One day Norene got on a city bus and went for a ride. But she never got off at any of the stops.
After she had ridden all over Fresno without arriving at a destination, the bus driver noticed and called a supervisor. The supervisor saw her medical bracelet with my father’s work phone number and called my dad to come and pick her up.
That was when my parents decided Grandma couldn’t be left on her own anymore during the day while they were both at work. What might have happened if she had gotten off the bus in a strange – or dangerous – part of town?
We moved Grandma from Ohio to Fresno in 1995, after it became apparent that she shouldn’t live by herself anymore. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1999. The bus ride came a year or two after that, when she was about 79.
Since I worked night shifts at the time, I became Grandma’s part-time caregiver for several hours each day. I wish I could say this was an ideal solution. Yes, we spent time together, but I wasn’t trained in the best ways to keep the mind of someone with Alzheimer’s stimulated and engaged. We watched movies together, and I made sure she ate while I was with her (and didn’t burn down the house). But I was also tired from the night shifts at my full-time job – when she wanted to nap, I never objected. I napped with her.
Although I was aware then of Valley Caregiver Resource Center as an organization, I wasn’t familiar with the services that could have helped enrich Grandma’s last few years of life.
VCRC’s OASIS Adult Day Center, along with PALS (for those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or with a mild cognitive impairment) can be better options for both the person with dementia and the family caregivers. OASIS’s Adult Day Center could have offered Grandma meaningful, stimulating activities to fill her days while allowing her to interact with other memory-impaired adults in a safe, comfortable environment. It could also have given my parents a break in caring for Grandma, and security knowing she wasn’t wandering in the neighborhood – or getting on city buses.
I am lucky to have many memories with Grandma from when I was young, when my family still lived in Ohio (we came to Fresno in 1978). When we went to Mansfield to visit family, Grandma and I had many sleepovers. She made us popcorn dripping with butter, let me drink ginger ales (still one of the only sodas I care for) and let me play with her costume jewelry at her little vanity table. She taught me to crochet, and sang me silly songs from her youth.
I am also lucky to have had time with Grandma toward the end of her life. But Alzheimer’s stole the personality and memory of the woman I loved many years before she died. She slipped farther and farther away from us. I didn’t know how to get her back.
By 2003, Grandma entered a facility that cared for Alzheimer’s patients, which remained her home until her death. When she died in early 2008, I was with her in the hospital when she took her last breath.
As I sat next to her at Kaiser, I played songs I had picked for her on my iPod. She left this world listening to “Someone to Watch Over Me.”
I like to think Grandma is watching over me, watching over all of us, from heaven. And I hope she remembers the good times we had, before Alzheimer’s took those memories away from her.
- Published in the Fall Newsletter for Valley Caregiver Resource Center. Watercolor painting by Lisa Maria Boyles.