“By the time I turned 21, I thought I would be finishing up my film production course at university in Southampton, going out with friends, and making short films. Instead, I live with my 86-year-old grandmother who has Alzheimer’s, creating and posting TikTok videos.”
These are the words of Orla Phipps. At the young and exciting age of 21, she made a choice not typical of college seniors: She decided to move in with her grandma and become her full-time caretaker.
As the pandemic struck, Orla was forced to leave her university in April 2020. She quickly rerouted and returned back home to Eastbourne, Sussex.
Her initial plan was to move in with her parents and foster siblings, but she was overwhelmed by the plight of her grandma. Grandma Agnes was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease three years ago and had just returned home after recovering from a hip operation.
the #1 good news email read by 700K+ people.
Agnes is unable to live by herself, but given the concerns of COVID-19, her family didn’t feel comfortable putting her in a situation in which multiple caretakers had to come in and out. So Orla stepped up to the plate!
“And I’m so glad I did,” Orla said. “In addition to providing her day-to-day care, it’s important that I’m there to keep my grandma company.”
Because Alzheimer’s is a tricky disease, it affects everyone in different ways. For Agnes, it mostly presents itself in occasional forgetfulness, but it hasn’t stolen her joy or her propensity for fun!
“Everything is new for her, and she still manages to find the fun in any situation,” Orla explained. “We laugh a lot together. Spending so much time with her has taught me to find happiness in the small things in life.”
Their favorite things to do together include coloring pictures, watching TV, and enjoying the dementia-specific activities that a charity called Memory Lane Eastbourne drops off for them monthly.
One particularly amusing moment was when Agnes walked in on Orla playing the highly-addictive game “Animal Crossing.” Her grandma found the whole thing to be entertaining and hilarious, and Orla caught her introduction on camera.
To Orla’s surprise, the video took off online, getting up to 50,000 views in the first few days! So she kept the content coming, and Agnes’ fan base kept growing.
“The moments I capture may seem quite mundane, like us sitting and watching TV,” Orla said. “But being able to have them is really special. My account is almost like a time capsule of our memories, which I can look back on and smile at.”
And what a priceless treasure trove of memories she has collected! It’s an idea that is as brilliant as it is precious.
More than that, Orla sees this as an opportunity to break the stigmas around people with dementia.
“It’s important for me to show that despite living with dementia, my grandma is still very human,” she said. “She has her own personality, she can experience every emotion, and she can even understand jokes and tell funny stories.”
The videos provide even more special moments for Orla and her “gran” as she gets to sit with Agnes and show her the loving comments that viewers leave, such as how beautiful Agnes is and how inspirational they both are. They also hear from people who have loved ones with dementia, who have found so much joy in Orla and Agnes’ videos.
“My favorite comment was from a girl who said she had a job interview coming up to be a carer after being inspired by our videos to change her career,” Orla added. “That was incredibly special to hear.”
Orla has found a powerful support network in her TikTok community especially, with many viewers providing suggestions for dementia-friendly activities they think Agnes would enjoy.
Of course, Orla has been quick to reassure everyone that if her grandma ever becomes confused by these videos or doesn’t understand what’s going on, she will immediately put an end to them out of respect.
For now though, the merriment continues, and all of Agnes’ fans are thankful for it! Orla never expected that so much good could come out of a year that’s been anything but, and she is so grateful for this precious time they’ve had together.
“I do want to finish my degree sometime soon, but I have a long time left on this planet, so I want to spend as much time as possible with my grandma to make sure she’s safe and happy,” Orla said. “We’ve always had a special relationship, and I know I’ll cherish the time I’ve been able to spend with her.”
Seeing the smiles on their faces brings endless joy to our hearts! Keep spreading the love, Orla and Agnes!
Watch Agnes remember that she is an extraordinary artist in the video below, and be sure to share this story to brighten someone’s spirits.
Want to be happier in just 5 minutes a day? Sign up for Morning Smile and join over 455,000+ people who start each day with good news.