This granddaughter’s open letter about Alzheimer’s will break your heart

We know many of our community has experienced the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease. This open letter was written by

We know many of our community has experienced the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

This open letter was written by a young woman from Ireland about her much loved Nana and how the disease is so much more than forgetting people’s names and faces.

The letter was published widely and shared thousands of times on social media to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s. See her brave, heartbreaking words below.

My Nana is 80 today.

She doesn’t know that because she has Alzheimer’s. She has not recognised us since the age of 72. She has not been able to speak since the age of 76.

She has not been able to feed herself since the age of 77, and she has not been able to walk since the age of 78. All of these things, she now forgets how to do.

Born in the year 1935, she had a tough life. She raised six children in a tough part of inner city Dublin, as well as running her own business. All the hardship aside, there wasn’t a person more positive or uplifting.

She took care of us when we were little. She took care of us when we were sick. She took care of us when our parents were sick. She taught me how to tie my shoelaces.

Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s is not just forgetting someone’s name, mixing up which grandchild is which, or forgetting your own age. It is much more than that, as we have experienced over the past 11 years.

Her husband passed away six years ago. Due to her condition, she could not even attend the funeral. We told her he was gone. She did not understand. She no longer knew his name, or who he was after 50 years of marriage.

It is heartbreaking to see her son embrace her, and to see nothing register on her face. She does not remember how to return a hug. She cannot say hello, and the man sitting beside her is now a stranger, no longer her child to her.

I cannot fathom how it must be to not be able to voice your thoughts or feelings. When you are ill, who is going to know? How long before anyone realises?

No longer vibrant or active, my Nana is now confined to a padded wheelchair and sometimes a padded bed with railings. She no longer has the power to keep her own head upright, and stares at the floor or ceiling on a daily basis.

With Alzheimer’s patients, there is often an aggressive stage they go through. My Nana was no different.

On one visit, I was greeted with screams and shouts as she shook in her bed. She pushed me away, all the while cursing me. I had been rejected. I was 16. I left the room teary eyed and red faced. I am her granddaughter but she does not know that. I took a few moments outside her room to catch my breath and compose myself.

Then I returned to her bedside, kissed her on the cheek, stroked her hair and held her hand. This time, I was greeted with a small faraway smile. It was like I was a completely different person to a few minutes beforehand. Because, to her, I was.

Now in these past few years, she has become a lot more relaxed and subdued. But again, with time, comes rapid deterioration. On visits, we are lucky to receive any eye contact, let alone a smile. There are good days, when we get a few seconds of eye contact every so often. She may smile, and we may even get a little giggle out of her.

Those are the great days, and the days that make it worthwhile and balance the rest. Then there are the not so good days, when for an entire hour she will make no eye contact or reaction. It’s like you have become invisible and are not there.

I like to sing, and I like to think I got that from my nana. For as long as I can remember, she always sang; in church choirs, around the house, and she had a beautiful voice. I have fond memories of being sung to sleep by her, so sometimes when I sit with her now, I sing. Not too loud so as to startle her, but lightly. For some reason, this sometimes creates eye contact. She may look up and look around for the source, and when she finds me, she locks eyes.

Other times I sing, and nothing happens. I sing to what feels like an empty room, and my voice resonates off the walls back to me, a horrible tin echo. But it is worth it for the times she hears me. She does not recognise us, and we struggle to get any reaction out of her on every visit, but it is not her fault. She does not know what she is doing or what is going on around her.

Every single day, I try to remember her the way she was. I do not want Alzheimer’s to define her. She is a person separate from the disease, even if we do not see that person anymore. Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease I wish there was a cure for, and I will never stop hoping that one is found.

Every family that goes through this, I feel deeply for. It is crushing to look at someone who cared for me when I was young and vulnerable, and see how vulnerable she has become.

There is no stopping this disease. There isn’t even a way of slowing it down for her anymore. It is too advanced and has too much control.

When someone dies, we cope by grieving. It is a loss. What do you do when you’ve lost someone, not physically, but they are no longer really there?

Today is her birthday but she does not know. I am her granddaughter but she does not know.

Has you life been touched by Alzheimer’s disease? How does this young woman’s experience relate to your own? 

  1. I hear you,,,,this was my dad,,,he was 80 when he passed away…..didn’t know me,or my children… him to bits,,,i am glad he passed,,and in a better place…i miss him every day…..💜💜💜

  2. I lost my Margaret to Alzheimers. It is a cruel disease because they in a blank world. The only consolation, if there is one, they usually pass peacefully

  3. My sister, brothers and I are very lucky as our Mum still knows us. I think we have two mums, the real lady before dementia and the lovely but feisty lady now. She is 90 now and short term memory has gone, but she still loves to laugh and is happy most the time.

  4. As I have said on this subject before – my mother had moments of clarity between weeks/months of total not knowing. Dad wouldn’t have her in a home because he never knew when those minutes would come and she would know him and herself again.

  5. My mother had some good moments too. Not always in another place. When she felt neglected and sad she made the staff call me. She was a smoker all her life and was only allowed X 2 a day in the home for safety.
    This distressed her greatly.
    It was dreadfully sad to see a woman who had done so much for others all her life succumb to depression and then dementia.
    She forgot what her grandchildren looked like.
    She got pneumonia twice and suddenly deteriorated.
    I was honoured to be with her when she died.
    We held hands and she told me I had been a wonderful daughter.
    Then she went to sleep.

  6. This young ladies letter describes my Nana’s journey through this monstrous disease. She passed at 96 and the first signs were when she was 74 following the sudden and shocking death of my Pop. Just small subtle signs at first which eventually progressed through to the state where she no longer recognized her family at all. Occasionally a fleeting smile which was gold for us. The aggressive stage was heartbreaking because she was the most gentle and loving lady throughout her life and the most wonderful Grandma. My dear Dad developed it too and to see him going through it was devastating but he passed on from other complications and we were spared those last horrible stages that he would have had to endure. Miss them both.

  7. My mother in law a strong vibrant and capable woman with an acid tongue at times, became a woman who was not able to dress herself or toilet herself finally ending in a home totally dependent on others for everything. She was one of the lucky ones she passed away very suddenly of a heart attack, a relief to all of us who saw her suffering.

  8. My father passed away recently at the age of 95 and I can relate to this but we were lucky as it wasn’t quite as bad for him. Nevertheless it is a terrible disease and caused much stress.

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