TIME Magazine devoted coverage to Ronald Reagan in celebration of what would have been his 100th birthday. In a special piece by his daughter, Patti Davis, she recalls walks with her father. Neighbors and passersby would address him as “Mr. President” and ask how he was doing. The former president would question if he knew the friendly people and how they knew him. By that time, Reagan’s Alzheimer’s had erased any memories he had of his time in the presidency.
I’m seeing the effects of Alzheimer’s firsthand with my great aunt Stephanie. She’s 93 and after forgetting for the last few years, she is losing her memory of relatives and the present. After my grandma passed away Auntie Steph was like a stand in grandma for me. I’ve written about how swell my grandma was – I was so appreciate of her sister taking me under her wing. During college Aunt Steph was my pen pal, sending me notes (with $5!) about her days, sharing stories about her time in school and asking how I liked my classes. It sounds simple, but amidst everything going on in my life I looked forward to receiving these notes and continuing our correspondence.
Because of the difficulty in dealing with Alzheimer’s I wanted to share suggestions for how I handle it and ask for your insights.
Don’t get frustrated. Listen to the stories. Listen to them again. And then a few times more. Getting frustrated and upset will not help the situation. Stay calm and continue to listen.
Help them remember. I created a calendar with photos for Auntie Steph. When I would visit we’d talk through each of the faces. Some she would remember, some she would not. Either way it would always lead us to a discussion.
Enjoy the memories. I’ve heard the story about Auntie Steph meeting her “little dago” dozens of times and I’m happy to hear it again. Wanting to remember these stories has given me the idea to create a video. If she has a hard time participating in an interview, I’ll look to Aunt Steph’s siblings to fill in the gaps.
Have you dealt with this disease in your family? If so, how have you coped?