Putting people with Alzheimer’s to work, one grandma at a time

February 13, 2008 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

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My 95-year-old grandmother always bemoaned the fact that she wasn’t more active. Never mind the fact that she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease (actually, we never told her that), arthritis, blindness, deafness, gum disease, incontinence, poor balance, stroke, and constipation. “I should be helping you children,” she would say, “You work your fingers to the bone and I just sit here like a bump on a log. I could at least wash the dishes.”

For years, we told her, “No, grandmother. You’ve worked hard for years. Now it’s your turn to relax. Don’t worry. We can wash the dishes.” But she wasn’t convinced or impressed.

But what else could we do? After all, if you were looking to hire a dishwasher, you wouldn’t run a newspaper ad that said:

Experienced dishwasher
Speed not important
Applicants with visual or tactile impairments welcome
Must be able to wash dishes while leaning on a cane
Apply in person

Still, what was she doing all day long? She slept late. We would usually have to wake her for breakfast. Then we gave her a bath, if she didn’t take another nap first. Then scheduling a bath would get a little harder. She would crawl out of bed for lunch, but she might do that late too. After an afternoon nap, she would get up again in the late afternoon, which was her prime time. In the late afternoon she would drink some spiced tea (decaf, and about half milk) and eat some cookies. She would listen to the radio, or I would read to her, or she would watch television (except she couldn’t really see it). After dinner or supper (“or whatever you may call it,” she would say), we might stay up for another couple of hours but that was about all we could expect?

So what was she doing all day long? I tried to put myself in her shoes. At the end of the day, what could she be proud of having accomplished? She was passing the time, but for a woman who had been extremely active, what was she really doing?

Well, she wants to wash the dishes, I thought to myself. It’s her house, it’s her kitchen. Why not let her?

So Grandma began washing the dishes. And no, she didn’t do it with a cane in one hand. She left her cane nearby. She balanced herself in front of the sink, and grabbed onto it whenever she needed to steady herself. And yes, the dishes were usually completely clean. Because before we started, I would usually rinse off any food that was stuck on. But not always.

“Now you tell me if I’m not doing it right,” she would caution me. Sometimes I would send a plate back to her half of the sink, and I should have done it more often. Because she didn’t mind. She seemed refreshed by the opportunity to do some chores at last, and by the rare chance to work with someone who would tell her the truth. I tried not to give her the hard truth, under almost all circumstances, but maybe she would have appreciated it more than half truths.

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13 Responses to “Putting people with Alzheimer’s to work, one grandma at a time”
  1. Crystal says:

    The book “it’s not that easy” by pamela Curtis swallow is about a women who has alzhiemers disease and she hit a dog with her car even though she shoulnt be driving and her husband didn’t know she took the car until it was too late. The dog was sent to the animal hospital and on the first day of seventh grade the dogs owner Kat, couldn’t wait to visit her dog so she took someones bike. The bike was then stolen by someone else and now Kat is getting blamed for things she didn’t do. I recommend this book for all ages because any one who reads it will be touched by the excellent story of knowing right from wrong.

  2. Crystal says:


  3. Hey Ted, appreciate you stopping by. The thing is, at that stage in the game, she probably DID feel as if she had accomplished something. I used to let my mom fold laundry. Even though it was a far cry from her nursing career, at the time it kept her busy and she felt useful and that’s what it is all about in the end–keeping busy and feeling useful. Loretta

  4. So what was she doing all day long? I tried to put myself in her shoes. At the end of the day, what could she be proud of having accomplished? She was passing the time, but for a woman who had been extremely active, what was she really doing?

  5. kim says:

    What a good soul u are. In years to come when she is no longer washing the dishes she will remember what u did for her and be ur guardian angel.

  6. Debra says:

    Heartwarming and enlightening post. I’ve also read that regular exercise and mental activity helps in warding off Alzheimer’s.

  7. Barry Weber says:

    Alzheimer’s isn’t the main thing I write about at my blog, but there are 4 or 5 pieces there you may find of interest, since there are so many commonalities of this foulest of diseases.


  8. urania says:

    same my grandma…

  9. Neil Moffatt says:

    This is very illuminating. There is a story of a convent in America, I beleive where the Nuns do puzzles every day, and the incidence of Alzheimer’s is very low. Their receptionist was 99 when the artcicle was written.
    From what I have read, our mind atrophies in a very similar way to our bodies when not used. In essence, humans, like many creatures, are highly adaptive – given a lazy life, we adapt. Just because you are 95 does not mandate a lazy life!

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