an X-ray image of brain with dementia

Dementia Journal of a Grandmother Forgetting That She Forgets

Day 1: My grandmother forgets

a drawing of an old-lady in an orange jumper, rubbing her forehead with her hands as if she is trying to remember something

Growing restless in her chair, my grandmother kept staring at her hands. Aged, veined, and shaking hands. Touching the tea glass with her fingertips, she felt warmer that eased her a bit, making sure that she was still alive. Then, I saw her eyes staring at her feet. She seemed here but far away, probably hiding in memory, perhaps somewhere in her childhood.

It is a cozy room with wallpapers, 3 sofas with cushions whose covers are handcrafted with flower and geometric patterns. A TV is installed on the wall to keep her busy with virtual simulations. The room seems overcrowded with sofas. She doesn’t have a proper bed but a sofa convertible into a bed. Every night she prepares her bed with attention, enjoying it as if it is a ceremony, some sort of ritual. Every morning she tidies everything meticulously, expecting everything to be well-placed and clean.

Her flower pots are aligned on the window ledges; she waters them three times daily. Water starts dropping from the pots; poor plants reject water by basically puking it. She can’t understand that she is killing them because of too much love. Forgetting she has watered the plants, she makes her way to the kitchen to fill her garden pot again. And again. Every time we try to stop her, she tells us off, leaving us with no choice but to sit in some corner with our mouths shut.

My grandmother is a lovely and gentle lady,  but no one can stop her if her mind is set on doing something. She is stubborn but with a tender heart. “Aging softened her,” mom tells me, “She wasn’t always like this.”

Day 2: She is outside

Old lady is standing with a stick. Vector illustration.

My grandmother barely went out, perhaps only to visit her neighbors or walk to our home within 30 minutes walking distance. Of course, this only happened when she was younger and didn’t have dementia. She would only walk between two different points without getting interested in anything else and seeing probably nothing, and always following the same path not to get lost. A mere walk to reach a certain point. It was because she found streets, buildings, and people moving in crowds confusing; so, she didn’t let anything interrupt her, acting as if she were a little girl advised to go home directly without talking to strangers. A septuagenarian she was; that’s what she did. Now, she is in her 80s and doesn’t go out alone anymore. Sometimes she imagines that she has done so, but the idea of being alone outside scares her deeply.

Day 3: She remembers

sad elderly woman Bored, Senior woman sitting alone on sofa

I hear granny’s steps in the corridor, walking back and forth, talking to herself, conjuring up stories to compensate for memory lapses. She forgets; therefore, she keeps wanting more. More of food, more of sweet things, more of her loved ones, more of her son spending time with her, more of her late husband by her side to ease her in her anxious moments, more of her daughter to share her loneliness, more of her grandchildren to be with. As she wants more, she becomes more human. She remembers being human despite her severe dementia.

My grandmother is a thinning and thickening figure. Under the guidance of her memories, she flourishes or feels unsettled. She can’t remember five moments before because she has already forgotten. It is as if a mist landed on her short-term memory. She sits in one corner as if transfixed for a moment, murmuring to herself. She doesn’t know that her brain stopped recording new memories two years ago. Yet, she sometimes realizes that she forgets. Then, in a couple of minutes, she forgets that she forgets. This sort of forgetfulness makes her keep doing the same things repetitively. Such moments seem so familiar to me, which I came across in Beckett’s plays filled with non-stop repetitions of the same acts and forgetfulness of the characters. “Yet this is not a Beckett play,” I say to myself, “this is real life.”

“Is it winter that is coming or summer?” she asks me. Time is made of winter and summer for her. That’s all that she needs to know, and that’s how she measures the passage of time, with seasons and whether she feels cold or hot. Accordingly, she arranges her plant-watering sessions and the time she spends on her balcony. Then, she forgets, mistakes the winter sun for a summer one.

Day 4: She talks

an old sitting sitting in an armchair and sewing as her grandaughter sits on the floor and watches her. Her elbow is on the armrest of her grandma's armchair

“How did I come here?
Whose house is this?

I found myself here.
Whose house is this?
Is there anybody home?
Or is it just me?

I should pray,
I should keep praying.
Praying helps.

Where is my son?
Does he call me?
He has forgotten me.
He is not my son anymore.
Was he a nice boy, a mother’s boy?
It wasn’t his name…
( I can feel her steps on the hardwood flooring, she gets distracted by the light)

Is this my house?

Why is the light on?

Who left it on?”

Whenever she is alone, she withdraws. Doctors say it is the best disease; patients with dementia live long because they have nothing to worry about. As I watch her, it feels wrong. In her forgetfulness, she is still anxious. The uneasiness of the mind prompts narrations replete with insecurities. My grandmother fears not being wanted. She needs to be assured that she is loved and taken care of. And she needs to remember, talk about her childhood, what life is about, and what she lived for. It terrifies her when she can’t find the reasons, the reasons worth living this life, the reasons that lie beyond the biological needs: eating, sleeping, sheltering, and clothing. “There has to be more,” she says, “there has to be more.”

She is the backbone of the family. Without her, it feels like everything would fall apart. Imagine how the staircases with no railings are. Railings seem to be the spine of the staircases, providing you with an easy stance, something to hold on to. Do the equation, and subtract the railings. It feels empty and unsafe.

Day 5: She feels confused

Young girl is caring for an elderly person, here, a grandmother, with dementia. Senior woman leans on a cane, and a social worker supports and helps her. Flat style vector illustration

From the windowpane, I see figures in motion, branches’ shadows playing on the streets, matching the rhythm of the wind. The swept leaves are getting ready to scatter around. My grandmother’s hands are insecurely placed on the armrests; she is tapping on the floor.

“Is it going to rain?” she asks, looking towards the window; rain starts falling, like needles hitting the concrete pavements.

I turn the TV on to distract her and draw her attention to somewhere else; this only works for 5 minutes at most. Her relationship with TV is confusing. There are times that she mistakes TV for reality. She gets worried, for instance, especially on winter days. When she sees a lady wearing thin clothes, because it was set during the summer session, she thinks the lady on the show feels cold and worries that she’ll get sick. There are also times she is aware that it is not real. Then, she finds it boring and goes back to her inner world. I ask her what she is thinking, and she just smiles. Claiming that she has heard a song that plays only in her imagination and is inaudible to us, she starts singing along.

Sometimes we have hours-long conversations, and she keeps telling me the same stories perhaps 20 times. Almost with the exact words. It is all about her childhood, neighbors, and her deceased husband. Sometimes she loses those memories, too, only temporarily. Then, she remembers them back. Somehow, the feelings attached to those memories change too, which is the hardest part to comprehend for me. But that’s just how it is.

Day 6: She is at her house

an illustration of window overlooking a landscape view, on the window ledge stands a plant in a pot and a white mug with hot liquid whose steam rises in the air
Credit: Pinterest

My grandmother can’t sleep; she keeps walking in between the rooms and tries to go out in the chilly mornings to water her plants. We confiscate the door keys, which frustrates her yet doesn’t stop her. She keeps walking in the house, this time also complaining in a high-pitched tone. She can’t reason that she will get sick at 4 or 5 am in her PJs, and that’s just how it is.

My grandmother is lively and happy in her house, constantly moving, without doing anything, just rearranging the towels and her clothes and changing their places. Then, she forgets where she has placed them. Then, everyone in the house goes on a quest to find the missing towels and clothes.

Sometimes she prepares fruit dishes for us and coffee or tea that has no taste or is mistakenly salted instead of sweetened. She always desires to eat something, confusing hunger with stomach pain, and it all feels tangled. Even when she feels sick, she can’t identify what is going wrong with her body. To explain her situation, she coughs out some random words with crippled meanings.

I behold her as she meticulously investigates her aged hands and body, mapped with veins, wrinkles, and brown-colored age spots. She keeps complaining and wants to undergo plastic surgery, and then she forgets all about her aging body. When she looks at her photos, I hear her saying, “I look like an old lady here.”

Day 7: She is a life instructor

an illustration of a grandmother sitting on her sickbed and having tea as her two granddaughters sit beside the two opposite sides of the be. There is a wall on the door, and two bed-height closets on which flowers and fruits are placed

Born in the 1920s, she married at a very young age and lived with her mother-in-law, a rigid woman to live with. At least that is what she says. She is not a very reliable narrator because of her old age and severe dementia. She also admits that it is the old days, and she can’t remember well. I look at mom to see if she approves the story in such moments. Because more or less, those stories were told her way before and probably discussed in family gatherings before I was even born. As my grandmother’s narration continues, I learn more. Moving from city to city with her husband, she finally settled in an urban city, where she gave birth to two children. Barely doing anything for herself, now, she looks back at her past and keeps asking: “What do we live for?”

All I do and all we do is listen to her stories and memories and act with enthusiasm as if I /we have heard them for the first time. This, in return, excites her very much. When we ask related questions, she feels much better, remembering more and surrendering the warmth of the past. Those moments teach me a lot. At the end of the day, I know that she just has her own moments, which we need to nourish with love and affection and a bunch of laughs. That’s the best thing for her.

Her case makes me question so many things. I can’t help but find myself thinking that we are all suspended beings at the core, stuck in a loop, repeating the same things and assuming that we live. But my grandma knew somehow, she understood, she earned it with age, some sort of wisdom. In her 80s, she still asks the same question: ” What do we live for?”

Day 8 with Shakespeare: “The world is a stage and all men and women merely players.”

an illustration of one young man and three old people dancing solo

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances…
His acts being seven ages….
Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.  As You Like It – Shakespeare

It’s Shakespeare. It’s the Seven Ages of Men. As you grow older, you know better. You feel the changes in your body and mind. It is beyond your control. It’s just there. Every second, multiple cells die in your body without you noticing. About 100 trillion neutrinos pass through us every second. The particles that we don’t see and feel. It is beyond us. It is the law of nature, and it is the law of physics. We are merely humans. As I watch my grandmother, who can’t record new memories anymore, it feels like looking into a mirror…

It is a “now.” It’s just three of us: mom, me, and granny, sharing a moment of silence that portrays us perfectly. None of us knows what to do. We just rest in silence, surrendering the most bizarre moments of life. There is a sweet breeze outside, reaching us through the floating curtains, leaving a tender touch on our cheeks. Tomato sauce is boiling on the stove. The smell spreads throughout the room slowly. It is the second law of thermodynamics. I wonder if the brain has its own entropy. Or, better, do memories have one? They are more in disorder as you get older, aren’t they?

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