About two years ago my grandmother had a stroke due to diabetes complications. The first time I saw her after, she had no idea who anyone was. A short time after that when I was alone with her, she called me by my aunt’s name, and if I was with her and my mother, she would call me by my sister’s name. Immediately after calling me the wrong name she would say, “I know that’s not your name.” I was curious about why this was and so was the rest of my family, so we asked the nurse and she said something like this:
The stroke has shuffled up her memories, think about her brain as a filing cabinet. Things will slowly be put back in order where they were to begin with. When she first came in here she had no idea that he was her husband, and now she knows exactly who he is. A lot of the cabinets are filed under big groups, so in the case of you [that’s me]; she has you filed under youngest daughter most of the time, so she will call you her youngest daughter’s name. And when you are with your mother you are filed under the daughter of your mother, so she will call you by your sister’s name.
This helped all of my family understand the way that Grandmother was thinking when she was talking to us.
According to Alberto Maud, memory loss commonly occurs after a loss of nerve cells in the brain. People that have dementia have such severe memory loss that they can have difficulty learning new things or remembering names of people they just met. They may also get lost in places that were previously very familiar or have trouble finding words. A common type of dementia is vascular dementia, which is caused by brain damage due to strokes. Knowing this now is scary, I had no idea that my grandmother was close to having dementia; however, it does make perfect sense. She was lost a lot of the time and struggled to find words in the middle of sentences, which made her very upset. Also impairments dealing with cognition can occure after a stroke, this means mental actions and operations cannot be fully sorted out by the brain. This comes from a “lack of communication when it comes to gaining information and understanding through vital pathways—thoughts, experiences, and the senses” according to Henry Hoffman. Also Hoffman said:
“Depending on which side of the brain is most affected by a stroke, different symptoms can occur. For example, someone with a right-brain stroke can exhibit complications with problem solving. In addition, they may confuse information or muddle up the order of details of an event. For those who are left-brain impacted, there may be a significant change to their short-term memory. In this case, a survivor may have a hard time learning new things and will most likely have to be reminded of something many times.”
In the case of my grandmother, her stoke was on the left side. She had a hard time remembering what question she had already asked and so would ask multiple times; even hours after she had stopped asking she would ask again, showing that very few things got processed properly in her short-term memory. At the beginning, she could not remember who had come to see her the day before. Currently, there is no specific medical treatment that can help reverse the memory loss that occurs after a stroke. So, all my family could do was hope for the best. My grandmother had worked hard almost all of her life to stay healthy and in shape, this fact might have saved her life and mind, because the stroke only knocked her down. If she would have been in bad shape to begin with I can only imagine how hard it would have been for her to try to return to her former self. She has regained most of the files in her cabinet drawers, but there are still some bad days every once in a while. Please everyone, try to stay healthy throughout your life, so when life knocks you down, which it will, you will be ready for it.
Alberto Maud: https://n.neurology.org/content/67/8/E14
Henry Hoffman: https://www.saebo.com/blog/thinking-memory-stroke/
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