In November 2014, my Grandpa was diagnosed with dementia. The month before, my mom, brother and I went to visit my grandparents in Scotland and we spent two very special weeks with them. I had recently gotten engaged and it was a holiday filled with happiness and celebration. It is a holiday that I treasure and I hold on to those memories so tightly. It was the last time we were all in Scotland together and the last time I saw my Grandparents together. It was also the last time my Grandpa knew who we all were.
His onset of dementia was incredibly quick. He would often mix up our names (he would call me by my mom’s name and visa versa) and he would get confused about the days of the week or what we had done that day. But after a bad fall shortly after we left, he didn’t recognise my Granny anymore. For all of us and especially my Granny, this was heartbreaking.
The term dementia describes a deterioration over time of a variety of brain functions which can lead to problems with memory, recognising people, personality and effective language usage. Dr Johan Smuts, a neurologist, explained that the human brain works like a serious of pathways that connect to memories. As people get older, the pathways begin to get more complicated, making it increasingly difficult to recall something. There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to Alzhiemers diesese but it is thought that maintiaing a healthy lifestyle which includes exercise, a healthy diet and social interaction can improve cognitive function.
There are no available treatments that stop or reverse the progression of the disease. There is increased interest in developing and understanding methods to prevent, slow, or reverse the cognitive decline that may occur in normal healthy older adults. A recent study found learning new things and challenging the brain could help to prevent dementia. Puzzle and problem solving are proving to be integral to brain health throughout our lifetimes and recent studies have also shown that even in older individuals, regularly solving puzzles slows down cognitive decline and neurological risks considerably.
After a few months in hospital, my Grandpa was settled into a beautiful care home specializing in caring for patients with dementia. They do incredible work with their patients, helping to limit the rate of cognitive decline and helping them to retain some of their dignity. My Grandpa had a sign on his door reminding him of who he was, what he enjoyed and who is wife was. They did painting and puzzles, drew pictures and listened to music. My Granny made a memory book for him which she filled with photographs from when he was young, where he grew up and all of his family members. He had a few lucid moments where he recognized my Granny and on my mom’s very last visit, he recognized her too. He had good days and bad days, days where he was funny and entertaining and days when he was incredibly agitated and unpleasant. It was an incredibly emotionally taxing journey and my gran visited him every week, twice a week right up until she passed away – and he passed away exactly one month later, to the day. While no one told him that she had passed away, I truly believe he knew she was gone and that it was time to join her.
World Alzheimer’s Day is commemorated on 21 September of every year. Cipla has started the #SavingMemories campaign to raise awareness about dementia and I am honoured to be part of this incredible and unique campaign. Cipla has launched a microsite which is filled with educational information about the disease but the really special part about this campaign is the option for families to upload a memorable photograph to be turned into a puzzle and delivered for free (limited quantities available). This is a beautiful gift to give to an aging relative or to a patient who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in order to both bring back a memory and engage in a problem solving activity. Go to https://www.cipla.co.za/alzheimers/ for more information about Alzheimer’s, upload your photograph and preserve these treasured memories.