My grandmother was widowed at fifty-eight. She learned to drive — proudly, badly — when she was sixty. Grandma tended a vegetable garden, fretted over her roses, played bridge with friends, and watched “As the world turns” religiously. She managed well enough on her own for fifteen years or so with help from my dad and his sister.
Then grandma began to talk endlessly about “lime lighters.” No one knew what she meant. She’d always been a little bit ditzy, but by the time she reached her eighties, she didn’t know any of the family, she tried several times to grind up her sneakers in the garbage disposal, and, obviously, she could no longer live on her own, much less drive the car she was so proud of. Dad sneaked her car away in the night, parked his own car in her garage, and told her he’d bought her a new one.
She never questioned him, nor asked for the keys.
The doctor said she was senile.
Grandma was in a nursing home when she died of “old age” according to her obituary. She was ninety-eight.
For days, weeks, I’ve been searching for simple definitions of senility, dementia, and the way Alzheimer’s Disease fits into the puzzle. Medical experts don’t even agree necessarily.
When I found the quote below on “Yahoo! answers” it was exactly what I’d been looking for: simple, easy-to-understand, and written by someone with professional and personal experience. His answer:
Senility is an old-fashionied word for dementia. Dementia is progressive loss of cognition or mental faculties due to damage of brain tissue, and is often associated with aging. Not everyone who has dementia is elderly, and some elderly people have memory loss that does not meet the full criteria for true dementia. My [the writer’s] mother had dementia, [and] it got to where she didn’t even know who my father was. She used to be a nurse, [and] when she was taken to the nursing home she thought she was working there.
Header photo: “Knock Out” rose flourishes in our garden.
2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist.