From August 2008 till December 2011 I have been documenting the life of my grandmother, the only grandparent I had left. She passed away on January 5, 2012 at the age of 91.
Beginning in 2009 she started to suffer from short-term memory loss. As a result, she was losing her grip on reality.
The last few years, several deaths occured in our family, and my grandmother never fully recovered. These tragic incidents had an impact on everyone in the family, especially on my grandmother who had to cope with these incidents at the age of almost 90.
She experienced the Second World War, educated three children, lost my grandfather (68) in 1983 and a son-in-law (52) in 2004. In October 2008 her own daughter (59) suffered a cardiac arrest and had to recover for 10 months in the hospital. On top of all that, she lost a great-grandchild (1 day old) in 2005, a grandchild (29) in 2009, and her sister (87) in 2010.
For most of their lives she and my grandfather worked long hours every day, doing very hard manual labour. They were grape-growers and also cultivated vegetables. Unfortunately, this profession has become very hard in Belgium. These days most of the grapes are imported from Italy, South Africa or South America. For several years, her interest in maintaining the garden and greenhouses had been going downhill very quickly.
My intention was to document the consequences of advancing age and short-term memory loss on her own life and our family. I was also interested in photographing little details, the gestures and expressions that are overlooked by most people during a regular visit.
According to research by London University King’s College in 2009, the number of cases of dementia will increase substantially in the coming years. By 2050 more than 115 million people will be affected with some form of dementia, three times as many as today. Because dementia mainly appears at a later age, the growth can be explained in the fact that people are living longer, which signifies that the risk also increases.
In Europe almost 70 percent of the patients suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. This disease first decreases the short-term memory, while the long-term memory remains almost completely preserved.