Our lives are made up of a collection of memories. Memories that Alzheimer’s disease steals by affecting 50 million (2018) people globally. Without a cure, the number of those living with Alzheimers and other dementia diseases is going triple by 2050. Unfortunately, my Granda was part of that statistic. The same year (2009) my family and I immigrated from the UK to Canada my Granda was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
What did this mean for my family?
- Stepping onto the airplane to move would be the last time my Granda would see us in person and remembered who we were
- This would be the last time we would see my Granda for the person he was
- We had no idea of the heartache ahead of us
No one wants to watch someone they care about fade away as Alzheimer’s takes over. Unfortunately, the disease doesn’t give us that option. Within the 5 years from diagnosis until his passing, we received updates from family and soon didn’t recognize the man in the photos. My granda, as I knew him, was gone but still suffering.
I was lucky enough 2 years into his diagnosis to have the opportunity to travel back to the UK and visit him. I am beyond grateful to have had that chance to create more memories with him.
Below are some ways my Granda’s Alzheimers diagnosis changed how I live
1. Live life more purposefully
As a child, I remember my Granda making these little wooden garden figurines. Why did he make them? Because he enjoyed it! He enjoyed the walk through the garden to the shed. He enjoyed the time he spent tinkering in the shed. And he enjoyed seeing the smiles on people’s faces when they would see the figurines he made. Through his time living at home with Alzheimers he continued his walks and sat in the garden surrounded by his figurines. What you do daily, where you spend your time, who you interact with – do it purposefully.
2. Music and moving your body is important
Music has many benefits, such as reducing stress, anxiety, and improve your mood. Playing music for someone with Alzheimers can help stimulate their brain and encourage movement (even dancing). I recall playing music for my Granda one of the last times I was with him and it made him so happy. As he listened to recognizable songs, he sat in the chair clapping his hands, nodding his head and had the biggest smile on his face. Include music in our day somehow and enjoy the benefits.
3. Treasure the little moments
Often we don’t realize how special or important the moment is until it’s already a memory. Take steps to learn how to become more aware and live in the moment. Treasure the time with your pets, friends, and family because you will never get to experience that moment again. Consider keeping a ‘Little moments’ journal and write down the little things that you don’t want to forget. This is a beautiful memento to look back on as well.
4. Take pictures and videos
Photos and the occasional video is all we have left after they are gone. This day in age makes it so easy to capture a photo or a video. So do it, take pictures and get into the pictures as well. Capture moments but don’t live your entire life behind a screen. My Granda studied photos throughout his fight with Alzheimers, trying to piece together what was left of his memory. There was a moment I sat in his living room – Granda studying my face, then studying a photo on his wall. He never said my name but I know he was trying with all his power to remember.
5. Laugh, and laugh a lot
Life is short and sometimes shorter than we think. I remember my Granda as a jokester – have fun and laugh. He was a big belly laugher with a smile that was so bright. After his diagnosis with Alzheimers, the disease started to take parts of him away bit by bit but that didn’t stop the laughs – we always encouraged laughter. I’ll remember him for his laugh.
6. Never give up
No matter how challenging things get, never give up. My Granda faced many challenges throughout this life but he never give up. He worked hard to overcome his struggles. When he was diagnosed with Alzheimers he was so persistent and tried to live as normal of a life for as long as he could. Just remember you are stronger than you think.
I hope that these lessons help you with the way you live. Never give up hope and make your memories matter.
As an artist primarily working with grieving clients, I consider myself a memory preserver. Check out the print I recently created of my Granda at our wedding. I felt his presence many times throughout the day and decided it was time I was able to visualize his presence.
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