The Embarrassment of Alzheimer’s

Yesterday morning when I was at one of the two parks I frequent to walk Polo, I ran into a lady named Pat, who I often see there with her dog Apollo and we started our usual chat and catch up while Mom who loves dogs was being amused with Polo and Apollo.

We started talking about Alzheimer’s, she has a friend whose mom has it and how days can be challenging. I don’t exactly know how I got onto the topic of embarrassment, but I know it started when I was speaking about my grandmother, my mom’s mom, who I called Nana Reid. Oh I recall she asked at what age did my grandmother get Alzheimer’s and I told Pat I really don’t know. I gather it was some time when I was 10, 11 or 12. I remember one day she was fine, next thing I know my grandmother wasn’t communicating much, when she did speak everything was sing songy. We lived in a 2 family house, she lived upstairs, and when she started the banging phase, oh my. Looking back I remember my mother having to go up and put her in bed, a few times, but I also remember the embarrassment I felt whenever company was around.

When you’re young, you don’t fully understand what’s going on. I knew my grandmother had Alzheimer’s, that she couldn’t remember anything and I hoped when friends came over that she wouldn’t “act up.”

Being a caregiver, I often reflect on how hard it must have been for my mom to see her mother going through this change. And I know it was harder for her than for me, because my mother was a very sensitive person. But I remembered when my mom started going through her changes, I sensed that feeling of embarrassment seeping back in. As caregivers you want to protect your loved one, I know I was always at the ready when my mom would say something in case it sounded crazy and I would be there to fix or override what she said.

When I started noticing this behavior within me, I had to tell myself to stop doing that. As I said to Pat, I’ve found more people are understanding than I thought. Most people can figure it out and treat her with no less shame, then why should I. Eventually that feeling of embarrassment left me. With so much to attend to and take care of, I couldn’t put any more energy into feeling embarrassed.

It’s hard to believe sometimes that not too long ago, the person I see who’s forgetting her friends and family, who struggles to explain what’s in her mind and who at times goes around looking for me, while looking at me, is the same person who taught me how to bake from scratch, would never forget her anniversary or other dates, especially when it pertained to my dad, and made my life growing up wonderful.

Caregivers often can’t help but feel the need to protect and shield our loved ones from other people’s perceptions, but I say to anyone caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or Dementia; that it’s hard to protect them from everything, and know if they were in their right state of mind they would never want to knowingly embarrass you. Alzheimer’s is an illness that brings upon change they can’t help, try your best not to be embarrassed, but if you are know that this too shall pass.

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