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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Grandma's needs strengthens love

 •  Teens reflect on agony caused by Alzheimer's
 •  Stricken family members deserve loving care
 •  Woman we relied on disappeared

By Natalie Childs
Molokai Christian Academy, Grade 12

'Through My Eyes'

I was 10 when my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1996, and I did not fully understand the changes that she was going through. By the time I was old enough to understand, my grandmother was already showing signs of the disease.

My recollections of growing up were often of seeing her angry and paranoid. Living with her has been very difficult at times because of her constant mood swings and spells of confusion. There are times when the smallest thing can send her into a rage, cursing or trying to hit me; then the next moment she is happy, leaving me still angry at her for swearing or trying to hit me for no reason. Living with someone who has Alzheimer's brings you face to face with the disease and has given me a better understanding of it.

Pleasantly spending time together with my family is rare because often someone will get frustrated at something grandmother could not help doing. In many ways, however, the disease has helped to strengthen our love and support for each other as a family.

Watching "The Forgetting" gave me a glimpse of what Alzheimer's does to the brain and how scientists are working hard to find a cure. It also allowed me to see that the disease is widespread, and how each situation is so different from my family's, but yet the same.

The most important lesson I learned from watching "The Forgetting" is that the way to overcome this ordeal is through the love and support of family. Watching "The Forgetting" helped changed the way I respond to my grandmother's mood swings. Before, she would easily frustrate me. I now try to exercise a little more patience.

In order to help my family, I volunteer to help with my grandmother when we are unable to have an aide come in and care for her. This helps take some of the burden off of my mom. I help to entertain my grandmother by playing catch, reminiscing of times I would hear her say "catch, Natalie" and we would laugh together as I caught the ball; only now I am tossing her the ball and saying, "Catch, Grandma."

My grandmother also loves to dance the hula. I will put on some Hawaiian music and we will dance together, and I remember when she loved to teach me how to dance.

She still moves gracefully. Her hands can no longer tell the "hula story," but we laugh and dance together anyway. These activities help lift her spirits and keep her from pacing around the house and getting irritable, even if only momentarily.

My grandmother will never get better, so I feel it is important to enjoy the time I have left with her. Even though she does not remember me, I know I will remember her, because she has had a big part in making me who I am today.