Grandpa is Losing It: Teens and Dementia

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00071]By Laurel Garver

My new young adult novel Almost There  focuses on the complications that arise for a teenager when a grandparent’s health problems blow one’s grand plans to bits. Dani is about to take a dream trip to Paris when her grandfather suffers a series of strokes that cause permanent brain damage—vascular dementia, the second most common type of dementia.

As health care costs continue to escalate, many families have to consider the very difficult choices that Dani’s family does—do you sell a grandparent’s home that’s too big, try to make special (cheaper) home care arrangements, or uproot the younger generation and move back in with grandpa? Thus some of my motivation in writing about grandparent issues was  to give kids who are dealing with this now a sense that they aren’t alone.

I also wanted to write about how family dynamics can shift drastically when a grandparent becomes impaired. When I was a teenager, I watched my rather nasty-tempered grandmother lose her memory—and interestingly, her nastiness as well. My mom’s best years with her mother were when Grandma was most in decline. So I also wanted to explore how dementia can become an opportunity for adult children and teenage grandchildren to relate differently to someone who always held a lot of negative sway over a family.

When a tyrannical grandparent loses his or her ability to bully and instead becomes dependent, the power dynamics shift. The adult children in my story, Dani’s mother and uncle, begin to come into their own in a way they couldn’t when their father’s narcissism had dictated that Grace always be the scapegoat and David, the “golden child.” David finds the space to be more fully adult when not coddled, and Grace, when no longer blamed, begins to own her own desires, rather than always yield to others’ desires. Dementia for this family is a mixed blessing, enabling very damaged and damaging relationships to begin to move toward a better place.

It was somewhat easier to write about my own experiences watching a grandparent’s decline become a blessing when I could filter that experience though fictional characters. Most teenagers won’t try to grab the reins and steer family actions and decisions like Dani does, but they might consider it. So I hope readers will learn from her mistakes and unwise attempts to be “helpful,” and do better at communicating with parents in situations like this. Crises like a grandparent’s dementia don’t have to be the end of the world. In fact, they can be a whole new beginning.

laurel garver photoAbout the Author

Laurel Garver is a Philadelphia-based writer, editor, professor’s wife and mom to an arty teenager. An indie film enthusiast and incurable Anglophile, she enjoys reading, playing word games, singing in church choir, and taking long walks in Philly’s Fairmount Park.

Connect with Laurel Garver  Blog   Facebook   Twitter

About Almost There

Seventeen-year-old Dani Deane is certain a magical trip to Paris will cure her widowed mother’s depression. But when Dani’s tyrannical grandfather falls ill, they must go to rural Pennsylvania to deal with his hoarder horror of a house. In the midst of crisis, can Dani trust God to bring hope and healing?

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