From the book
NANA, LISA, AND RUTH
KNOW YOUR NUMBERS TO KEEP YOUR MIND HEALTHY AND PREVENTALZHEIMER'S AND OTHER DISEASES OF AGING
I can never find my keys. Sometimes they show up by theeggs in the refrigerator.
I am fifty-two. Isn't that normal?
When Lisa was a young girl she adored her nana, hermother's mother. Nana and Lisa baked cookies together, played cards for hours,told silly jokes, and picked plums in Nana's backyard. Nana taught Lisa how tocan the fruit for plum jam, which they loved to share. Nana was veryoverweight, so she would hold the ladder while her granddaughter climbed theladder for the plums. On nights Lisa slept over, Nana always read to her. Lisaremembers laughing so hard that she would sometimes snort at the silly voices Nanaused when she read the stories. At night in the dark they promised each otherto always be best friends. Lisa loved snuggling into Nana's body, which wasever so soft. She felt unconditional love in Nana's presence, which was one ofthe best feelings she remembered from her childhood.
Then, when Lisa was about twelve years old, somethingstarted to change. At first, it was barely noticeable. Nana seemed lessinterested in their time together. There were no more jokes, fewer stories, andNana said she was too tired to play games or pick plums. Nana was also moreirritable with Lisa, even sometimes yelling at her for what seemed like noreason at all. Lisa was devastated, but Nana did not pick up on the social cuesthat should have told her that her granddaughter needed soothing. Lisaremembers this as one of the saddest, most confusing times in her life. Shewondered if she had done something to make Nana mad. "What's wrong withNana?" Lisa would ask her mother, but time and again her mother would say,"Don't worry. Nana is fine." This only deepened Lisa's pain andconfusion. Maybe she really was the problem and Nana had just stopped lovingher.
Her grandmother was sixty-five years old when Lisanoticed the changes. Around this time, Nana had been diagnosed with diabetesand high blood pressure. Lisa remembered watching Nana take her pills and hershots to feel better, but no one seemed overly concerned about her health.
When Lisa was fourteen, Nana took a dramatic turn for theworse. With Lisa in the car, Nana got lost on the way home from the store. Nanapanicked and stopped a man who was walking across the street to ask for help,but she could not tell him where she lived. She appeared frightened andconfused, like a child. Lisa asked the man to call her grandfather, who came topick them up.
Once they got home Lisa cornered her mother. "Look,Mom, I know something is really wrong with Nana. Her brain isn't working right.She needs help." Still, the family continued making excuses, normalizingwhat was obviously not normal behavior. Looking back on this time, as an adult,Lisa remembers being furious, feeling she was, even as a young teen, the lonevoice of reason shouting into a bitter wind. After Nana got lost several moretimes, the family finally was concerned enough to take her to a doctor whodiagnosed her with something called senile dementia. He recommended Nana livein a nursing home for people with memory problems.
Gone were the happy warm feelings she once enjoyed whenshe visited her grandmother. The nursing home where she now lived smelled"medical" and felt cold, and Lisa felt odd and afraid in it. Shenever knew which Nana she'd find on these visits: Sometimes Nana smiled whenshe saw Lisa; sometimes she did not recognize her at all. Sometimes when Lisaread to Nana she seemed engaged and happy, other times her grandmother...