Dear Mary Pat,
My grandmother has been in a nursing home for just about a year and during the last several months, her personality has changed drastically. Mostly due to dementia, my once sweet, wonderful, caring granny is now belligerent and says terrible things in front of me and my children. My husband doesn’t want me to bring the kids since he thinks it is too upsetting for them. I go back and forth on whether or not to bring them. I want them to remember her how she was before the dementia took over, but I don’t want to shield them from everything and be too overprotective. Before this change, my kids liked nothing better than to visit with their great-granny. They are 9, 11 and 12 and are hopefully old enough to understand. I don’t think she will be with us for much longer and this has been tearing me up.
Sturgeon Bay, Wis.
Dear Dementia Dilemma,
There is nothing more difficult than watching a loved one change or suffer through an illness or through simply getting older. Dementia seems especially cruel since it robs a person’s identity and normal personality from them.
Your kids are old enough for a frank discussion on what is happening to your grandmother and why her behavior is changing. You can tell them to disregard what comes out of her mouth now and have them remember how she was. Ask them to share some of their favorite memories of her. Maybe they would feel better if they made cards for her or wrote her a letter. If you tell them that deep down, their great-granny loves them and wants to see them, they might still want to go. Give them a little pep talk before seeing her and then talk to them afterwards to make sure they are okay. If it gets to a point where you feel that your kids are suffering from verbal abuse then they should stay home. I do hope that you will continue to visit with her, however unpleasant it may get. Sometimes just sitting next to someone and holding their hand is the greatest kindness you can extend and words aren’t necessary. If your granny feels your love for her and who she was, that is the best way to honor and care for her.