Zach and Vivienne visiting Pop Pop
Zach and Vivienne visiting Pop Pop

When I was a senior in college, my grandfather—my Pop Pop—was diagnosed with dementia. At the time, our family really didn’t know what to expect, although we were warned that confusion and memory loss would gradually build over time. My grandfather was a great man. He truly embodied what it was to live the “American dream.” For so long, I believed that he could beat dementia and everything would be normal.

For a few years after the diagnosis, my grandfather continued to live at home with my grandmother. But there were signs we couldn’t ignore: Pop would forget what he was looking for, he would forget to turn the stove off, and he would struggle to say our first names and remember how we were related. Finally, after he wandered away from home in search of my grandmother, it was time to look for long-term care options. That was in 2019.

Pop spent time as a resident of a personal care home in southeast Pennsylvania. He was in a nursing home for many months. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, he was confined to his room as the virus ravaged the residents and staff around him. That was not an easy time for him, our family, or the staff caring for him.

In 2020, we celebrated Pop’s birthday over FaceTime on our phones. We checked in with him via Zoom meetings on our laptops. When we learned he had tested positive for COVID-19, we said goodbye to him over the phone, on video.

But we were lucky because my grandfather fought the virus, at 88 years old, with dementia—and he won.

In late 2020, during a window visit (remember those?), Pop Pop met Vivienne, my first daughter and his great-granddaughter, for the first time. I couldn’t be more thankful for the staff who fought for him so that could happen for our family.

Pop Pop is no longer with us, but he remains the reason why I do what I do—why I’m so proud to advocate for seniors across Pennsylvania. I’m so grateful to the hardworking staff and caregivers who fought for my grandfather. That’s why I’m proud to fight for them. Even though the pandemic is behind us, we need legislators and elected leaders to continue fighting for our most vulnerable residents in state capitols across the country and in the halls of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Zach S.
Pennsylvania Health Care Association