it through. My Dad and I talked for a long time about our shared experience with my Grandmother. Mourning the loss of her memory brought us closer together. Finding just one safe person to share your emotions with can give you the strength to carry on.
Are you a caregiver who has dealt with severe memory loss in a loved one? I would love to read your story as a comment on this blog.