I Interviewed My Grandma, Who Has Dementia

Photo by Boingyman

If I smile and use a nice tone while I call my dog a jaded little cunt, he’ll still wag his tail, bounce around the room and piss pure euphoria all over the carpet. It’s kind of the same when I talk to my Grandma. She lost the last of her cognitive ability somewhere between taking me to a pet shop and calling it a zoo and using fly spray to grease the muffin tray circa 2009. I love her to bits though and if I could take all her mental ailments away, I would do so in one ectopic heartbeat. She still smiles and asks me how my ‘internet writing’ is going, which we usually discuss over a nice (terrible) warm (cold) cup (jar) of coffee. She also shows me photo albums of when I was an ugly, fat baby, though once we just spent two hours flicking through a Myer catalog while she grew increasingly confused.

Her disconnect with modern media means she’s totally fascinated by anything more complex than a mobile phone. While wondering what the hell I was going to write about next, I thought it might be cool to interview her via Skype. She absolutely loved this idea, because to her being on a website that people visited was indistinguishable from being famous, so my lovely Gran kind of viewed this as her ‘big break’.

Facilitating the Skype call was harder than I originally anticipated. After spending 25 minutes explaining how to pronounce Skype, it took me a further 45 minutes to correctly convey how it all worked. Questions like “how will you be in the computer?” and “what TV channel will this be on?” were only trumped by her adamant concern that this was “one of those internet scams” she’d seen on A Current Affair. Thankfully, I eventually proved to her this wasn’t an elaborate ploy to siphon out her $80 a week pension. By this stage, she was so damn excited.

Hey Grandma! Can you hear me? Can you see me? Is the picture fine?
Oh hi love. I can. Isn’t this fancy!

It sure is. You’re looking at your keyboard but. Look up toward the screen.
(looks at the ceiling)

Never mind! How are you Grandma?
Not at all, dear! (laughs)

We’re off to a great start! I’ve missed you, Gran. What have you been up to?
It feels like a year! Nothing exciting on my end. Have you put on weight?

I guess so. I’m glad you noticed. You seem to have lost some Grandma!
What have I lost?

Wait for what?

Never mind. How’s the nursing home going?
I hate it here. They think there is a peeping tom in the complex. He’s been looking at everyone through the blinds and Dylan the groundskeeper is trying to catch him. Dylan is such a lovely man. I’m going to bake him some cookies later today. Dylan is a kind man and apparently there is a peeping tom he’s going to catch. He’s been looking at everyone through the blinds!

Are you serious? That’s terrible. I hate the thought of you not being safe in there! Do you think they’ll catch him?
I bloody well hope so, dear.

So do I. Tell me what’s new Gran. I love your floral top!
It’s not floral.

Whoops. So, tell me what’s new.
I’m not allowed to go for walks on my own anymore. They think I’ve become a risk because I didn’t make curfew on our last outing. I got lost in the shopping center. Shopping centers are bigger than they used to be. After I got lost they got worried about me but I was fine, just lost. Everyone gets lost. Fran from across the way got lost for three days once.

Are you kidding me? Someone was lost for three days?
Yes. Fran.

Where the hell was she?
No one knew. That’s why she was lost. That’s what lost means.

(Laughs) I guess you’re right. What do you think of Skype?
What’s Skype?

This program that we are talking on!
Oh, it’s great. I really like things like this. Is it costing me much money? I don’t have very much money. You know I don’t have very much money, don’t you?

No Gran! It’s not costing you any money. Anything you want to tell our readership?
Your what?

Our readership. The people who will be reading this.
Will people be reading this?

Yes Grandma. Remember. This is your big break!
Am I going to be on TV!?

No Grandma. Not TV.

And that’s kind of how it ended. After Gran realised she wasn’t going to be on TV, she just fizzled out and started drooling on the keyboard, looking unsatisfied about the fact her Skype conversation with me wasn’t actually going to make her a global superstar. I was hoping for some profound display of the disconnect between young and old, but it just never really happened. So then I threw this article in the proverbial bin and packed up shop, writing off my efforts as a fail and chalking it up to bad luck.

Then something happened.

Grandma started using Skype (fairly poorly I must admit) more and more. With a little bit of assistance, she connected with her relatives overseas and her high school friends. She talked to her childhood sweetheart and she became increasingly competent in using ‘the internets’ (she’s convinced of its status as a plural). She was a self-taught cyber warrior, and while she couldn’t tell a wifi router from an iPad, she’d managed to build up a small network of Skype friends who made her feel like her life was still a life worth living. She struggled endlessly with its functionality, but after many late night calls to her caring friends and family, she finally got the hang of a platform she would never actually understand.

It’s a proven fact that as you grow older, you either use it or lose it, and I gradually watched a lot of my sweet Grandmothers social and cognitive skills strengthen thanks to her new levels of interaction. It wasn’t much, but she definitely made noticeable mental progress, not to mention the huge levels of enjoyment she got out of talking to people she actually cared about (not me).

So I guess the article wasn’t a fail after all.


Sammy Attwood is the founder of Your Friends House. He enjoys eating breakfast at cheap restaurants and is incapable of using his Twitter. You can follow him on Instagram though: @sammy_attwood.

Categories: Short & Sharp
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