5 Dementia Tips from a Grandson

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Mum has a fantastic relationship with her teenage grandson, who lives a ten-minute walk from her rest home. Just like with other families, dementia has complicated their relationship a bit, but he manages quite well. Below is his take on dementia—what it is and what works when it comes to interacting with his Nanny.

Dementia Is More than Memory Loss

I remember the last holiday we celebrated at Nanny and Granddad’s house before they moved into rest homes. Nanny wouldn’t get out of bed for Christmas dinner. It wasn’t so much a memory issue as a behavioral change. It was quite disturbing, because she wasn’t usually like that. There’s much more to her condition than just being forgetful, and sometimes we have to take it in stride.

Learn and Adapt As You Go

I’ve learned to avoid asking questions that Nanny won’t know the answer to, and I’ve gotten good at shifting the conversation quickly to distract her from tricky things or topics that upset her. Even if you say something wrong, it’s okay. Just learn from it and try to redirect them to something happier. They will likely forget the incident in a short time.

Little Things Can Help

It really helps if I use Nanny’s own words and phrases to describe things. She recalls the information better that way. For instance, if I say the name of the café we go to all the time, she doesn’t remember it. But if I refer to it as “the one with the steps to the courtyard outside,” she remembers straight away. Try to find small things like this that can simplify and improve communication.

Keep it Light

It’s good to make Nanny feel like she’s not forgetting too much and reassure her that it’s okay. When she can’t remember a name, event or detail, I act like anyone could forget such a thing and tell her it’s not a big deal. Sometimes you have to play down pretty major things.

Lots of Love

I still like spending time with Nanny. We were very close when I was little. I get lots of hugs from her, and she’s very adoring. It’s absurd, but it’s also kind of nice. Sometimes I even make things up to amuse the both of us, but I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.

Sarah Jane is a freelance writer/researcher and part-time caregiver for her mother Eleanor* who has dementia and lives at a rest home nearby. Sarah and her mother spend Saturdays enjoying each other’s company, pottering about and having the occasional adventure. Sarah lives in New Zealand where she writes and speaks about dementia-related issues.

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14 Comments

Brilliant and useful. I particularly appreciate the advice no 3 on the little things like instead of saying the name, use a description. Thank you for sharing
I enjoyed this very much. I brought me back a few years ago when I was going through this with my mom. I learned to visit her where she was (in her world), not try to bring her back to ours. She would call my son's fiance "the girl" (she couldn't remember her name) so I also referred to her in mom's presence "the girl". I liked how you mentioned to speak to someone with dementia and use phrases they use - it makes perfect sense. I also learned pretty fast what aggravated my mom, so I tried not to add to it. I'm glad other people offer ideas and share their thoughts here because I can't imagine what the people suffering from dementia go through, and I didn't have this site when my mom was suffering from this dreaded disease. If I had, it would have been nice to have other's support when going through the same thing. Thanks again for sharing your story.
I think this proves people who try to shelter their kids from dementia are misguided, kids are wonderfully adaptable and often much wiser than we give them credit for. We all new my grandfather was "senile", but perhaps because I didn't have the before and after picture in my mind I was able to better accept and love him unconditionally just as he was.