Mad As A Wet Hen



Every morning Gran combs her long white locks with intensity as she looks on in the mirror. She prides herself on her naturally curly hair, so much so, that she reminds me of the Peanuts character who is concerned Pigpen’s dirt will take the curl out her naturally curly hair.

I’ll interrupt her brushing routine daily because I some time to get ready too. “You don’t need to brush your hair so much. You’re going to be bald like your mother.”

She ignores me and goes right on combing. “You got any hairspray?”

“No. You don’t need hairspray.”

“Honey, if I spray it, it’ll stay in place all day,” she replies, getting in my face.

“It needs to be washed,” I retort. She goes back to combing.

Finally, she answers me. “It don’t need washed. Look at your hair! Do you ever comb it!?”

“Well, I can’t get in the bathroom to do so.”

“Maybe if you’d look in a mirror, you could see and do it properly.”


I’m not an expert on Alzheimer’s/dementia, but I still say one of the first signs of someone with the disease is they don’t want to wash their hair. “It’s too cold” —“I’ll do it later”—“I just washed it.” Whatever the excuse is, their refusal to wash their hair is a sign of something more troublesome. Now, I went through a crunchy, hippy, hiker phase and have also tried to join the no poo movement, but those were just phases. Dementia isn’t contagious….at least, I’m 85% positive it isn’t.

So how can you get your loved one to wash their hair? My first suggestion is to make it part of their routine by scheduling weekly hair appointments. If they are stubborn, yet agile, like my grandmother and storm out of the Great Clips, or wherever it is you have taken them, you can try to do it yourself. Just cast your self-esteem aside and prepare to get at least elbow deep into this project. Trust me, I have washed my dogs with less fuss.

And do hens really get mad when they’re wet? I’m not sure. But grannies sure do.







Peeled Grapes and Potato Chips

img004grapesI used to be an elementary school teacher and one of the things I disliked was lunch duty simply because I think little children are gross eaters. They pick apart pieces of food and use their fingers for everything. Lunch duty=wet fingers stuck with unidentified crumbs. Flash forward ten years and my grandmother has adopted many similar eating habits. Mostly, I try to ignore her while we eat, which proves to be impossible at times because I spend most every meal with her.

These habits also seemed to have changed over night. One day she refused to eat the skins of the cucumbers in her salad–“I don’t eat the skins,” she said, as she chewed a hole in the center of each piece. Immediately after this declaration she grabbed a piece of fried shrimp and popped it in, tail and all.

“You’re not supposed to eat the tail,” I pointed out.

“Yes you can! They’re good for you!”

“Oh well. Guess it won’t hurt you.”

And that’s my attitude about this entire transformation: if she’s not hurting herself or anybody else, she can eat her food any way she pleases, as long as I don’t have to bare witness.

It’s hard not to watch though. Recently, we were visiting her sister Marge, and Gran was chowing down vigorously on potato chips when she took a large rippled chip, swirled it around in her coffee a bit and ate it. I just observed, mesmerized by the whole thing. Two minutes later I looked over again and she was peeling her grapes and piling up the skins on her plate.

So how do you peel a grape, you ask?

Very carefully.


Flirty Gerty and The Rookie’s Challenge

In some ways dementia reminds me of Benjamin Buttons–the reverting to adolescence or childhood. 

Gran knows she’s 83, only she doesn’t. Why should she? She’s limber and agile and her hormones are in full flare. One time I was backing out of her driveway and she made me hurry up so she could wave at the neighbor guy who was getting the mail. I told her the neighbor guy was like 40 and she told me, “I don’t care.”

So this one day at church she told me she wanted to hug this man who was clear on the other side of the sanctuary and she took off. I don’t know if I expected her to ask for my permission or what–she certainly didn’t intend to–but I was genuinely shocked for a full 30 seconds.

This wasn’t my first run in with one of her run-by- flirtings, but it still surprised me. It’s like every day is a rookie day, and I guess they should be treated as such: know what you’re up against, but even then, anything will happen. 

The Beginning Signs: “See My Finger, See My Thumb…”

There isn’t a definitive moment for Gran’s onset of dementia, but one thing that was a major change was her use of the middle finger. This was coupled with her gradual retrograde toward childhood. She started using the children’s rhyme “see my finger, see my thumb, see my fist you better run” and substituting her middle finger for her index finger. Anytime she would get mad, “see my finger…” was there to save her. It was always used when she was upset about something then eventually the middle finger came out more often. If there was a timeline to measure this regression, I think you would find that it would show that the more she flipped the bird, the more commonplace the middle finger became in our days. The initial shock dispelled. This is why this gesture is at the forefront of this blog. It’s a reminder of the drastic changes our loved ones go through and it is also present as an expression of my attitudes toward the disease.

So let’s raise it: to dementia.

Meet Gran

Gran is my paternal grandmother, who until recently lived with her boyfriend in her house which is about 10 miles away. I have always been close to her, but I am even learning things about her now that her dementia has set in.

Some things to know about Gran:

  • She’s close to her sister Marge, who lives next door.
  • Her long-term memory is strong, but she only remembers new things for about 5 minutes—unless it pisses her off.
  • Gran loves Sudoku and can finish a puzzle in minutes.
  • She’s 83 but I place her current mental age as somewhere between 8-21 years old.
  • Her youngest son was killed in a mill accident in 1999, so only my dad is left to look after her.
  • While she still has her moments, dementia turned her from a sweet, soft-spoken lady to a foul mouthed, middle-finger wielding granny.
  • She has tons of energy. Tons!

Thanks for stopping by to visit us. I’ll share stories and comics weekly.





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