Wisdom from our elders
Should Mom take kids to see Grandma or let them remember her as she was?
Dear GrandPad: My mom’s had Alzheimer’s for many years and lives in her apartment with help from in-home health. We’ve been fortunate to have gotten good care for her throughout the pandemic but of course, her disease has progressed. I have young children who haven’t seen their grandma in person all year, so now that the adults are vaccinated, I’d like to take them to visit her on Mother’s Day. We would visit outside with the kids mostly distanced just to be extra safe. I understand that Mom probably won’t recognize the kids, but since they are the only young people she knows, I’m hoping for a miracle. Whether or not she knows them, part of me feels that taking them to see her is the right thing to do. The other part says, no, I want them to remember her as she was before her mind was so damaged. It seems like either way they lose something but Mom gains if they go. What do you advise? – AR
Dear AR: We’re sorry that your mom’s health is declining. Each situation is unique, so we agree that this a difficult decision. There’s no right or wrong answer.
We do lean toward your taking them, though, because we feel that seeing these young people would be good for your mom. As we’ve said to others, a loved one with significantly advanced dementia may not be able to find the words to place the visitors, but she will know them in her heart. Mother’s Day is a nice time to visit anyway, but it also presents the opportunity to bring cards from each person there and even other family members not present. Later, the caregivers could show your mom the cards and say, “This is from your grandson, Todd,” or “This is from your daughter, Audrey.” Doing so would extend her enjoyment long afterward.
You know your kids’ temperaments best. If you’ve kept them informed about their Grandma’s illness throughout this year of isolation and helped educate them about Alzheimer’s disease, they may benefit as well. If you haven’t kept them informed in detail, now is the time to prepare them. They need to be told that Grandma’s unlikely to place them appropriately in the family but that doesn’t take away from her love for them. They will notice that she’s more forgetful than they remembered, but since you’ve prepared them, they will accept this. Alternately, she may be so delighted to see them that she will perk up and as you’ve implied, she might even be able to place them. While unlikely, this kind of recognition does occasionally happen.
We understand your feeling of wanting the children to remember their grandma as she was before she developed dementia and even as she was before her dementia got so advanced. That is only human. For most children, though, going to see their grandparents even after such drastic changes is probably the right thing to do. We'd love to hear how it went!