Living with Grandpa and Alzheimer’s
Recovery from Pneumonia
When he first came home from the hospital back in April, my grandpa was fighting pneumonia and required a lot of around the clock care. Too weak to walk or even breathe without help, he stayed on oxygen and needed somebody to do pretty much everything for him. Many nurses and therapists were in and out of the home on a daily basis, and there were several exercises, treatments, and medications that he required throughout the day. He needed help drinking, standing, walking, using the bathroom, etc.
I’ve been so blessed to be able to care for him through the healing process, and am excited to report that my grandpa, whom I affectionately named Dada when I was a baby, is back to his strong self again. It has been amazing to watch him improve so quickly. He is now able to sleep in his own bedroom upstairs, is off the breathing machine, doesn’t need any more Nebulizer treatments, has been discharged from the nurses and therapists, and is up and about on his own.
At first glance, it would seem that he no longer needs anybody to stay with him. I do wish that was the case. Unfortunately, the continuing progression of Alzheimer’s has made it unsafe for him to live alone. The biggest concerns, I think, are that he will get lost or hurt, or will be in serious need of help and won’t be able to call for it. But we also know that he needs interaction and stimulation on a daily basis in order to slow down the loss of cognitive abilities.
Our Days Together
As his full-time caregiver, I am responsible for making sure he is eating well, taking his meds, getting some exercise and stimulation, monitoring his condition… basically keeping him healthy and happy.
My days are different now that I live with Dada, but we are equally as happy and continue to keep busy. Monday through Friday the children and I keep Dada company and take care of things around the house, then Friday night we go home for a little break. Somebody else in the family takes over for the weekend until Sunday night when the children and I return. We’re always glad in the evenings when Jerry, my husband, gets off of work and joins us for dinner. He stays with us until the kids are tucked in bed, then he goes home to feed and water the animals and get the chores done before hitting the sack himself. We have come to treasure the weekends when we can spend a couple of full days together as a family.
The children have probably been the biggest asset to Dada’s mental health. They keep him laughing, playing, and engaged.
They invite Dada to play ball with them in the yard.
They sit on the couch and play tic-tac-toe.
He reads to them.
He tickles them.
He shoots pool with them.
He watches old Westerns and the Andy Griffith Show with them.
The children love to eat meals with him on the couch. We all go on walks together. Just recently they’ve discovered the joys of putting a golf ball around in the yard. Dada loves golf. The boys also like to give him a wooden toy gun and play dead when he pretends to shoot them. I get a kick out of watching the enjoyment on his face when he yells “Bang!” and the boys fall to the floor, over and over again. Oftentimes it’s like he’s a big kid again. They think he’s great fun.
While he’s napping on the couch I go about the household chores. I cook the meals, clean, do lesson time with the kids… I even turned over a corner of his yard and planted a small garden. He loves walking out there to look at the tomatoes, cabbages, green beans and watermelons growing. It brings me a lot of joy to watch him admiring each plant.
Early to Mid Stages of Alzheimer’s
I feel very fortunate that at this point my grandpa is still very strong physically and can function on a fairly normal level. You probably wouldn’t know he has Alzheimer’s if you just chatted with him on the street. He’s pretty good at masking his forgetfulness, answering “yes” or “no” when really he has no idea.
He doesn’t need any help going to the bathroom or getting around. He still knows who I am (although he did call me Lydia the other day, which was totally out of the blue.) He isn’t combative or paranoid, but is generally very agreeable and content.
He can perform everyday tasks, but sometimes requires direction. For instance, he won’t take a shower unless I convince him he needs one. Once I get him into the shower, if I don’t stand there and instruct him on what to do (wash your face, shampoo your head, etc.) he will get in only long enough to get wet and then will turn the water off and get out. He forgets what he’s supposed to do in there, but with guidance he can physically manage on his own.
His short term memory is pretty much gone. He’ll ask the same questions over and over, and forget what you told him just minutes before. He doesn’t remember day to day that I’m staying with him, but in the morning he looks out of his bedroom window and sees my car and knows I’m here, so he isn’t caught off guard when he sees me. Sometimes he comes downstairs in the morning to find me cooking breakfast and he’ll say, “What a nice surprise!” And then he’ll want a hug. He wants lots and lots of hugs. And he hugs extremely tightly. I don’t think he realizes how strong he is. I swear there have been times I thought he was going to break my ribs he was squeezing me so tight. Every time I hug him I remind him to be easy, though it never seems to register with him.
Sometimes he has very vivid dreams, and wakes up living out what he was dreaming. He’ll scour the kitchen looking for the sandwich he was just eating, or insist on calling a relative who he thinks is in trouble, or he’ll want to get in the car and go somewhere, not remembering that he can’t drive anymore. It takes a while for him to realize it was just a dream, or he gets distracted and forgets about it after a while. Sometimes I have to tactfully talk him out of things, or ease his concerns with some concocted story.
His sleeping schedule is all out of wack. Sometimes he’ll go to bed at 9pm, but oftentimes it’s after midnight. Sometimes he’ll sleep through the night, and sometimes he’ll be up in the wee morning hours rummaging through the house or wanting to go somewhere. Sometimes he wakes up at 6am and sometimes it’s after 10am. I don’t try to keep him on any sort of schedule. I just try to be awake when he is, or at least lay on the couch if he decides he wants to watch golf at 4am.
His social filter and inhibitions are gone. He’ll walk by the kids at snack time and will snag food off their plate. He’ll make lewd comments, which is totally out of character for him. He’ll say things about other people out loud that can be embarrassing. And he’ll be silly with the kids in ways he never would have acted before he got sick.
The deterioration really accelerated with the passing of my grandmother last May. Once she was gone there was nobody to cook for him, so he resorted to cookies, crackers, and soda. My dad, uncle, and aunts have been amazing and are working together to do everything possible for him, making difficult choices and gingerly balancing maintaining his independence while still keeping a close eye on him. They take him to doctor’s appointments, and make sure his meds are accurate and filled. They take him golfing (his favorite sport) and out to eat, and to the beach when they can. He loves the beach. My aunt comes and gets his laundry and makes sure his closet is well stocked. My sister and her husband come and stay with him sometimes on the weekends so I can have a break. We all do what we can to surround him with care and love, so that he never feels lonely or forgotten.
I realize that at some point he will need care beyond what I am able to provide. It’s hard not knowing how long I’ll be here with him. It may be weeks, months, or years. We have no idea. Any plans we had have to be put on hold for the foreseeable future. It’s tricky when everything is up in the air and out of your hands. We’re committed to the ride regardless.
You can be sure I’m still doing as much as I can to “homestead” in these new surroundings. I’m grateful that my grandfather has a large house on a beautiful lot in a fairly quiet residential neighborhood. There are some woods between us and the neighbors on one side, and a large lake behind the house. I’ve made a small garden here so I can keep my hands in the dirt, and the children and I like to walk around the yard finding wild edibles (though we can’t eat them because unfortunately it has been sprayed).
I’ve been making kombucha like crazy and experimenting with different recipes, which is something new for me. I’m hoping to make some soap again soon. I’m trying to do more sewing as well, something I didn’t have much time for at home.
On the weekends when we go home there is always plenty to do. Although I didn’t plant much of a garden because I knew I wouldn’t be there, we still have a few things coming in. It’s always so amazing to see how much the plants have grown from the previous week! The kids especially look forward to gorging themselves on whatever is coming in at the time- mostly berries right now.
I’ve always loved our land, but I have such a renewed appreciation for our little homestead. Every time I return home on the weekends it’s like a breath of fresh air. I fall in love with the beauty of it all over again. I want to soak it all in. The garden is gorgeous. The trees and flowers are more beautiful. The weeds are totally out of control but I’m okay with that. I feel at peace, and energized again. I feel so free when I’m there.
There is so much to do around the house that my weekends fly by way too quickly. Chickens need to be butchered, food needs to be harvested and preserved, pests need to be controlled (I spend hours each weekend picking June Bugs and Japanese Beetles off our grapevines, raspberry bushes, and roses), the garden needs tending, fencing needs to be mended, projects need to be completed. And I love it all.
So, that’s pretty much what life looks like for us right now. Things are different, but we’re doing good and enjoying the adventure at hand. There have been many heartwarming moments with my grandfather, and some heart-breaking moments as well. You take the good with the bad and try to make the most of every day.
It isn’t easy to be away from home, but at this moment I don’t think there is anything more valuable we could be doing with our time.