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Saïna’s story – A song for my beloved grandpa, Ralph

Saïna opens up about how her grandfather’s dementia has affected her, and how songwriting has provided a release. 

Ralph, who lives with dementia, plays with granddaughter Saina.

My grandpa, Ralph, has always been a very gentle man. Infinitely patient, quick to smile but never jokey, interested in my life but not deeply involved. Never judgmental. I’d say we have always been very close.  

Every Christmas, Easter, birthday or half-term, my siblings and I would spend a couple of days at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Grandpa would teach us Sudoku. He liked to talk about history and classical music. When I started playing the piano and guitar at age seven, he loved to listen to me – although I think he could tell I wasn’t going to go down the classical path! 

Sometimes he and my grandma would take us to see National Trust properties, or we’d go on long walks. Grandpa was always fit, and even at 85, he had a light bounce in his walk. 

I miss those days now that he can’t walk safely even to the end of his driveway.

Ralph, who lives with dementia, plays in the garden with a young Saina and her sister

Grandpa’s dementia started gradually with him forgetting things. For a long time that was the only sign, but then, coming up to his 90th birthday, his physical strength suddenly started to deteriorate. Soon, he started to fall asleep at random points in the afternoon. Then he started falling asleep at the dinner table. When my grandma called out to him, “Hey there, are you still with us?” he’d wake with a start and deny ever having fallen asleep.  

As a retired immunologist, Grandpa has always been meticulous with any kind of physical activity, and as time went on, he gradually became a lot slower with everything he did. Today he can take 30 minutes just to put some butter and banana on a piece of bread.   

Every so often we would hear from Grandma that he’d fallen over and not been able to get up, or had wandered off down the road. Then he began thinking he was in someone else’s house. And then, the worst part: he started to have periods where he thought Grandma was a stranger.  

One of the hardest aspects of my experience with Grandpa’s dementia is seeing how exhausted and lonely Grandma is. My heart breaks for her. 

Sometimes we catch a glimpse of the ‘old’ Grandpa, but these moments have become increasingly rare and don’t last for more than an hour or so. Sometimes he recalls events from 50 years ago and insists they happened yesterday. We can only have really simple conversations with him now. 

Ralph, who lives with dementia, smiles at the camera 

Grandpa is the first person I’ve ever met with dementia, so it is quite difficult for me to get my head around the changes I see. I remember the shock my cousin and I experienced when he asked who my cousin’s dad (his son) was.  

But I’m so grateful that his calm and smiling nature hasn’t changed. I still believe he enjoys seeing us and appreciates the warm feeling of having his family around.   

I want younger people like me to understand dementia, even if it doesn’t personally affect them. I think the common perception is of older people forgetting things – something to roll your eyes and giggle at. I can tell you that the reality of dementia affecting someone you love is anything but funny.  

Saina, a musician, looks at the camera from her piano


Even though I’m not Grandpa’s primary carer, it’s difficult to see his condition each time I visit. And it’s upsetting seeing how it affects my grandma and dad, in particular. I really miss the grandfather I grew up with. 

I wanted an outlet to share my love for him and cherish the memories I will always hold dear. For me, music has always been this outlet. I hope ‘Strangers’ strikes a chord with other people who are going through a similar experience.

Listen to Strangers on Spotify