https://www.duolingo.com/HeyMarlana

Marlana's Mother's Day with her Granny: Language & Dementia

I just got back from spending some time with my 99-year old granny for Mother's Day. She is the oldest relative I have, and out of all the grandchildren, I am closest to her. She is also the last thread of the native-Ukrainian language-speakers in my family. (All other relatives speak poorly accented 'Kitchen Ukrainian'.) And... she has dementia.

Today I finally got to test out my Ukrainian chops.

I wrote her a message in her Mother's Day card -- all in Ukrainian. She opened it and read it and began laughing. "Hey! How do you know this?!" and she brightened up and started to ask Duolingo-Skill-1-to-4 type of questions. I answered them all. I asked her how she was doing, and if she was watching hockey (her favourite sport). For several minutes, she and I had a Ukrainian moment. She didn't know I was learning (well, she wouldn't remember even if I told her).

Later on, I realized that her brain will still pick up on things from her distant past, but not the recent past. Most of her memory is quite shot. But speaking Ukrainian to her, woke up something within her, and we had such a great visit.

Since Duolingo is the only course I've been able to learn Ukrainian, I mostly have Duolingo to thank for this.

May 12, 2019

50 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/Heike333145

Such a beautiful story- thanks for sharing!

Yes, when someone has dementia it is important to find something from the past that they can connect to. This will help them feel safe and at home, in a world that they are familiar with. And language, together with the warmth of a cherished relative, can certainly help her feel connected and loved.

A great present for Mother's Day!

May 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/HeyMarlana

Thank you for the nice reply! :) Learning Ukrainian to do this with her was a race against time. We never know how long she'll be around for, and I wanted to do this before it was too late. I'm sure it did something for her because she's been so lost in her mind for the last few years. It was such a great moment for both of us, really. For a few minutes, I felt completely natural speaking Ukrainian with her, so I know my hard work is starting to pay off.

May 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/WinterSoldier.

Touching! My adoptive grandmother was Romanian or maybe Czech, she didn't speak any Romanian, or Czech that I know of but she spoke a little Russian. She used to say "доброе утро, папа, как дела" to her father. She remembered that from years and years ago. She also had a Russian bible. When she died I got the bible, and it is part of the reason I am learning russian. I miss her a lot, and I wish she was around to see me taking up the Russian language that way I could say, "доброе утро бвбушка как дела?"

May 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/HeyMarlana

Wait...what is this salty discharge coming from my eyes?.... :'(

May 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/WinterSoldier.

@Marlana, perhaps it is, I want to read her bible some day.

May 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Vabelie

Don't you think she hears and sees it? I do <3

May 13, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/redneckray

I'm over eighty my only fear is dementia. I'm gonna die, I know that. But old timers disease scares the sh=t out of me.

To give her a few moments of lucidity is wonderful.

I would like to be so lucky.

May 13, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Linda7Italian

@redneckray. Your honesty touches me. You voice the fears of many. So keep coming here where you and your posts are appreciated, even the cranky ones! :-D

May 13, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/SandraStea1

What a great testimony to the power of kindred language! There definitely are different pathways in our brains that are triggered when we learn and use different languages. I have done a lot of work at a local nursing home (mostly Bible reading and helping people strengthen their faith as they want to). It is amazing what songs and verses they remember even when they can't recall what they had for breakfast.

I am so glad you had a chance to tap into that language connection. It is so special. Languages divide the world into groups so it is wonderful when we can cross the divide and commune with someone else...especially someone so special.

Does she usually speak English or another language now or has she been using Ukrainian most of her life?

May 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/HeyMarlana

Both sides of my family were the original Ukrainian/Russians settlers in Canada. My granny would have been the daughter of the original immigrants -- who were children themselves when they came over in the late 1890s.

After my granny married and moved out of the village and on to Toronto, she and my grandfather just used their second language of English from then on, and raised their kids on it (my parents' generation).

May 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/EL5tEL

What a great story! Thanks for sharing. It is so special that you made that connection with her. Very very special Mother's Day for both of you.

May 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Linda7Italian

Great story HeyMarlana, loved it! I would like to have sung and played "Autumn Leaves" for my mother, in Italian. So I made coffee, re-tuned and sang it anyway. She would have been amazed.

May 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/HeyMarlana

:( Yes, I'm sure!

May 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/AndresGarner

HeyMarlana, Thank you for sharing this story! I am glad you were able to practice your Ukrainian with your grandma, that is an awesome story! I hope she and you are able to share many more experiences like that.

My grandma died 3-4 years ago from cancer and had dementia as well, your story brings back happy memories to me and reminds me of her. The last moment I had with her were she was semi-coherent a week before her death. She wanted me to play her favorite hymn on my violin.

Thank you for posting this, it obviously brings back sad memories but the last happy one trumps all the sad.

May 13, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Sevenjetc

My grandfather has dementia and more often than not by this time he only reacts to his native German. Of course the most practiced phrases are repeating to him what is my name, how related we are, what food I am serving him and what time and season it is.

May 13, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Vabelie

But every time, you give him a few precious seconds of being there, and being himself…

May 13, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/ThatsPretty_Gr8

Oh my gosh, what a great story. I hope you can remember this and talk with her again. Recently my neighbor passed, and she had dementia. Every day she would ask me my age, and everything about me. When I was younger I thought it was so annoying, until the day she didn't recognize my entire family, who had been her neighbors for years, and then I understood what was happening. She remembered everything about the war, and she herself had been a nurse in it. That was where she met her deceased husband. They lived in the house next door their entire marriage. I wish I had been able to connect with her, so I am glad you got to with your grandma.

Happy Mother's Day!

May 13, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/HeyMarlana

As far as I know, I'm the only grandchild who ever showed any interest in the Ukrainian language and her past. She tried teaching me a few phrases as a child, but nothing made sense because it wasn't a formal class and I never knew why I was learning what I was learning. We didn't have Ukrainian classes nearby, and no one we knew could tutor me. Even when the internet came out, only widely-spoken languages got attention. It's just in the last three years that Ukrainian was offered on Duolingo -- which seems to be the best course.

She's known that I've been wanting to know all my life how to speak Ukrainian. I'm just so glad I got to show her what I know for now, in case we lose her some day -- which could be any time now. She might not remember it, but at least I will remember what happened.

I plan to see her in the summer again. Hopefully by then I'll know even more. :)

May 13, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/ThatsPretty_Gr8

I hope that by then you can share even more with her ;) and I am glad you got this opportunity. Enjoy it! and I know you will.

May 13, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Vabelie

Dearest Marlana, that's such a beautiful, touching story…

I guess you will never be searching for "motivation".

I know a bit more than I'd like about dementia (nothing tragic); it's very possible than one of those days, she will only understand Ukrainian. Then, what sense your hard work will make…

You're precious, and so is she <3

May 13, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/anna904078

What an absolutely beautiful story of connection and love! You made my day!

May 13, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/chocochipkookie

Aww, that's so awesome! I am so glad that you can speak to your Granny in Ukrainian. I bet it made her so happy to know you are able to speak it!

May 13, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/ayinm

Kudos for cherishing your family and it’s heritage. It is obviously giving you a sense of accomplishment while at the same time bringing joy to another. Congrats....

May 13, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Ronald-B-Weasley

That's a beautiful story! Lingot.

May 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/HeyMarlana

Thanks Ron :)

May 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/SkyeHaven

That's wonderful! Such a sweet moment! It is such a blessing for you to be able to use Duolingo to talk and connect with your Granny! I'm sure it will be a special treasure to you, and I'm sure she is proud! These golden moments are truly the joy of life, and it is wonderful to hear how Duolingo has been able to help you to live your life with love for others! I'm sure she must have been over-joyed to finally have someone who understood her and was learning because of her. This has really touched me! Thank you for sharing your story!

May 14, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/megm26

This is such a wholesome and amazing story! It's amazing how many boundaries languages can open. Reading this made me feel good inside. Thank you for sharing! Happy Mother's Day to your family ❤️❤️❤️

May 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/HeyMarlana

Thanks Meg :) You too!

May 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/QHjr
  • 989

How wonderful! and encouraging! Liebe Grüße zum Muttertag!

May 13, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/AmazingImani

Thank you so much for sharing! This touched my heart. I also have a grandmother who suffers from dementia. I know dealing with this disease is difficult for both your grandmother and your family but you should have joy in knowing that your card and conversation went a long way with her. Know she is very proud of you! Keep up the good work! :)

May 14, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Jenny759980

Well, good for you to create some golden moments with your grandmother. Keep it up whenever you see her. My mon (93) also has dementia and her short-term memory is shot, also. My goal with every visit is to make her laugh and enjoy how we can kid each other.

May 14, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/crepe_obsession

That's amazing. Just last week I spoke Croatian to my grandmother. Her father was from there, but she has strong Alzheimer's and nobody had tried speaking the language to her in decades. I was left alone with her and was curious, so I said "dobar dan" (hello) and it led to us having a basic conversation and her correcting me (to a 100-year old variant of a regional dialect, no less)! It helps remind that she's still in there somewhere, no matter what. I really hope you get lots more chances to speak with her, and who knows, maybe you can reveal more memories that way!

May 15, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/HeyMarlana

That is exactly it, isn't it? It's such a connection! Only learning a language can do that. It's especially nice when it's someone in our own family and seeing that little spark inside them that tells them they are understood. :)

May 15, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/nyoko292

That is soooo sweet... I had a grandfather with alzheimer, and when he was a little depressed we often played him some music from the past, like the golden oldies. It helped him to form his stories, find his words. Some day i wrote a column for him, when his memory already was a little lost. He began to cry while reading it, i assume he did not got all the meanings, but still. Words were important to him, they were a part of his memory. Just like with your grandmother.

May 15, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Jazztonight

Hi Marlana. Wonderful post, and congratulations to you on being able to connect with your grandmother in her native language! I've followed the academic news as to what it is that can actually stave off dementia, and two of the strongest are Foreign Language study and Music. As Linda7Italian mentions in her response to your post, singing can often help bring people with dementia into real time. I experienced this with my father when he was 96--he could not remember that I was his son, or that he'd even had children at all; but he could remember lyrics to some of the old songs of his childhood, and I have a couple of videos where he's actually singing those songs (with a little prompting from me). Keep up the good work! And don't forget: Music, Foreign language study, exercise, and diet--those are the keys.

May 15, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/IngridNZ443545

That is such a cool story. My mum is sloely losing het wits as well, she is Dutch. I give you a lingot for that

May 15, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/TK4WI

That's one of the most moving reasons for learning a language I've ever heard. Thanks for sharing Marlana!

May 14, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/MariaGille11

this is so amazing!! it crazy that this app brings us closer to people!! im learning Italian because i am Italian, but i wish my great grandmother was still around so i can talk to her in Italian. what you have is so special, keeping yall in my prayers.

May 14, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/sarahrn123

Love this story! So neat that you were able to share that moment - and language - with her! My grandmother will be 100 in June. She is Swedish and has dementia as well. You make me want to learn Swedish now! :)

May 15, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Gea71

I'm really happy for you! It's so wonderful and valuable when you share a beautiful moment with a loved one who has dementia. Those moments stick with you and they are worth more than anything I can think of. (I can relate to this as my mum has dementia.)

May 15, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/DannyBuoy

Ahhhhh Marlana that's so beautiful :') Thanks for sharing <3

What an amazing moment forever! I hope you get many more chances to speak with her :)

May 17, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/myfriendjesus

Awww, that is wonderful that you are learning Ukrainian and that your Granny was happy on her day!

May 14, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/NilferBora1

Good to hear that.

May 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/samianquazi

You should marry a Ukrainian language speaker, have Ukrainian-speaking babies, and revive Ukrainian in your family! That way you can be an inspiration for Ukrainians throughout Canada and help inspire Ukrainians (who are valiantly struggling against Russian separatist terror in Crimea and the Donetsk regions).

May 17, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/HeyMarlana

Yikes, my husband might not like that idea! :)

May 20, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Ajon-joli

That's beautiful!

May 14, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/Seattle_USA

There is strong evidence that Alzheimer's and Dementia are linked to virus's. I hope hers gets cured. Good luck to you both.

May 15, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/PicaPica20

Amazing story, thank You. Приїжджайте до України, вам неодмінно сподобається. Якщо бажаєте попрактикувати мову, то кращє прилітайте до Львова чи у Карпати. Ви запам'ятаєте цю подорож на все життя. Ласкаво просимо!

May 20, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/HeyMarlana

Дякую Піка! Можливо...Я буде! :)

May 20, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/chrisbrown441096

Thanks for sharing this happy story.

May 31, 2019
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