Having A Grandfather with Dementia

Growing up, I always felt my grandfather was different than everyone else’s. He was an older Sicilian man who loved his family. He was old school. One time, he sharpened my pencil with a knife. Another time, he did a cartwheel to prove to me that if he can do it as an old man, I can do it as an eight year old. Every morning for ten years, he came over to my house to walk my dog (I still think he loved her more than me). He was gruff and gave me lots of tough love. He was one of the most independent men I knew, and I loved him for it. Sometimes I’d complain and say he was mean, but he would protect me no matter what. I never thought a day would come where he would need me as much as I need him.

In April of 2019, he had a knee replacement surgery. With that, of course, he had to go under general anesthesia. From that moment on, he would never be the same. He woke up confused. He was violent and angry at first, and then he was quiet. The quietest he’s ever been. When he talked he didn’t make sense, and it would bring tears to my mom’s eyes. If he was in that hospital any longer, who knows if he’d still be here today. He was getting worse and worse the more he was there. 

A lot has happened since then. He eventually came back from those strange episodes of not making sense, and he’s home now, but he has never been the same. He isn’t the grandfather I had for 19 years, but I don’t want to complain. I am so lucky to have my grandfather in my life, that I never take him for granted. Even though life may be harder, it’s not impossible. 

Like I said before, my grandpa was rough on me as a kid. If you told me 10 years ago I’d be visiting him every day, I wouldn’t believe you. Since he has forgotten a lot, he asks us questions all the time. One of the ones he asks when he’s tired of us being there all day is why we visit him lots all of a sudden. He says we used to never see him before. I had to tell him that back then, he was rude. I didn’t want to. Now? He’s so funny. He appreciates my mom and I visiting (most of the time). He’s more fun to be around. Though I wish he didn’t have dementia, I sure do like him being so fun nowadays. He makes jokes with me. 

My grandpa was the oldest (and only boy) out of five children. Occasionally, he’ll ask us about his siblings. Two of them have passed, and it’s hard to break it to him over and over again. He’ll ask about his late wife (my grandmother) who passed 18 years ago. He knows she died, but sometimes he forgets for a second. He’ll ask about all of her siblings too, but they’re all gone. It’s sad to have to tell him who’s dead and who’s not, but it’s better to tell him the truth than to lie about everything. He usually forgets about my sister and my two cousins as well since he doesn’t see them as often. My sister has aspergers and is a little more sensitive than he’s used to with me (tough skin, ya know?) so he forgets that he can’t joke too harshly and he ends up hurting her feelings. That’s okay, though. She talks to him on the phone, but he just doesn’t remember. I’m the favorite grandchild by default, so I’m not too mad about that. 

He was always very masculine and worked out often. He was always seen as a tough guy and his physique showed it. Nowadays, he sees himself differently. He’s lost that sense of pride in his manhood. He hates that he became this old man who is slowly losing his mind. He tries to lift weights in his house and do exercises for his arms. He forgets that he can’t lift weights like he used to in his youth. We don’t want him to hurt himself, but we also want him to be proud of his body. He’s a strong man and we want him to keep up with his health. 

My grandfather was such a healthy man. He was never on medications until now, and that upsets him. It’s another reminder that he’s getting old. He never wore glasses and still doesn’t (only to read) but with dementia, he has problems with depth perception, so he has to shuffle his feet to walk. He used to have such a prideful stride when he walked and now he has to be careful of not falling. He has all of his teeth and never needed dentures (still doesn’t) but since he’s forgetful, his dentist takes advantage of him and his wallet. Sometimes he forgets the value of money and gives the delivery workers too much money, but they don’t correct him. Once he handed a young man a $100 bill thinking it was a $10, but he never told him. He kept the $100. 

Having a grandfather with dementia makes my family and I upset, but we can’t lose all hope. He has a lot of life to keep living, even if it’s hard. We don’t expect him to improve because, realistically speaking, he’ll eventually get worse. We plan to be there every step of the way. My mom has truly taken the role as his caregiver and I give her all the respect in the world. By treating her father with such love and care, she is teaching my sister and I how to treat her when she gets old. I know how hard this is on her and I know she remains strong for the rest of us. 

My grandfather may have this setback, but it’s not stopping him from being my grandpa. I will forever cherish all of our laughs and good times and I hope we get to enjoy many more.