When do you go back to school? Did I take my medicine today? What is for dinner? When do you go back to school? Are you sure you do not want to sleep over? When is my next appointment? You should see how many pills I have to take. When do you go back to school?
An endless slew of questions and the beginning of forgotten mannerisms define the early signs of dementia experienced by my grandmother. Dementia is seen as a symptom rather than a disease, and an umbrella term for Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease categorized the degradation of my great grandmother’s health—my grandmother’s mother. This sad reality constantly plagues my conscious. Every time I see my grandmother, I never know how much her sense of memory has degraded from past visits.
In my most recent trip, I went with my mother and aunt to my grandmother’s doctor appointment. Upon arriving to the medical center, we learned we had to receive a ticket to be admitted for care. After our ticket number was called and subsequent paperwork was filled, my grandmother went back to see her regular doctor. I asked her, “Do you like your doctor?” my grandmother replied, “Yeah! She keeps me right.” Her doctor was in for a surprise when she walked in and saw us all waiting—a family doctor trip. After introductions ceased, the questions began to roll in.
“Do you think it’s possible to take her off this medication? She just takes so many pills.” “What were the results of her last blood tests?” “Calcium causes increased effects of dementia? She’s already taking so much calcium!” “Yeah we can take her off of that. Reduce the number of pills she takes.” “Great! Happy Thanksgiving, grandma!” “Actually, another doctor prescribed that, let’s keep her on it. Sorry about that…” During this time of rapid questioning from both my mom and my aunt, I watched my grandmother. She twiddled her thumbs, eyes steady on the ground. She consistently checked underneath her nails for dirt and began a rhythmic tapping and swinging of her legs. Watching her reminded me of a young child, naive, and expectant upon caregivers to conclude what steps need to be taken to improve health.
To see a woman I had grown up with as a personal caregiver to myself, family, and anyone in need of a home cooked meal or place to stay, in the position of a young child, left me with a bittersweet mood. Our roles were now reversed. Myself and family members are now in charge of caring for my grandmother. After the appointment, we were instructed to return to the front desks to check out. Upon returning to check out, we once again had to receive a ticket, wait to be called, and wait again to receive blood-work papers. This system was creating a lottery to help patients. I understand the want to create a system to better keep track of patients, but with elderly patients, the system causes more hassle than it should. I need to know that my grandmother is in the hands of people who genuinely care for her health and comfort levels; as myself and family do. Due to our role reversal, I need to know someone will be there to fill the roles myself and family cannot fill when we are not at my grandmother’s side.
When do you go back to school? Did I take my medicine today? What is for dinner? When do you go back to school? These are the questions left on repeat by my grandmother. Dementia is a cycle that should not be treated with lottery systems created to prolong the care and health of elderly patients with the symptoms. Dementia is a cycle that requires the same care and nurturance once provided by my grandmother and now provided by myself, family, and friends.