I Was 8 Years Old And Living With Someone Diagnosed With Alzheimer’s

My grandma and her battle with dementia. She might not remember who I am, but I will always remember her. I thank her for the impact she’s had on my life. For making me who I am today.
By Sonya Schiaffino

I had just gotten off school. The air on the bus was thick and stifling, and I was excited to finally get home and play. The brakes screeched as we pulled to a stop, and the bus’s momentum threw me forward momentarily before I descended into the fresh air. The warm air wrapped around me as I walked up to my front door.

It was my day to watch her, so I took my place at the kitchen table.

I helped her sit down, my voice breaking through her trance, and she smiled at me. I got out her favourite colouring book and crayons for her; which she often enjoyed. I looked down for a moment, as I picked out a colour that suited what we were filling that day.

Suddenly, the sound of her coughing snapped me out of my reverie as I whipped my head up from examining the box of crayons. She was falling off her chair. I jumped up frantically as her head hit the empty chair next to her. She was choking. I struggled to pick her up and help her, but she was far too heavy for me. I felt the warm tears roll down my cheeks as I cried for help.

My mom handed me the phone, and I keyed the numbers in instinctively, the scene unfurling in front of me as if it were a dream. As I dialled 911, frantic cries from my mother was echoing in the background. The ambulance’s sirens shrieked, and I thought, “How could this be happening?” I ran to open the door for the paramedics. Before I knew it, I was being chased out of the room. She was stabilised and whisked away in the ambulance, my dad following close behind. I watched as they drove away, until all that was left was my tear-faced reflection looking back at me in the window.

My mom said it wasn’t my fault, that it couldn’t be helped, and that there was nothing I could’ve done. But how could I believe that I couldn’t have prevented this from happening? It was my responsibility to watch her; if only I hadn’t gotten so caught up in picking out a crayon maybe I could have prevented all these from happening.

Now, ten years on, I reflect on the impact of living with someone diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

When I was 8, my grandfather had asked my family and I to move in with them to help take care of my grandmother as she was beginning to show signs of advanced Alzheimer’s. My parents obliged. But being just 8-years-old then, I secretly resented them for the choice they had made. I blamed them for the loss of my childhood. I couldn’t understand how my parents could sacrifice everything they had, and everything I knew, for this life; one of constant worry and anxiety.

But it was through that day, seven years ago, when I watched her life flash before my own eyes, that I finally understood the choice my parents had made and why they felt the need to be around to care for her.

Living with my grandmother and watching her slowly lose what we all fail to appreciate most: our memory, has affected me dramatically. Despite our challenged relationship, she has taught me many things. She has taught me to appreciate the little things, and to cherish each moment, because I might not remember them one day. She has also instilled in me the need to treasure the people who truly care about me (and the ones I truly care for) because, one day, I might have to let them go. She might not remember who I am, but I will always remember her. I thank her for the impact she’s had on my life. For making me who I am today.

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