'People with Alzheimer's are there. They feel things.'

By Daniela Coelho

Daniela Coelho

I was 18 when my grandmother Rosa Gouveia was diagnosed, and never forgot this.

Even when Alzheimer's took her ability to speak, my grandmother was able to communicate with those around her.

Sometimes she did it with a loving look. Other times, she would bang on the table to show her displeasure at something, or push away food that she didn't want.

Over the nine years that my grandmother lived with Alzheimer's disease, I always made sure to return that loving look. Knowing that my grandmother was "still there" helped me understand why she would often become angry if she saw me crying. She was frustrated that she couldn't comfort me. The instinct of consoling someone was still there.

Our deep bond meant that I was prepared to do whatever was necessary to console my grandmother, too. When she first moved to a long-term care home from the Toronto house we shared, she would panic if she couldn't see me. So, I slept on the floor beside her bed for a week.

I was so happy when the staff discovered a way to comfort her when she was especially anxious. She was a ridiculously good sewer. If she couldn't settle, they'd give her a piece of cloth and she'd have it on her lap and she would calm down a bit.

But what I find fascinating about the disease is that out of the blue, Alzheimer's will disappear and the person they are will come through.

Near the end of my grandmother's life, I waited for and savoured those moments when she seemed to "come back." Something in her eyes would change. She had been momentarily restored.

Life doesn't end when Alzheimer's begins. Learn how to be there for those who are #StillHere ►