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Teen Talk: Personal touch works best when visiting grandma with dementia

Published: Tuesday, May. 28, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3D
Last Modified: Tuesday, May. 28, 2013 - 12:10 am

DEAR KELLY: My grandma was recently put into a home because she couldn't live alone anymore and has dementia. It's so sad and I hate seeing her there, but my parents say it's the best thing for her.

I hate going there because she always tells me that she wants to go home, and my parents won't bring her home because they say it's not safe for her to be alone. I offered to go live with her so she could go home, but my parents said no because I'm still in high school and she needs more care.

What do I do? I feel so sad for my grandma. I want to go visit, but it's so hard to see her somewhere she doesn't want to be and with people she doesn't know. I visit with my mom but I hate it and cry every time I leave.

Any advice on this? I know it's not something related to teen issues, but I just need some help.

– JM

DEAR JM: It is absolutely a teenage issue because there are many more teens out there who are probably in the same situation. You are not alone with your circumstances, nor are you alone with your confusing feelings.

Let's start with the positive. You sound like a very sweet and compassionate teenager. Your concerns for your grandmother are endearing and you seem kind-hearted to be so aware of her sadness and to offer to move in to help her. Your ability to be empathic to others is an admirable trait.

I'm guessing she is having memory issues that have forced your parents to move her somewhere that she can have around-the-clock care to be sure she is safe. As a teenager, having to take care of your grandmother would be a really big job and there might be some medical issues that means she needs be somewhere with a level of care she can't get at home.

What kinds of things can your grandmother still do that bring her joy? Can you bring old music she enjoys and listen to it with her? Or does she crochet or knit? Is there anything simple that doesn't involve a lot of intense thinking that you can do with her? Find something she enjoys to do together and make it a habit to do it whenever you visit.

Other ideas might be to paint her fingernails, bring a photo album to look at pictures even if she can't remember who everyone is, bring her favorite treat to eat, bring some good smelling lotion and rub her arms and feet, bring in different flowers and have her help you put them in a vase or brush her hair if she enjoys that.

While it still might be difficult visiting there, doing something with her actively will help you feel more connected to her and make the time not seem as awkward.

Ask the home where she is what's a good time to visit. Make sure it's not during a meal time so you aren't visiting when she is hungry or too tired. If she seems extra grouchy or unhappy, ask her if there is anything you can do to make her more comfortable.

If she tells you she just wants to go home, give her a hug and just let her know that you love her and she is not alone. Expressive touch like holding her, rubbing her back or giving her a hug will help her feel supported and not as isolated as she adjusts to her new home.

Doing something new or different always takes time to adjust. The more you go visit your grandmother, the more comfortable the surroundings will become.

Get to know the workers and familiarize yourself with places to walk with her or push her around if she is unable to walk. Decorate your grandmother's room so it feels warm and inviting. Make sure you go visit with small and simple expectations. If your grandmother can't remember certain things or has moments of being sad or irritated, be understanding of her moods and compassionate to her struggles.

If long visits seem too much for her, just visit her often but in short intervals.

You are right to feel whatever you do. Grieving the loss of your grandmother as she was before is normal. Use the time you have now with her to remind her of how much you love her, how grateful you are for all she has done for you and that she is not alone. Remind yourself she is doing the best she can and try to avoid being frustrated with her.

When you visit her, remember that the person before you has had a life rich with history, experience, relationships, skills, hopes and dreams.

Write to Kelly Richardson at Teen Talk, The Sacramento Bee, P.O. Box 15880, Sacramento, CA 95852, or email

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