Grandad is a large part of my life and for the past 3 years he and nanny have been living with me and my mum and dad. He is such an interesting man, an old-fashioned gentleman. It was hardly noticeable at first, just losing his keys, forgetting people's names, but when he could not remember our names or where he was, mum and dad took him to the doctors. They discovered my grandad had dementia and was losing his memory. So, I decided I would find a way to help him.
I discovered a wonderful way to help my grandad, by providing memories through images, so I talked to mum and dad and nanny and they all loved the idea. So, we went about turning our hallway into a gallery of old and new photos for grandad. I was worried it might upset him, if he did not remember, but it was the opposite, from the very first time he saw the photos, his face lit up and he remembered the good times they represented. This is his story and his journey through his gallery of photos.
My grandad is Bill and my nanny is Anne and I am Grace. My grandad loves this picture, as it was taken on their holiday in France. Nanny said, Bill just loved the old bike he had on the holiday and they went every day to the village on it. Mind you she said the road was very bumpy and grandad had the only saddle and she had to sit on the bar. Seeing grandad giggle at this photo, makes my heart sing.
Before we put the photos up in the hallway, grandad started to forget about his morning exercises, which he did every morning with Nanny. Once we put the photo gallery up, he hardly forgot, as when he saw this photo on the wall, he used to shout “Anne, have you forgotten our morning exercises?” Then he looked at me and winked and kissed my forehead, you see my grandad really appreciated what we were doing for him.
Each week we add new photos of what nanny and grandad have done that week, to build new memories. Some days I do cry about my grandad, but then I look at him and remember all the wonderful times I had with him as I was growing up. I treasure every day with him and I am so happy as a family we are making this time enjoyable for him and love seeing him with nanny going through their old photos.
My friend Sally, her grandmother has dementia too, I learn a lot from her, not bad things, but practical things to help my grandad. When I told her about the photo gallery, she said it was perfect. As she had begun with her grandmother, having photos all over the house and she soon learned to have a single place to come back to and enjoy together, she calls it, her grandmother’s memory lane.
Nanny reminisces with grandad every day, it allows grandad to recall memories from their past and it puts a big smile on his face, when he shares stories of their earlier years. I love to sit at his feet and listen to his stories and we also play some of his favourite music, so he can connect and remember the past. It makes me giggle hearing about my grandad being a mod in the 60’s and riding a scooter.
We have a set routine for grandad, in fact we all follow the routine and it really works for us all, mum says the house runs really well. Mum loves that we have our meals at a set time and grandad and nanny love that we all sit down together. My grandad has been known to sit at the table, knife and fork in his hand, singing “why are we waiting.” After our meal, it is his job to clear the table and load the dishwasher. He is naughty though, because he does often say, “where is the dishwasher”, nanny looks at him in her way, he suddenly remembers and we all giggle. My grandad is such a joker.
Something my grandad taught me, from as long as I can remember, was to never judge and to encourage, something grandad has done all his life. I only see my grandad, yes, he has changed, in that his memory is not as good as it used to be, but I will not allow anyone make fun of him. Every day I encourage my grandad to do something extra, so that he has that feeling of achieving more that day.
My grandad and I have a lot in common, we are best friends. He has encouraged me all my life to do well in school, praised me when I received good grades and I spent many good times with him and nanny. But then things started to change, it was very gradual at first, in fact, I don’t remember a glaring moment when I can say with confidence that I knew something wasn’t right with my grandad. If anything, I thought the gaps in his memory were just a regular sign of old age. But I soon learned the situation was more serious.
All I know and care about, is that he is still my grandad, we still snuggle up, read together, go for walks, cook together, yes, he is still my grandad and I love him. Grandad told me recently that disease can attack even the strongest of characters, like him, but relationships built around unconditional love will, in the best way possible, endure and with the love of us, his family, he will fight every single day.
As a family we learned that with dementia, there are no rules, yes, plenty of advice and guidance, but this disease is an individual thing. We know what to look for, but had no idea when it would come into grandad’s life. It’s the little things you notice, the things he managed to do last week, but now struggles with. As a family, we never make an issue of it and just adapt, we want grandad and that is that.
After a while grandad started to walk into things more often. So, we slowly started to declutter the house, so he had less chance to walk into things. We all thought he would not notice, but he did. One night he came into the living room and pretended to sit on a stool, which was no longer there. We all got up as one and moved towards him. He stopped half way, giggled and said “oh your faces.” On a good day he was unstoppable.
Upstairs, grandad and nanny had their own bedroom, as time went on, my dad gave up his study downstairs, so that grandad could have an inside space downstairs. We put a lovely chair in there, along with some of his favourite furniture, next to the chair we put a table, where grandad could put his pieces. He loves fishing, so his fishing magazines had pride of place. The study was nice and quiet as it was at the back of the house, away from the noise, but in full view.
Grandad loved the fresh air and gardening, so mum and dad made an area for him. It had a lounger, umbrella and a small table. Mum thought it would be a great idea if we gave grandad a bell. Big mistake, at the beginning he was like a child with a new toy, kept ringing it and when we went out, he would giggle and say, ”just testing it, making sure it worked”, later on he would just forget he rang it, so we set up an alarm on our phones to check on him regularly.
One day we were sitting in the lounge when grandad came into the room and in the middle of the floor is mum’s pride and joy, her Persian rug. Instead of walking over it, like he has done a thousand times before, he walked around it. All that day and the following day he did this, so I phoned my friend Sally and she told me, her grandmother did the same. She told me, to us it’s a rug, but for her grandmother, it’s a hole in the floor, so I told mum and she moved it to her bedroom.
The saddest day for me, was seeing my grandad crying, he had just wet himself. I hugged him and told him it was okay, but I could see the sadness in his eyes. Again, I spoke to Sally and wonderful Sally gave me this advice, have a drawer in the house, with a set of spare clothes that everyone has access to. She said with her grandmother, that one of the few blessings of memory loss, is she quickly forgets she has had an accident and soon forgets about her embarrassment.
I love my grandad and nanny so much and their friends, as they have so much character, seen and experienced so much and have so much to tell. I love listening to them when they talk about their lives. I love how my grandad’s eyes light up when he remembers those times as he talks to me. They are living history and hearing about their lives is a priceless treasure I will never forget.
I love to go fishing with grandad, so mum drives us to the lake and grandad and I spend the day there. His memory is very poor now, but he remembers everything about fishing that he’s ever learned, and he has taught me all about it. We have a great time and always catch a few fish. My friends think he’s really cool and they’ve got used to his ways and know he forgets things but they never take the mick out of him.
It’s really funny when mum and dad tell us both off, when we are being too noisy or we have made a bit of a mess or left all the fishing stuff out. I don’t mind helping grandad when he needs me to cut up his food, or help him do up his shirt buttons and I even gave him a shave the last week. If I see him struggling with something, I don’t make a big thing of it, I just help him.
My grandad has begun carrying around a notepad wherever he goes, writing down every detail of his day as best he can. He is doing this simply to keep track of his memories, it is his way of fighting back. It is, his attempt to maintain his dignity, preparing himself for later when he will have forgotten whatever it is he has written down.
Like so many others who have a loved one with dementia, watching the progression of the disease take over your childhood hero is traumatic. What I didn’t realise was that helping take care of my grandad, enables me to appreciate him more than I ever thought possible. Seeing his eyes light up when he recalls marrying nanny and being the luckiest man alive marrying her, makes this time even more special.
Like my parents, grandad and nanny have always encouraged me to sing, I am part of the school choir and even sing with some friends in a small group. Grandad has always loved me singing. Now, when grandad is having a hard day, I sing to him, it calms him down and he sits down with me as I sing his favourite songs. Once in a while my friends come around and we all sing to him, he loves every second of it.
My friend Sally has been amazing, I have learned a lot from her experience with her grandmother. It has enabled me and my family to make grandad’s life less stressful. We hug him often, tell him how much we love him, we don’t get upset when he doesn’t recognise us straight away, as we know he loves having us there. We don’t ask him if he remembers things and we don’t correct him if he says something wrong. Thank you Sally.
For me, my grandad is someone who has so much more to offer the world. It doesn’t matter that there are chemical imbalances in his brain and that mother nature has played a cruel trick upon him, after so many years of life. He is my grandfather, he is a humorous loving true gentleman, with so much left to give society. He is my hero and always will be, I am so lucky he is part of my life.
My grandad during this journey has taught me more about love than I ever could have learned on my own. Sometimes love is shown with silly jokes, by being quiet, a thoughtful gift, staying strong even when someone you love slowly starts to forget who you are. He has also, taught me to appreciate everything and everyone I have now, to never judge, to encourage, because I might not have the chance or capabilities to do that in the future.
My grandad’s health is declining more and more, but he still enjoys life, laughing and exploring. He tries to have a good day every day and tells me every day, “don’t worry I am still here.” Overall, he is still happy and that is what is most important. My grandad is still wonderful, funny, insightful and astonishingly intelligent and always will be for me, as he will live forever in my heart.