With the world spinning madly on and bills need to be paid, mouths fed, peace to keep, daily routines to keep, just to scratch the surface, it's easy to ignore the long list of degenerative diseases that affect so many people until it hits close to home. 48 million adults from the Baby Boomer generation are reaching their later years and the chances of you knowing someone is increasing with each passing day.
But in our mad world, is there space for the elderly? Do we take the time to make contact with them, reach out and make a difference in their lives? Or is being old and the accompanying challenges shunned and pushed into a corner? Do we become too busy to call our grandparents and parents?
My grandmother has outlived the majority of her generation. She certainly outlived her 5 brothers and 5 sisters. She's outlived her friends, my other grandparents and even some of her grandchildren. Up until 2 weeks ago, she was living on her own in the house where she raised her children and grandkids, with familiar noises and sights reminding her where she is and slowing the stages of dementia.
But then she fell.
Thankfully she had her LifeLine on her and she was able to call for help. It saved her life. Thank you LifeLine.
It began slowly at first, this degenerative disease. Throughout my childhood, she would always mix up our names. Cappy, Kui, oh Jennifer! Since their were 5 Georges within our family, the guys had it easy. But when she started to forget them altogether, it was hard to deny that something serious was going on.
It begins to progress, this degenerative disease, manifesting in daily tasks. Where did I put my keys? Someone must have stollen them. They stop caring about what they look like, how they dress, and their hygene. Complicated tasks, such as taking a shower or making food become too big of an overwhelming burden. It becomes frustrating. Their mood is altered and swings greatly. Anger mounts.
The sweetest old lady on the block suddenly starts screaming and raging, only when asked why, she doesn't remember.
It starts progressing faster, this degenerative disease. Her memory has serious lapses. How did I get in this hospital? Have I been here a while? When am I going home? Patiently, I answer her questions for the 50th time, only to repeat them a moment later. She smiles sweetly, "you have great teeth!"
Then the aid delivers her next meal and she cringes, crying out loud about it. "I'm not hungry," she automatically responds. But what she meant to say is, "this is overwhelming." With so many choices on a plate, it's hard to swallow what to do. I carefully put some food in her mouth, she cries, and then chews. It takes her a while to swallow but I am patient. I know that I'm not ready to let her go yet. I'm not ready for this disease to take a firm footing in our lives.
I read that in the final stages she won't remember who I am or who she is. She won't be able to function on her own, won't be able to lift her hands to eat, let alone play rummy. She'll stop communicating, either unable to formulate words or say them. And eventually her throat will close up and she'll be unable to get any food down.
Yesterday she didn't remember who I was. Thankfully, she remembered my mom. And it took us a better part of an hour, but she ate her dinner.
It is hard to see someone who you've known all you life and who you love so much deteriorate slowly right before your eyes. It is hard to face this degenerative disease in the face as it unfolds. But I'd much rather face it than push it into a corner.