How My Loved One’s Dementia Turned Me Into a History Writer

All we have is the past.

Katlyn Roberts
10 min readApr 4


Photo of the author and her grandmother, Patricia.

Dementia. I wake it up, I cook its meals, I put on its bib, I zip its zippers, tug on its shoes, adjust its pillows and blankets and hats and sleeve length, only for it to plant its feet and re-adjust until it’s satisfied.

I take the salt shaker out of its hand when it forgets it’s been pouring for too long. I ignore it when it yells at me for taking the salt shaker. I make a new meal when it complains this one’s too salty.

I walk in on it in the bathroom as it's putting on three diapers instead of one or taking a bite out of the soap bar. I burst into the kitchen from across the house as it’s sticking a fork in the toaster or pouring itself a tall glass of bleach. I put child safety locks on all the cabinets and hide the toaster up high.

I hide the scissors that it used to cut open all the button holes of her shirts because they must have shrunk if it can’t get her shaking fingers to do them up itself. “But you don’t understand,” it says in protest when it can't find the scissors, “I need them to cut my diapers off.” I spend hours, days, weeks, and months crouched in front of the toilet, teaching it how to pull the diapers down and lift her legs out of the holes, before I finally give up and hand it back the scissors. A week later, I discover strips of clothing clogging up the toilet. The shirt I let her borrow. The sweater we just bought.

I shuffle it out of the bathroom and mop the flooding waters while it yells for me to come and help it figure out how to turn on her reading light. When I do, she looks up at me with loving eyes, impressed I figured it out and wanting me to teach her. I kiss her head and walk away without saying a word. I’ve taught it how to turn on the light thousands of times.

I started writing seriously the same year I (naively) took on the full-time, live-in care of my grandmother. Since then, I've noticed a pattern in my writing. I call myself a "sassy history writer" but I've found that I especially like to write about statues — emotions so powerful someone deemed them worthy of being frozen in time.

For example, I love to write about why you see SO many variations of the crucifixion of Christ here in…



Katlyn Roberts

Katlyn writes about history, travel, and culture… with some snark.