My Grandchildren's Approach to Alzheimer's


After my grandchildren returned home from school one day, I had a chance to talk with them about my Alzheimer's.

When we were here at Christmas, I didn't talk with them because I was under the mistaken impression that Laurel (my daughter) was going to wait until my symptoms were more noticeable before telling them about my diagnosis.

In fact, after our October conversation in which I revealed my diagnosis to Laurel, she began crying. Eight-year-old Madeline noticed, so Laurel told her and 10-year-old Otto that their grandfather would have increasing trouble with memory.

Madeline's two questions were, "Will grandpa forget how to eat?" and "Will he forget how to talk?" Laurel answered, "We'll have to see."

So I wanted to talk with them a little about it. I asked them whether they knew about my "memory problem." They said that they did, but they didn't follow up with any questions, so I didn't press any further.

The children haven't related to me any differently.

When I mentioned something that happened to me in childhood, Madeline—always energetic and inquisitive—asked me why I could remember something from so far back. I told her that most of my loss of memory was for things that happened recently, and she seemed satisfied with that.

When I've had to ask them about things I've forgotten, they've just answered simply without remarking. I've found their matter-of-fact attitude quite refreshing. I feel no sense of embarrassment: This is just one of those things that happen.

Madeline and I were playing Rummicub, a game with tiles and some of the features of the card game rummy; the purpose of the game is to play all your tiles, leaving none.

Otto, quieter and more cerebral, was hovering over each of us, "helping" by pointing out our best moves. Toward the end of the game, I had three tiles left and could see only an obvious move that used one of my tiles. But Otto quickly rearranged the tiles around to show me a move that used all my tiles.

Not only had I not seen the possibility of the move, but—even after he showed it to me and then returned the tiles in their previous position—I couldn't duplicate what he'd just done. I asked him to show me a second time, but I still couldn't follow it. Only after he'd showed me for the third time could I remember the steps long enough to duplicate it! He seemed more pleased with himself than bothered by my disability.

True, the move was somewhat complicated, but seeing possibilities within chaos has always been my strength. I wouldn't have been able to imagine requiringthree demonstrations to understand it.

There were two different cognitive losses involved.

First, I couldn't see the move ahead of time, which is, I think, the loss the ability to hold several things in my mind at once and, therefore, not see the abstract implications of an action.

Second, the memory loss (that I'm getting used to): I wasn't able to remember what Otto had just showed me. Like my inability to remember what had just happened in a soccer game with Kai in Seattle, my immediate memory is very impaired.

Again, however, the kids seem to accept it as just the way it is. They'll say something like, "That's your memory, right," and life goes on.

I've felt no embarrassment with them at all; in fact, we feel more bonded.

Editor's note: David's journey with Mild Cognitive Impairment was chronicled in "Fade to Blank: Life Inside Alzheimer's" an in-depth look at the real lives of families impacted by the Alzheimer's epidemic. His story continues on his personal blog on

An author and former physician, Dr. David Hilfiker was diagnosed in 2012 with a progressive mild cognitive impairment. His doctor thought it was Alzheimer's but additional testing proved this initial diagnosis to be wrong. Now David must learn how to come to terms with the reality of worsening cognitive issues that appear to have no cause.

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Wow! Beautiful piece of writing and explanation of how "children shall (indeed)lead them all"!!! Thanks for sharing.
Dr Hilifiker offers a very profound and courageous view from the inside on dementia.
As a physician he knows the rough road ahead that he faces but he is accepting of the course of his disease rather than being in denial. He is also being very proactive with his grandchildren allowing them to understand his disabilities as the condition progresses and helping them see that their Grandpa is still here but needs their love, companionship and help as he would with any physical ailment. I can only applaud his attitude and wish the family all the strength they will need in the coming years.
re: dementia, add canned full-fat coconut milk to coffee, virgin coconut oil to vegs, salad, etc. if dementia is related to hyperinsulinemia, this could help, and if not, what harm?