In a world without memory, it’s easy to get lost

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I love “The Golden Girls.” The show brings together group of older women who are navigating aging, friendships and dating, and creates a family. But there is one episode in particular that breaks my heart.

In season three of the show, the women celebrate Mother’s Day. Each character has a flashback to a special Mother’s Day moment that fits their quirks and personality. For Blanche, the memory is visiting her 89-year-old mother in a nursing home. But her mother has trouble remembering things and thinks Blanche is her other daughter.

The longer I watch Blanche navigate her mother’s dementia, the more my heart aches. The saddest part for me is that I can’t remember exactly when my own grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

My first true memory of the disease taking over my family’s life was during a summer visit to Denver when I was in high school. My dad’s family had come in to town from Illinois. My grandma was an avid rummy player, and I loved to play with her when she came to visit.

But when I asked her to play with me, she just looked confused. My dad gently pulled me to the side and said “Honey, she doesn’t remember how to play any more.”

At the end of the episode of “The Golden Girls,” Blanche and her mother reconnect. In a moment of clarity, she remembers who Blanche is and they share a hug. From my own experience, I know those moments of memory are few and far between the longer someone lives with Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s and dementia slowly leech the memories from the people we love. For my grandmother it started with small things, like forgetting where she was going while driving. She would remember certain faces and details. But after suffering from the disease for years, she began to pull herself out of the conversation, becoming quieter and quieter each time I saw her. If she didn’t know the answer to a question, she would reach her hand up and stroke the hair by her ear.

The last time we were in Illinois to visit my grandparents and uncle, my dad found a box filled with photos of my grandmother’s family. My dad would try to ask my grandma about photos of her siblings. Up went her hand, and my dad realized she couldn’t remember.

Hold your loved ones close. Ask them questions about their past, their families and memories. Ask them while you still can, because you never know when it will be too late.

More recently, my grandfather made the decision to move my grandmother into a home treating people with dementia. The decision has been rough on him, as well as my dad and uncle. But we all knew it was for the best: caring for my grandmother had become a full-time job. My uncle and grandfather visit her on Sundays. They tell her about her grandkids and my niece, who is her only great-grandbaby.

In this issue there are stories from Denver and Centennial on programs helping people live with dementia and Alzheimer’s. In a world without memory it doesn’t take much to get lost and to feel alone. It warms my heart to see these organizations help our loved ones find their smiles again.

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