The rattle of a doorknob shook me awake, and then… BAM! A door slammed open. He’s coming, aided by his walker. Clunk. Shuffle. Shuffle. My clock read 4:27 AM. It was the third time tonight, a new record. The hall light switched on and in Chinese, my grandfather’s deep voice pierced the night against my mom’s whispers. As usual, he was disoriented, thought it was time to eat, and being hard of hearing, required loud convincing by my mom to return to bed.
Later that morning, as my dad and I prepared breakfast, my grandfather hobbled into the kitchen. “Good morning, Yeye.” I said, still groggy from last night. Yeye’s eyes scanned the room. “Where am I?” he asked. I explained once again, “This is our apartment and your new home. Your wife, Maria, moved back to Taiwan last month, so now we are taking care of you.” I watched the sweet smile vanish from his face as he struggled to remember what had become fragmented by Alzheimer’s disease. Plaque and tangles had accumulated in his brain, and now they spread into our everyday lives.
My family was completely unprepared to care for a 90-year-old disabled man. There were no funds for professional elder care, so my mom, dad, and I had to quickly adapt to accommodate his needs. After a number of falls, we installed guardrails, a shower chair, and other safety equipment into the bathroom, which he shared with me!
My grandfather’s dementia erased the connection that he and I once shared. When I was younger, we used to solve math puzzles together, but now we couldn’t even hold a conversation. As I looked back, I realized Yeye had lived a sedentary senior life. Would a more active lifestyle have led to a different outcome? How do we live our final years with independence, health, and happiness?
I’ve noticed that our American culture glorifies youth and nearly ignores what it means to grow old. While our secondary education system addresses the beginning of life, it fails to bring awareness to our final decades and how we will be supported during that time.
Whenever there’s research to be done, my parents assign it to me. By reading many articles on elder care, I discovered that the senior population will exponentially skyrocket in the coming years due to the aging baby boomer generation. It became clear that a comprehensive resource was needed to educate this massive influx of seniors and their families.
I am developing a mobile app to prepare families for elder care and maintain patients’ cognitive health. My app will enable users to complete advance care planning documents, compare elder care options for both in-home and outside facilities, and access practical resources such as videos and diagrams to help families assist their loved ones. Additionally, it will promote cognitive health through exercise, nutrition, sleep, brain games, and a daily journal. The games will be personalized to exercise memory, like matching the names of family members with their appropriate pictures. Users will be reminded to write or speak into their journal with thoughts and feelings to strengthen their reasoning skills. I am currently in the process of researching and designing a prototype for my app, and I plan to continue building it in college.
Yeye can no longer walk. While the challenges have increased, I have learned to appreciate the different stages of life and return the love and care that my grandfather once gave me. With this in practice, Yeye’s disposition improved and he accepted our home as his. My help is now received with gracious smiles and exclamations of “Wow, wow, wow!”, especially as I serve him meals. I am determined to sort through the tangles of life. So when I hear the doorknob rattle at night, I know it’s just a reminder for us all to make healthier choices today for a better tomorrow.