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Published on September 30th, 2013

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Losing a grandmother to ‘that’ disease

Rachel Tseng describes the agony and helplessness of watching a beloved relative succumb to the ravages of Alzheimer’s Disorder (AD).

For most people Kolkata is a place synonymous to rasagollas and puchkas but for me it is a place reminiscent of my childhood vacations spent with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, their grandparents and the whole jing-bang of distant relatives and family friends.

Once during a head count, I was included as a grandchild by my cousin brother’s paternal grandmother. Since I was staying over at my cousin’s home, his grandmother very generously christened me as one of her grandchildren. Predictable as it sounds, I grew very fond of her and was completely drawn to her very generous and loving personality.

alzheimer's careOver the years during every visit to Kolkata I would actually look forward to meeting her. But on one particular visit, she failed to recognise me and it was then that my cousins told me that she was suffering from Alzheimer’s. I knew about Alzheimer’s, the symptoms and what it does to you but it was the first time in my life that the Alzheimer disease struck someone I knew and admired. It was a heart wrenching experience watching her lose herself to the disease. There was nothing that we could do except be patient and be there for her.

The pain that she went through is something that nobody can comprehend. She rarely had memory of her present. Sometimes she had a perfect memory of her childhood and would wonder what she is doing amongst strangers who were actually her children and grandchildren. She would cry out like a child in distress and demand to be taken back to her childhood home, recounting her maiden address and the identity of her parents. In response, we pacified her like a child, promising to take her to her parents in the hope that she would snap out of it soon.

On another occasion, she refused to recognise her grandchildren and even called them untouchables and thieves. She would hide anything and everything, including food, in cupboards and draws in the fear that ‘the thieves’ who had invaded her home would steal her belongings.

Once she even ran away from home, hopped into a cycle-rickshaw and asked the driver to take her to her son’s home in America. The rickshaw driver was initially shocked and thought that he probably hadn’t understood the address and requested her to give directions. As soon as he started off, my uncle who was in his car spotted her sitting in the open cycle rickshaw like a queen on her throne. My uncle immediately intervened, explained about her condition to the rickshaw driver and drove her home, much to her annoyance.

During the last few days of my stay in Kolkata, one afternoon she came up to me, called me by my name and commented on how I had grown to be a replica of my mother. We spoke alzheimer's memory gapsabout my cousins and she even expressed her love for her daughter-in-law (who is my aunt) and appreciated everything that the family had done for her. She spoke in the most normal way, just like the way she spoke to me during my earlier visits and before Alzheimer’s.

At that moment, although she was in the present and everything she said made perfect sense, I could see it in her eyes that she had no idea of what she had been suffering from and how it had worn her out.

This went on for about 12 years before she faced her end.

The degree of pain and suffering an Alzheimer’s patient goes through is something I am unable to understand or express. But one thing for sure, the family of an Alzheimer’s patient suffers in silence with immense grief and anguish. It takes a lot of patience and endless love to live with and care for a family member with Alzheimer’s.

This is the last of the series of articles that we featured on Alzheimer’s awareness as part of our campaign to focus the spotlight on dementia and Alzheimer’s. However, we are committed to the cause and welcome news of new developments in the field of elder care and positive ageing. If you have something to share, do write to us at editor@themetrognome.in or tweet to us @MetrognomeIndia.

(Pictures courtesy trialx.com, io9.com, www.smallfootprintfamily.com. Images are used for representational purpose only)

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