The day that grandmother lost her buttons
By BELINDA SCOTT
A BOX of buttons provides a sad symbol of the way dementia pulls apart families and piles burdens on partners and social services.
Over 10 years Coffs Harbour woman Ellen (not her real name) saw her family fade from her beloved grandmother's mind as dementia took hold.
"It is a heartbreaking thing for an Italian family to have to put their grandmother in a nursing home," Ellen said.
The family first began to notice that their grandmother was forgetting appointments and people's names. She began to argue that someone had hidden her saucepans.
When she rang the police because her box of buttons had gone missing, her family was mortified.
"But the police said they get that all the time," Ellen said. "She would ask where my grand- father was, even though he had been dead for 10 years.
"She went to my wedding, but the next day she could not remember whose wedding it was.
"Then we had to switch off the oven, the stove, all the electrical appliances. She forgot how to use a toaster and a kettle.
"We would take her breakfast and tea and she was getting Meals on Wheels ? but then she would forget to put out the Esky for Meals on Wheels.
"Then she forgot to answer the door."
Eight years after her grandmother began showing the symptoms of Alzheimers disease, the family had to place her in the dementia unit of a Coffs Harbour nursing home. She can recall incidents 50 years ago, but forgets what happened five minutes ago. An otherwise healthy 76-year-old, she may remain a nursing home resident for 10 years.