This blog post was written by AutumnGrove’s Development Officer, Katie Neason, about her grandmother Memaw.
We all have personality quarks and pet peeves that make us who we are. The smallest things can trigger a range of emotions either making us smile or ticking us off. Those suffering from dementia are no different even though they may no longer be able to communicate those quarks and details. Knowing their personality can avoid a time of agitation or allow you to connect with them and provide a joyful feeling, even if only in that moment.
My grandmother (Memaw) battles dementia. As we have journeyed down this path together, I have experienced the power of knowing her personality. During the early stages of Alzheimer’s, she would spend the night with me regularly. She enjoyed being with family but she insisted on helping around the house so she was not a “burden”. She would often fold clothes while we watched television or visited. It was difficult to have a guest in our home do chores, but it made her genuinely happy.
My Memaw loves coffee and has enjoyed a cup everyday of her life for as long as I have known her. The first time she stayed with us, I made her a big ‘ole mug of coffee to enjoy on the back patio as we watched the horses run around in the pasture. However after she awkwardly took one drink she said, “that chokes me”. I assumed she didn’t like my brand of coffee. I did not think much more about it until we were all gathered at my parents’ house and my Memaw was enjoying a cup of Foldgers Classic. The same brand of coffee I made her at my house! I explained what happened to my mother and she asked, “what kind of cup did you put it in?” “A big ‘ole coffee mug”, I replied. She said, “that was your problem. Memaw only likes to drink coffee from china. Small cups, thin glass and dainty handles. Otherwise she says it chokes her.” Ah ha! That is exactly what she told me. I did not know this quirk about Memaw and she is my grandmother! She knew she did not like the coffee but she was unable to communicate to me why. The knowledge of this detail was the difference in her enjoying something she has done everyday most of her life and not. Know what makes your loved one “tick” and use that to celebrate who they are. Do not mistake an inability to communicate or physically express happiness as a void of feelings on the inside. And be sure, if your loved one is being looked after by caregivers, you share with them the smallest details that make your loved one tick.