The Daunting Demeanor of Dementia

Nana & Grampa

Nana and Grandpa at the lake (1957).

They met on the lake one summer when they were 13. He was a young spry boy who saw what he was looking for. She was a young doe-eyed girl. Call it what you may: fate, destiny, love at first sight, they were meant to be together from that moment on.

I could tell you this story over and over again because I know it off by heart. It is the same story my grandmother has been telling me since I was a little girl. “Your grandfather was a sly young man,” she would say. It is the story that made me believe that finding love could be that simple, that spontaneous.

Now, three kids, five grandchildren and 64-colourful-years later, that story has changed slightly. That same man she fell in love with on the lake that summer, has, in her opinion, become a different figure in her life, a darker figure.

My Nana is a very special woman. Her humour and her wit never cease to amaze me. When she smiles, the gleam in her eyes shine bright. And when she hugs me, she makes sure to give an extra squeeze, just to let you know she cares. My Nana is a woman of incredible means and my Nana has dementia.

She has become forgetful, repetitive, disorganized, and unable to recognize the days of the week. Her memory has become her worst enemy. Her skepticism now overshadows her once artsy and creative demeanor. Her spontaneity consists of sitting and waiting – waiting for what, I don’t know. 

Dementia is one of the major causes of disability in later life and is the leading cause of dependency and disability among older people. Most of all, it has grown substantially over the last decade as a worldwide issue, and has become the focus of many studies to understand the intricacies of this brain degenerative disease.

Alzheimer’s is one of the most common forms of dementia. Roughly 747, 000 Canadians are living with cognitive impairments, including dementia, and this number is expected to double to 1.4 million by 2031, according to a study commissioned by the Alzheimer Society of Canada in October 2012.

According to the Alzheimer Society, “the combined direct (medical) and indirect (lost earnings) costs of dementia total $33 billion per year. By 2040, this figure is expected to skyrocket to $293 billion per year.”

Now, a more recent study, Rising Tide: The Impact of Dementia on Canadian Society, conducted by RiskAnalytica, has discovered that the number of dementia cases has been increasing. Since 2008 103,700 new dementia cases were diagnosed each year (that’s one new case every five minutes), and it’s expected that by 2038, there will be an extreme increase of 257,800 new dementia cases per year (one new case every two minutes). “The annual total economic burden is expected to increase substantially from $15 billion in 2008 to $153 billion by the year 2038.”

Increases in dementia underscore the importance of finding a treatment.  Extensive research on the brain and its intricate functions is being conducted daily. Efforts to create a drug that may one-day reverse the effects of dementia illnesses are in the process of being developed. In the meantime, care giving facilities offer services that encourage physical and social activity, and do their best to help delay the onset of symptoms by providing engaging atmospheres, and caring for those who can no longer care for themselves.

There may not currently be a cure, but I know that my Nana will always be my Nana. Although she may not remember at times, I will always see her as the mother who cares for her children, the wife who loves her husband and the grandmother who always holds a keen interest in her grandchildren and their lives. And I will never forget, nor will I ever get tired of her asking me, “Do you know how your grandfather and I met?”

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