This week, we’ll mark eight years since my grandma Anna died of Alzheimer’s disease after a 19-year battle. She was the first person living with dementia I (as an adult) I spent time with.

Anna is the reason I have a passion for figuring out what’s happening for a person living with dementia, how to connect, how to ease the moment, how to make the moment count.

Long before I became a professional, she showed me many firsts, lessons I’ve carried with me through the years and passed along. I’m proud of the positive impact she’s had on hundreds of others’ lives. Here are a few of her lasting lessons:

Ladies who love the beauty parlor don’t suddenly stop “just because.” My beautiful, social grandmother always cared very much about her appearance. Seemingly overnight, she was wearing the same clothes several days in a row, her hair was definitely not done, and her overall look changed to disheveled. Big-time sign.

Is it really “hoarding”? It would’ve been easy to pass off as hoarding Anna’s spike in acquiring magazine subscriptions, crystal figurines, carousel horses, Franklin Mint collectors’ plates….But it turns out she needed to buy these things because “the contest people [were] watching” and would know if she was really serious about winning, based on her purchases. She spent $30k before my grandpa was able to get her credit cards and other banking access cancelled.

Play the “if-then” game. If a doctor recommends a particular test, and it comes back bad, then what will you do? If you’re not willing to go the distance, don’t do the test in the first place. Long story short, Anna’s inability to understand a testing procedure directly led to her breaking her leg so severely that she had to have surgery (anesthesia makes dementia symptoms worse) and months of physical therapy. In retrospect, she could’ve done without the test.

Just go with it. During a visit, Anna confided in my dad that she was just exhausted, but she couldn’t go rest until the company left–giving a nod to the Grand Ole Opry playing on tv. Dad discreetly unplugged the tv, the guests were gone, and Anna was so appreciative!

Dementia does not define a person. Yes, Anna had Alzheimer’s disease the last stretch of her life. Some other truths about her life: she attended business school; was a telephone operator; seriously cut a rug in USO clubs; made a Marine Corps sergeant who looked like Bing Crosby swoon for her, for a lifetime; used her business acumen to her family’s lasting benefit; raised two daughters who daily contribute to making the world a far better place; was a gourmet cook; rescued injured animals; and played piano and guitar.

Thank you, Anna.

 

Christy Turner is the founder of DementiaSherpa.com (CTC Dementia Care Management) and has enjoyed the privilege of working with over 1,045 people living with dementia and their families. Follow on Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Periscope, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube. Content varies daily across platforms.