Tag Archives: Alzheimer’s Association

Requiem for the status quo

Allow me to reintroduce myself:

My name is Irene.  I am the author of the upcoming novel Requiem for the status quo.

Some of you know me as a family member, friend, or casual acquaintance.  Others are familiar with me as the author of this blog, a writer who has posted hundreds of articles over the past several years.  Still others know me because of my professional connections as a volunteer advocate for vulnerable adults living in long-term care (LTC) facilities, or because of my years as an Alzheimer’s Association support group facilitator.

Typist caricatureI’m here to announce that in addition to being the family member/friend/acquaintance/volunteer/co-employee of the past and present, I am also the novelist who has something to say.

“Oh my gosh Irene, I didn’t realize your book was already published!”

It’s not, but I’m actively pursuing agent representation by contacting several agents per day until I no longer need to.

“Why should people be interested in your book?”

Because I have an engaging way of writing about Alzheimer’s disease – a disease that will affect each and every one of you because until a cure or vaccine is developed to eradicate it, this disease is here to stay.  Whether a person’s diagnosis falls into the actual Alzheimer’s category, or into one of several other dementia such as: vascular, lewy body, frontal temporal, Parkinson’s, or dementia resultant from a traumatic brain injury (TBI), there’s no escaping its effect on the unpaid caregiver (that’s you and me) and the person being cared for (spouse, partner, mother, father, brother or sister).

And here’s a fact of which some of you may not be aware: Alzheimer’s is not just an older person’s disease; an increasing number of people are being diagnosed well-before the age of 60.

“Say it isn’t so, Irene.”

I can’t do that.  What I can do, however, is tell you a wee bit about my book: Continue reading

Why I Volunteer for Research, Part I


In this particular instance, the thought of being a human guinea pig feels very, very comforting. Being able to help find a cure for Alzheimer’s that goes beyond monetary contributions sets up a legacy for many as a result of Ms. Hedreen’s extraordinary efforts.  Ann Hedreen’s book is available on Amazon and at most retailers.

Originally posted on ALZWA Blog:

by Ann Hedreen

Ann Hedreen author photo copy

Here are two of the many things that scare me: having to change a tire all by myself (because I’ve never done it) and camping in bear country (because I have). Here are two of the few things that don’t scare me: taking pop quizzes and getting poked with needles. These slim categories of fearlessness make me a natural volunteer for Alzheimer’s research.

My mother grew up in Montana and nothing much scared her. She not only changed tires, she put chains on tires by herself, tying them together with shoelaces if they didn’t fit right, lying under the car in a snow storm. As for camping, after a twenty-year hiatus, she decided to try it again—solo, with four children in tow. We didn’t see any bears. The worst thing that happened was that we forgot spoons for our cereal. The best thing was being with Mom…

View original 468 more words

Caring for our elders

9 Reasons why it‘s important to care for our elders – by Sai Santosh K.

The attached article from the Kindness Blog immediately caught my attention.  Please take the time to click on the above link to discover nine easy ways to help an elder in your community.  Whether that person is a family member, or a perfect stranger, the basic truth remains the same.  As an advocate for the elderly I can’t help but encourage all of us to practice respect for those older than ourselves. Continue reading

Very Inspiring Blogger Award

Very Inspiring Blogger AwardHumbled, grateful, overjoyed!  Not just because I was nominated for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award, but also because I’ve inspired someone, hopefully many someones.  Talking to a wall is not a very gratifying experience; if my blog is merely an electronic version of that, I will have not reached my objective: to help, encourage, and lighten your load while on this aging journey.  Thank you Kay for the nomination!

Kay Bransford of Dealing with Dementia nominated me for this award.  If any of you readers have yet to follow Kay’s blog you need to get to it.  I will nominate several bloggers for the same award, following the Rules provided below:

  • Thank the amazing person who nominated you and provide a link to their website;
  • List the rules and display the award;
  • Share seven facts about yourself;
  • Nominate 15 other blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they’ve been nominated.  I failed at listing 15, not because the blogs I follow aren’t worthy, but because my blog-following count is a limited one;
  • Proudly display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you.

Seven facts about myself:

1.  I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a Baby Boomer and have been for awhile.  Turning sixty was easy, however it got a wee bit more difficult at sixty-one …

2.  I was born in Pasadena, California and have lived a great length of time in Los Angeles, California; Honolulu, Hawaii; Anchorage, Alaska, and the greater Seattle area of Washington State – my current and final home.

3.  My favorite people – other than my loved ones – are anyone older than me – preferably senior citizens who’ve claimed that title for quite some time.  This third fact about me directed most of my worthwhile adult career and volunteer pursuits: senior housing industry manager, Alzheimer’s Association caregiver support group facilitator, and Certified Long-Term Care (LTC) Ombudsman for the State of Washington.

4.  I have posted over 480 articles on my blog since starting it in 2011.

5.  I am currently writing a novel that focuses on the caregiving challenges faced by those who are the primary caregiver for a loved one.  Through real-life stories, the reader will learn more about the disease and its effect on everyone it touches.  My hope is that by putting a face on this disease – showing what it looks like in everyday life – more interest will be generated to prevent, treat, and cure Alzheimer’s disease, a disease that is always fatal, and for which all of us are at risk.

6.  I have three daughters (one of my own and two of my husband’s) and two sons-in-law (one who married my own daughter and one who married my husband’s youngest.)

7.  My family tree: I have two siblings, an older brother and sister.  My father died from Alzheimer’s complications in October 2007 at the age of 89; my sister-in-law died of the disease in the summer of 2012 a few months before her 70th birthday9.

And that’s why I do what I do.

Nominees for Very Inspiring Blogger Award:

Mary Riesche Studios, Vacaville, California.  This artist has drawn and painted since she could hold a pencil.  She has tirelessly pursued her craft through every chapter of her life.  She raised four children while her husband was in the military – living numerous places in Europe and the U.S. as a result – and that never stopped her from painting.  When her four children were out of the house, she and her husband adopted a teenager from Russia, bringing the number of children to five.  She’s a trooper, to say the least.  It took her a while to have an empty nest.  I hope you’ll visit her site to see a representation of the type of work she produces.

Catching Up to the Disease, by blogger, Don Desonier.  The subtitle for this blog is Transitions in Dementia Caregiving.  Don’s wife died of early-onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 69 on July 4th, 2012.  This blogger knows something about being a dedicated, committed caregiver, and on top of that, he excelled at being the very present advocate for his wife of 25 years.

Dementia Poetry is an in your face journal of a daughter-in-law’s disease journey with her mother-in-law, in the form of extremely well-written poems.  The subtitle for her blog is: The Politically Incorrect Alzheimer’s Poetry Blog.

Theresa Hupp’s blog, Story and History, is a moving journal of a family’s life covering past, present, and future.  But that’s not all: Theresa is a fabulous, published author.  I’d say I’m jealous, but friends, and that’s what I consider Theresa, don’t turn green with envy – at least they shouldn’t.  Theresa, you nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award in February of 2014, but I already received that award a couple years ago so I’m not going to claim it again, but I thank you profusely for nominating me.

Not My Original Plan, a blog written by a woman in her thirties who is the caregiver for her mother who has dementia.  This is a very inspirational blog – how fitting for this award! – and I strongly suggest you check it out and follow it ASAP.

Not Quite Old, by blogger and author, Nancy Roman.  The subtitle for her blog is Gracefully Aging with Resistance.  The way Nancy writes – filled with extraordinary humor, will keep you engaged and wanting more.

Let’s Talk About Family.  Lori’s blog family history starts with her mother’s failing health and death, and continues with her father’s life as a widower who eventually moves into an assisted living facility (ALF).  Her blog is one that I never miss.  You know how you can manage the notifications you receive so that you get a notification e-mail immediately, daily, or once weekly?  Her blog is one of those that I receive immediate notifications – I can’t wait any longer! is the way I treat her blog.  If you are not yet following Lori’s blog, get to it!

Jill Weatherholt, Pursuing a Passion for Writing, is a site that inspires me because while working full-time, she’s still committed to writing and what she writes is well-worth reading.  Thank you, Jill, for being an online inspiration to this aspiring author.  Jill started the blog to create a community for other new writers and shares her publication journey – something all wet-behind-the-ears writers need to read and be encouraged by.

10 Legs in the Kitchen is a fabulous cooking blog but a whole lot more. Stacy’s anecdotes add “meat” to every posting and provide humor and insight, not just darn good recipes.  I met Stacy at a writer’s workshop in Seattle.

Yellow Mum Blog, by Wendy in the United Kingdom, documents the loss of her mother to cancer, ten weeks after diagnosis.  What she writes is a journal, but in many respects, it is a guidebook for the rest of us in our grief.

A Swift Current, Letting our Parents Go, Hallie Swift’s blog is one to which  many will relate.  Whether your parent’s departure is a gradual one – such as is the case with Hallie’s mother due to dementia – or a sudden departure by way of a fatal accident, letting go is hard to do – oftentimes more painful that we believe we can handle.


Helping an Alzheimer’s Caregiver

Want To Help Someone Who Is an Alzheimer’s Caregiver? Here Are Some Tips.

Attached is a very worthwhile read by blogger, Kathie Ritchie.  The article includes her suggestions as well as those of caregiver adviser, Marie Marley.  (Note: the links provided for Marie Marley appear to be broken, but Kathie includes Ms. Marley’s input within the body of her own blog article, making the content easily readable.)

Painting courtesy of Mary Riesche Studios

Painting courtesy of Mary Riesche Studios

Additional articles that will provide information and suggestions to non-caregivers on how they can help their neighbor, co-worker, besieged family member:

The above will give you more than enough material to provide readers with helpful suggestions.  If you don’t take the time to read the attached articles – and I sincerely hope you do – I’ll leave you with one suggestion that I hope you do follow:

If a caregiver doesn’t ask  for help while on his or her caregiving journey, don’t assume they aren’t in need of your assistance.  Offer specific assistance to them; don’t force them to come up with a suggestion on how you can help. 

Examples: “I have some individual frozen leftover meals I’d like to bring over for your household, what’s a good time for me to drop them off?” or “I’m headed to the grocery store, what can I pick up for you?”  or “It may sound crazy, but I enjoy working in the yard.  I’ve completed my Spring yard cleanup, I’d like to come over and help you with yours.”

Like Nike says, “Just do it!”

World-wide epidemic on your doorstep

A May 15, 2014 New York Times article, Alzheimer’s, a Neglected Epidemic by Ginia Bellafante, provides a keen look at a fatal disease that many still assume is one that only other people get.  Maybe my coworker a few cubicles away from me or the neighbors down the street will have to deal with some sort of dementia, but not our household – right?  You wish.  Alzheimer’s is a world-wide epidemic and it’s knocking on your front door.

In 2010, Alzheimer’s was the underlying cause in 500,000 deaths in the United States.

Let’s look at another epidemic with horrific fatality totals.  Remember the AIDS crisis?  As of the year 2010, in thirty years’ time, AIDS was responsible for 636,000 deaths in the U.S.   And yet Alzheimer’s – a very unpopular disease that is erroneously characterized as just an old person’s disease – racked up almost that many deaths in just one year.

Alzheimer’s isn’t just for geezers any more.

That’s the title of one of the chapters in my manuscript – a work of fiction that centers on the lives – patients and their family caregivers – affected by Alzheimer’s or other dementia.  A couple of my characters are in their 80s but there are three characters ranging in age from early 40s to mid 60s whose disease journey began when they were no longer considered young – but definitely not considered old.

What will it take to push people out of denial and into activism?

In the New York Times article linked above, AIDS activist, Peter Staley, is quoted as saying, “The hidden blessing of H.I.V was that it hit a community, my community, a community of mostly gay men.  We had a base of organizing that came out of Stonewall.”  [1969 demonstrations by members of the gay community in response to a police raid at Stonewall Inn, in Greenwich Village.]  And then he goes on to say, “Alzheimer’s hits old people.  There is no real organized community beyond AARP.”

I’m not happy with Mr. Staley’s characterization of Alzheimer’s as an old person’s disease because it perpetuates a myth that is simply not entirely true.  But I fully back his advice to all of us:

How does a large, affected community get the country to care?  It means playing a strong inside game: These family members need to organize effectively; they need to find their allies in Congress; they need to show up with sick people in front of key members of health communities.

Right on.

Alzheimer’s struck my dad in his mid-80s and my sister-in-law in her early 60s – both now deceased.

Who’s next?  Me?  My daughter?DSCF0511

You?  Are you doing your part to shine a spotlight on the hideousness of this fatal disease?  At the very least, have you made a monetary donation to the Alzheimer’s Association in your country – a donation from which you will personally benefit?  United Kingdom; Alzheimer’s Prevention; Alzheimer’s Society of Canada; Fight Dementia – Australia – to list a few.

Medical tourism – Alzheimer’s style

More Alzheimer’s patients finding care far from home | Nation & World | The Seattle Times.  This article looks at the direction in which Alzheimer’s care may be shifting.  There are currently 44 million Alzheimer’s patients globally with 135 million projected by 2050.  Even now, Western spouses and family members are faced with an insufficient supply of qualified nurses and facilities, while other countries provide cheaper – and to some minds, better – care for those suffering from an illness for which very few effective treatments have been developed, and that is always fatal.

An enlargeable relief map of Thailand

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The treatment center that is the major focus of this Associated Press article is located in Thailand – the Baan Kamlangchay center.  Additional elder care options in other countries are mentioned, such as the Philippines, Eastern Europe, Spain, Greece, and Ukraine.  Cost is the driving force of those who are “exporting” (not my word) the elderly to these foreign countries.  One gentleman from Switzerland brought his 65-year old wife to Baan Kamlangchay because the monthly cost for her Alzheimer’s care ($3,800) is a third of what he would pay in his own country and he states that the staffing ratios are far better, and the activities more engaging.  In the Philippines, care is offered to Americans for $1,500 to $3,500 a month, compared to the average of $6,900 for a private room in a skilled nursing facility in the United States, according to the American Elder Care Research Organization.

Cost shouldn’t be the only consideration, however, when moving a loved one into Alzheimer’s or dementia care – and that applies to every country in which that care is available.  What are the training requirements for those who will be providing this disease-specific care for your loved one?  What type of governmental or social service oversight is in place to protect and advocate for the rights of those patients who can not advocate for themselves?  The latter question becomes extremely relevant when the patients’ families are not around to observe care on an ongoing basis.  In the previous paragraph I mentioned the man who brought his 65-year old wife from Switzerland to Thailand for care.  He is now faced with the very difficult decision of perhaps leaving his wife of 41 years in the facility, and returning to Switzerland to carry on the rest of his life.

That’s a decision unbearable in its emotional implications.

What are your thoughts?  Are you willing to become an expatriate should this medical need present itself in your life?

Putting a face on Alzheimer’s

One Son, Many Voices – An Elegant Video About Alzheimer’s & Dementia.

The attached video, just 3 minutes long, showcases how very personal Alzheimer’s and other dementia are to those involved.  The toll on the patient – measurable, as you will see in this Shapiro family video.

The toll on the family – especially those caring for a member with the disease – beyond measure.  Imagine taking care of someone who has lost his or her faculties, who can no longer express themselves verbally, and who has become a shell of his former self.  Can you imagine it?

Imagine you must, because I sincerely believe that the only way people will stand up and take notice and do something about this disease, is to wear the mantle of a loved one with the disease, and/or the mantle of the beleaguered caregiver.

If you can help monetarily, please do so: www.alz.org.

If you can help within your community to relieve the stress of a caregiver with whom you are acquainted, that support is equally as needed and valuable.

Whatever you do, please do something to make a difference.

Alzheimer’s disease is a murderer

and I’m as mad as hell about the millions of crimes that it has gotten away with.

Alzheimer’s and other dementias are unfair to the one diagnosed and to all those involved in that person’s life.  The unfairness unfolds with the worst day of that person’s life – diagnosis of a disease for which there is no cure – therefore it is always fatal – and it is a disease where little progress has been made in treatment options.

Let me introduce you to two fabulous people who are no longer with us because this disease killed them.  Yes, Alzheimer’s murdered them.

My hero - my father: 1918 - 2007

My hero – my father: 1918 – 2007

My father, Don, was born in 1918 in Toronto, Canada.  He married my mother, Patricia, and they had three children.  They became U.S. citizens in the late 1940’s/early 1950’s.  My father was an extremely distinguished, courteous, humorous, and dedicated family man.  He received his Alzheimer’s diagnosis on June 3rd, 2005 and I was there by telephone conference, having attended his initial neurological evaluation a couple weeks earlier.  He died at approximately 12:10 a.m. on October 13th, 2007.

Nancy, an adoring daughter-in-law to my father, seated in front of her.

Nancy, an adoring daughter-in-law to my father, seated in front of her.

My sister-in-law, Nancy, was diagnosed with mixed dementia just a few months after my father died.  Nancy was born in 1942 in Quincy, Massachusetts.  She graduated from UCLA with a degree in flute performance and used those skills in many venues throughout her life.  Nancy had three children from her first marriage – children of which she was very proud.  Nancy was an extremely talented interior designer, opening her own design business in 1987 – the same year that she married my brother, Don.  Nancy died from mixed dementia, that also included Alzheimer’s, at approximately 11:05 a.m. on July 4th, 2012.  Just two and a half months later, my brother and sister-in-law would have celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary.

Saturday, September 21st, 2013 is World Alzheimer’s Day.  One in every three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or other dementia.  If you do not die from Alzheimer’s, you die with it.   From Alzheimer’s Association 2013 Facts and Figures.

Won’t you consider making a monetary donation in the hopes of capturing this murderer?

U.S. website for the Alzheimer’s Association: www.alz.org

International website: www.alz.co.uk

Other countries have their own dedicated websites as well.  Please find those sites through any search engine you would normally use, and let’s slap the cuffs on this criminal disease.

There’s an App for that!

A recent article by Jim Fitzgerald of the Associated Press focuses on a few electronic methods that might relieve some of the struggles experienced by caregivers who try to balance their frantic personal lives with the oftentimes emergent needs of their loved ones.  For the purposes of my article, I am only looking at the type of monitoring put in place by a family member to check on an elderly person’s well being; primarily a family member with Alzheimer’s or other dementia.

Beleaguered caregivers getting help from Apps is an eyeopening look at how Smartphone Apps, and other electronic devices, can provide some sort of relief to lessen the caregiver’s load.  Many of those who are long-distance caregivers, such as I was for my father several years ago, might benefit from being able to monitor their family member’s safety and well-being from a distance.

But does such monitoring invade the loved one’s privacy?  Of course it does; but I guess one could say that the benefits outweigh the disadvantages of such monitoring.  Or do they?  What comes to my mind is the elderly person’s gradual loss of independence – an aspect of life that many of us would equate to being a requirement for our own quality of life.  But I digress.

At best, I think electronic monitoring serves as a stop-gap or interim measure of caregiving before hands-on care is put into place.  The Pillbox App keeps a very tentative watch on whether or not a loved one – say a parent – has taken his medication properly.  If the parent does not have compromised executive function, it’s certainly easy to “fake it” so that the daughter can feel as though all is well ten miles away.  In reality, however, medication mismanagement might be taking place, carried out by the parent.

Elderly People - sign on Warwick Road, Olton

(Photo credit: ell brown)

The Alzheimer’s Association Comfort Zone program requires that a loved one wear a GPS device at all times so that family members can monitor their comings and goings throughout the day.  The system is of no benefit if the person doesn’t wear the pager; and if the person has dementia, there’s a strong likelihood of that happening.  I’m being the devil’s advocate here, simply pointing out that the system is only as good as the cooperation required to use it.  HOWEVER, and this is a demonstrative HOWEVER, it appears to be a very worthwhile system that provides numerous benefits.  Other than taking away ones right to privacy, it definitely serves as a safety net for when mom, dad, spouse, or other loved one, are heading into trouble.

I’m skeptical of Comfort Zone but I’m also its fan.  I’ve linked the Comfort Zone website above so that the reader can determine if such a system is worthwhile in his or her situation.  My skepticism comes about because I wish more attention and financing would be spent on a cure for Alzheimer’s and other dementia so that these current monitoring methods become a thing of the past.  A world without Alzheimer’s sounds just as desirous as a world without cancer, or MS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, to name a few.  More disease control financing = more cures.

One final word: I’ve already experienced two family members with Alzheimer’s and all the caregiving migraine headaches associated with those experiences.  So please know that I’m a proponent of worthwhile practices that ease the caregiver’s burden.  Unfortunately, there is absolutely no fail safe method out there that will give caregivers true peace of mind.  Even placement in a long-term care facility is not a 100% guarantee that mom, dad, sis, or gramps will receive the best care possible.  I’m sorry to burst your bubble – but it’s true.

President Obama Says the “A” Word: Alzheimer’s

President Obama Says the “A” Word: Alzheimer’s.

Lest you think that Alzheimer’s has nothing to do with you, look at the following statistics provided by the Alzheimer’s Association:

  • By the year 2050, nearly one million new cases will be diagnosed each year – that’s one American developing Alzheimer’s every 33 seconds.  Taken further, that most likely equates to nearly one and a half million new family caregivers each year – considering that at least one family member will be involved in managing a loved one’s care;
  • Ten million Baby Boomers will get Alzheimer’s;
  • On average, 40% of a person’s years with Alzheimer’s are spent in the most severe stage of the disease;
  • The number of Americans that die each year from Alzheimer’s disease has risen 66% since the year 2000;
  • Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States;
  • Today, there are no Alzheimer’s survivors – none.

Please take time to read the article I’ve attached above and consider the following: We are going to pay for Alzheimer’s one way or the other – now, or later.

This is a disease that will affect you, your children, your grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and beyond.  Burying our heads in the sand won’t solve anything.  Please consider donating to the Alzheimer’s Association as well as contacting your state’s congressional leaders asking for greater federal funding for Alzheimer’s research.  Why?  Because of this staggering statistic:

According to the National Institute of Health, the federal government currently spends much less money on Alzheimer’s research, prevention, and cure than on other conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and HIV.

  • $6 billion for cancer;
  • $4 billion for heart disease;
  • $3 billion for HIV/AIDS; but just
  • $480 million for Alzheimer’s disease.

I’m not comfortable with those numbers – are you?

Alzheimer’s: Laughter and Forgetting

Alzheimer’s: Laughter and Forgetting.

The attached article, from the magazine, Seattle Met, is a stellar example of a therapy that is not medicinal or chemical, nonetheless, it’s a therapy that works.  Imagine that – and without drugs???

  • Frye Art Museum, Seattle, Washington

    Frye Art Museum, Seattle, WA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    Viewing art at a museum and painting to express oneself afterwards. What kind of wackadoodle therapy is that?

It is a very successful therapy – that’s what!  Here: Now is an arts enrichment program developed in partnership with the Frye Museum, Elderwise, and the regional  Alzheimer’s Association, in the greater Seattle, Washington area.

The above article focuses primarily on the younger onset Alzheimer’s disease scenario, highlighting the experiences of Cathie Cannon and her partner, Sharon Monaghan, the latter who was diagnosed with this life-changing disease.    As the author of the article, Ann Hedreen, states

Art – looking at it, talking about, making it – is powerful medicine, one that gives Sharon a way, however fleeting, to live peacefully in the moment, no remembering required.  Even in its very name, Here: Now is about living in the moment.

So I’m going to let you discover the healing power of art, as told by those who can explain it far better than I ever could: Cathie and her partner, Sharon.

Ambiguous loss – the experience of caregiver spouses

Caregivers Of Spouses with Dementia Report Sadness, Loneliness, Less Enjoyment | Alzheimer\’s Reading Room.

Painting courtesy of Mary Riesche Studios

Painting courtesy of Mary Riesche Studios

The article above reflects what is offered by Pauline Boss in her book Ambiguous Loss.  I highly recommend the above Alzheimer’s Reading Room article as well as Ms. Boss’s book for any spouse who is taking care of their wife/husband at home or if your spouse is already living in a dementia care unit.

The author, Pauline Boss, explains it this way: when a loved one dies, we mourn the loss; we take comfort in the rituals that mark the passing, and we turn to those around us for support.  That doesn’t happen when a loved one is still alive, but the losing occurs nonetheless.  And this period of loss may go on for years prior to the spouse’s final departure through death.

One of the statements that Ms. Boss introduces is that “it is o.k. to love a shell.”  Anyone who is married to someone with dementia knows that, in essence, a shell is what their spouse becomes with advanced dementia.  But if the “surviving spouse” is able to draw on the memories of their marriage, they find themselves able to love their spouse regardless of the disease.  Unfortunately, the memories remembered are no longer shared memories; joint reminiscing no longer occurs.  Your wedding anniversary passes without any acknowledgement by your spouse, and although that’s just one of the burdens during this long period of loss, it’s a difficult one to bear.

Caregiving is a difficult, 24/7  task.  I honor you on your journey, and I hope you find comfort and direction in the above resources, as well as the resources that the Alzheimer’s Association provides.

Getting lost in a “Peek-a-Boo” world.

A fellow Blogger, Frangipani Singaporenicum, submitted an excellent article, “Mom is Back,” about the hurdles experienced when her mother traveled by airplane back home after a visit with one of her daughters.  Frangipani’s siblings weren’t fully aware of the breadth of their mother’s disease so they thought that the mother would be in good hands at the airport because they had arranged for an airport escort to get the mother to her airplane destination.

Unfortunately, what could go wrong did go wrong.  “Frangipani’s” mother has mixed dementia, Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, and found herself in unfamiliar surroundings when she became separated from the airport employee – a stranger in the mother’s eyes – who was supposed to assist her.  Getting lost in an unfamiliar environment is something that comes quite naturally to those with any type of dementia.   And as often happens when a person is lost, we try to get un-lost.  That attempt brought her mother to another airline terminal where a kind gentleman, noticing her distress, found the assistance she needed to get on the correct plane at the right time.

Those of us who have children – and please bear with me while I make this comparison – know how easily a child can wander away from our purview.  We make a quarter turn at the grocery store to get a box of cereal off the top shelf and “POOF!” our child is nowhere to be found.  I’m very familiar with this feeling because it happened to me many years ago when my adventurous daughter wandered away – causing me near cardiac arrest – and was subsequently prevented from exiting the grocery store by a Good Samaritan grandmother who knew better than to let my daughter run out into the parking lot.  “But I only turned away for a second!”  That’s all it takes.

So too can a person with dementia wander away because of something that attracted him; or more likely, with your back to him, he didn’t recognize you any more and walked away to try to find you.  “But how can I keep my eye on him at all times?”  You just have to.


SVG restroom symbols

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Public restroom challenges.  If you or your loved one needs to use the bathroom, find one of the family bathrooms that now exist in many public places so that your environment is controlled, and everyone’s needs are met.  Don’t think for a second that you can say to your husband, “George, you stay here while I run into the ladies’ room.  I’ll just be a minute.”  Be prepared to call security when you come out of the ladies’ restroom because in George’s mind, you disappeared, and the time frame of a minute means absolutely nothing to him.  And forget about sending your husband into the mens’ room by himself to meet his potty needs.  You’ll be waiting, and waiting, and waiting, and he just a) may not do his business; and b) may not come out on his own.  If no family bathrooms are available, stand at the entrance to the public restroom and announce yourself: “Woman entering with husband who needs assistance!”  You’ll find that those within will cover up what needs covering and not call security on you.

Medic Alert

Medic Alert (Photo credit: Nikita Kashner)

Medic-Alert jewelry.  The Alzheimer’s Association strongly recommends purchasing a Medic-Alert/Safe Return device which provides 24/7 emergency response service.  At least if your loved one gets lost, they will be reunited with you sooner.  This service is available in 50 countries, and in 140 languages.  The service speaks for itself so please check the link attached to research the many benefits of this membership service that, quite frankly, brings priceless peace of mind and provides a healthy dose of safety for your loved one.

Now they see you – now they don’t.  The examples cited above would not be complete if I didn’t add a personal experience from my days of being my father’s primary long-distance caregiver.  My dad lived in a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) in Southern Oregon.  When first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s he was very functional and remained in the assisted living apartment on campus that he had shared with his wife prior to her death in January 2007.

I stayed at a nearby hotel when I visited my father but spent most of the day with him on outings and/or spending time with him in his one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment.  At one point during an apartment visit, I announced to him that I was slipping into the bathroom, 10-feet away, and would be just a minute or two.

I was glad to have locked the bathroom door because partway during my “sit” dad was frantically jiggling the doorknob from the bedroom side of the door shouting, “Irene!  Where are you?!  Are you o.k.?  What’s going on?!!”  I was less understanding at the time and returned my own crazed shout of “Dad!!!  Leave me be!  I’m just going to the bathroom!!!”  Knowing what I know now, I would have exited the bathroom and apologized for frightening him, and made every attempt to make him feel safe again.  As Oprah Winfrey often says, “We do better when we know better.”

This unintended  “peek-a-boo” event proved to me that my father did not have an understanding of the passing of time, but more importantly, that if he couldn’t see me, I wasn’t there.  Back to the example of children, but this time, you’re the child.

You’re at play in your bedroom, having just left your mommy gleefully singing in the kitchen while she did the dishes.  Your dolls are lined up on your bed, you’re engaging them in discussion, and all of a sudden you notice that mommy isn’t singing any more.  You toddle out to the kitchen, and mommy isn’t where you left her!!!  “Mommy!  Where are you?!  Mommy – I’m scared!!!  Help me Mommy!!!!!”   Your mother steps out of the adjoined laundry room and calms you down – “Irene, I was just five feet away; I didn’t go anywhere, I’m right here!”  You run into your mommy’s arms and feel safe again.

Alzheimer’s and other dementia are very unpredictable diseases.  What can be predicted, however, is that the onus will always rest on us to compensate for our loved one’s challenges.  As I’ve mentioned in previous articles addressing dementia, we have the ability to adjust to the diseased person’s reality; not the other way around.  It’s hard work for us, but it’s an impossible task for them.

How to Break the News When It’s Alzheimer’s

How to Break the News When It’s Alzheimer’s.

It’s so unfortunate that Alzheimer’s, and other dementia, have become the new condition to avoid and/or not acknowledge.  A dementia diagnosis is SO difficult for everyone – including the one with the disease.  I think this article is very well done and provides a perspective of which many need to be aware.  Dismissing, or using euphemisms for this disease e.g., my wife has some memory problems – won’t make it go away.  Helping others to understand – not necessarily accept – this diagnosis is a very worthwhile endeavor.

Communication Tips from Individuals with Memory Loss Alzheimers Reading Room

Communication Tips from Individuals with Memory Loss Alzheimers Reading Room.

It’s not often that we have the privilege of hearing from someone who has dementia, providing us who don’t have dementia, with some caregiving tips.  Please take the time to listen to this person’s voice.

Alzheimer\’s Reading Room: \

Alzheimer\’s Reading Room: \.

This article is a delight to read.  It describes one family member’s perception of having been “chosen” to be the caregiver for his grandmother.  As a result of that choice, he developed a product that can be, and is, used widely in assisted living and dementia care units.  What a terrific outcome for everyone!

Blogger Awards for You and Me!

Thank you “Let’s Talk About Family” fellow-blogger for nominating me for the Versatile Blogger Award.  That’s the kind of feedback I like!  More importantly, everyone should check out her Blog because her insights into the ups, and downs, of caring for parents is very insightful and well worth following.

I have been so blessed by the input I receive from the many Blogs that I follow.  I’m going to use this opportunity to make some nominations as well! (I could list many, many more, but to begin with at least, I’ll list just a few that always stand out to me.)  First of all the steps that the nominees need to take to award others who are worthy of singling out:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you for an award;
  2. Copy & paste the award logos in your blog, as well as in the sections devoted to your nominations, below;
  3. Be certain to link the person who nominated you for an award; in my case, you’ll see that I’ve linked “Let’s Talk About Family” when I thanked her for nominating me;
  4. Nominate your own choices for awards;
  5. Place links to their Blogsites so that others can view their fine work;
  6. Say a few things about yourself so that others understand a bit more as to where you’re coming from – and where you’re going:
  • My first name is Irene and I live in the Seattle, Washington area.
  • I’m a Baby Boomer who loves to share knowledge about the challenges, and delights, of being in this age group.
  • My working background of the past 20 years includes being a paralegal in law firms as well as for corporations; an Executive Assistant and Office Manager for a senior housing company; a Business Manager in an assisted living/dementia care facility; an Alzheimer’s Association caregiver support group facilitator; and a certified long-term care (LTC) ombudsman for the county in which I live.
  • I became a LTC ombudsman in 2008, thereby leaving the senior housing industry, because in my mind one can never do enough for the vulnerable adults who live in long-term care residential facilities.  In order to assure that vulnerable residents experience a dignified existence and a high quality of life, I had to switch sides and become their advocate.
  • I will always try to write something about which I am familiar and that I have also experienced.  I’m not an expert, but my goal is to always provide input that I hope will prove valuable to others.
  • My mother died in 1994 and from 2004 thru 2007  I was the primary long-distance caregiver for my father who lived in an assisted living community’s dementia care unit.

Now onto the award nominations!

Versatile Blogger Awards:

Day by Day with the Big Terrible A (Alzheimer’s, of course.)  This blog is very reader-friendly.  This blogger is a wife who is taking care of her husband.  Her mini-entries very clearly reflect the struggles she, her husband, and her family face but she also makes room to celebrate the little victories that sometimes are hidden within the caregiving struggle.  I think all of us can find comfort in this woman’s efforts, and her ability to describe those efforts deserve 5 Stars!!!

My Simple C.com.  This blog is an online community that seeks to connect professional caregivers with family caregivers.  The resources and suggestions are quite good and are provided without the intent of selling anything.  Virginia Lynn Rudder works for a company called Simple C, but she clearly has a goal of providing information in an easy to read, comprehensive, and supportive manner.

Elder Advocates.  Lark E. Kirkwood experienced something that no one should ever have to experience.  A guardianship was put in place limiting access to her father who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and who has subsequently passed on.  Please visit her site because she provides many valuable resources relating to a prevailing problem for vulnerable adults: elder abuse & fraud.


Flickr Comments by FrizzText.  This Blogger really knows how to take a photo and knows how to find them so that we can take a break in our very busy days and simply enjoy his view on our world.  Please make a point of stopping by and you’ll be representing one of the more than 100 countries that partake of his Blog site.

Communicating in Alzheimer\’s World | Alzheimer\’s Reading Room

Communicating in Alzheimer\’s World | Alzheimer\’s Reading Room.

One of the most frequent stresses I hear from those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other dementia is having to REPEATEDLY answer questions for which an answer has been given – numerous times.  This article provides some tips on communicating with someone who is literally not on the same wavelength as you.

Caregivers: learning from our mistakes.

“Once bitten, twice shy.”  The Chinese and Japanese proverb has a variant:  “One year bitten by a snake, for three years afraid of a grass rope.”

Perhaps Champagne is the answer?

Perhaps Champagne is the answer?

How does one who is as imperfect as myself apply this Proverb without writing an article that goes on and on into perpetuity?  All of us can think of circumstances in which we fail to learn by experience and continue doing the same stupid/inadvisable thing over and over again expecting different results.  As I said, my life is rife with examples, but this article centers around caregiving – especially as it applies to caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or other dementia.  CAVEAT: I would never write on something about which I had not experienced.  I’ve been there.  I’ve done that.  I’ve paid for my mistakes.

I’m so tired of my spouse/father/mother asking me the same question over and over again and supplying her with the same answer over and over again!

Anyone with a loved one who has any type of dementia has lived in this unending vicious cycle.  We think that if we just answer the question one more time she’ll remember and not ask the question again.  Or we think that if we just spoke louder – or slower – she would certainly remember and life would be infinitely improved.  Not happening.  Answer the question once, and then move on to another topic.  Change the subject; redirect your loved one by doing something that will distract her; or simply don’t respond at all.  What ever you do, don’t aggravate the situation by reminding her that you’ve already answered that question numerous times so why don’t you stop already!!!???  Take a deep breath and remember: your spouse isn’t the one asking questions over and over again and frustrating you beyond all measure – the disease is asking the questions.  I know – intellectually you understand that concept, but your eyes see and hear your spouse pestering you for an answer over, and over again, so it’s very difficult to get beyond the emotion of the situation. Continue reading

Life can turn on a dime.

If ever there is an example of how life can turn on a dime, it’s Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ tragic experience.  January 8, 2012 marks one year since Ms. Giffords was shot in the head while meeting with her constituents in Tucson, Arizona.

The bullet traveled 1000 feet per second into her brain and not only did she survive, even her neurosurgeons termed her recovery a miracle.  Is Ms. Giffords back to 100%?  No.  Will she be?  There is a strong hope that she will.  As her husband said to Diane Sawyer when asked if he’s holding out too much hope: “You can’t have too much hope!  That’s not practical!”  In her ABC special on 20/20 chronicling Congressman Giffords’ and her husband, Astronaut Mark Kelly’s journey, Diane Sawyer characterized their endeavors in this manner:

 The courage & love you bring when the life you live, is not the life you planned.

Life turns on a dime in many ways: in relationships; in difficult financial times; and in sickness and in health, to name just a few.

Some of you reading this Blog are in the midst of a life trauma that you certainly didn’t plan, and from which you wish you were released.  What challenge do you face?  Did you see it coming?

One story of life’s changes. I volunteer as a Facilitator for an Alzheimer’s Association caregiver support group.  Every member of our group has a loved one with some sort of dementia diagnosis.  Some are in the early stages, some are in the middle stages, and three in particular recently experienced the end stage.

RRRING!  A telephone rings in the middle of the night and life changes for caregivers gearing up for the Holidays with their family.

In the wink of an eye, life as they knew it took a sharp turn.  It’s the Holiday season and suddenly one set of caregivers hires in-home hospice care for their parent and another caregiver rides in an ambulance with her spouse to a local hospice center because of a terminal change in health.   Within days both sets of caregivers arrange memorial services for which they hadn’t planned at this stage of their loved one’s life.

BANG!  Six lives are lost, and Gabrielle Giffords’ and Mark Kelly’s lives change forever.

Congresswoman Giffords loved spending time with her constituents.  The night before she was shot, she took a long bike ride with a friend and was eager for the next day to begin.  A week later she and her husband were to undergo in vitro fertilization so they could start planning the birth of their first child together.  And those attending this gathering, both staff and general citizenry, hoped for a successful and enjoyable experience.  The bottom line is that you can’t plan for what you can’t see coming.

Oftentimes when we hear of tragedies such as those mentioned above, we naively say to ourselves, “Those are the types of things that happen to other people; not us.”  Well, the truth of the matter is, those types of things happen to people, and that’s us.

Congresswoman Giffords’ neurosurgeons stated that they don’t know where in the brain one finds charm, optimism, humor or charisma.  Certainly no where in the brain can one find sufficient prescience that allows us to see what’s coming around the corner.

No matter how hard we try; no matter how careful we are; life turns on a dime.  And sometimes, the life we live becomes the life we did not plan.

I received inspiration for this article from the caregiver heroes with whom I am acquainted, and from Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly in their book: Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope.

Denial: Roadblock to better health and better care.

STATEMENT:  Carol’s having a little problem with her memory.
Initially this might be an accurate statement.  Two years later, it’s a euphemism that doesn’t benefit anyone, the least of which is Carol.

Imagine denying a person’s cancer diagnosis.  There’s no need to treat it.  I just have an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in my body.  It’s not that bad.  It’s early in the diagnosis anyway and I’m not even experiencing any major symptoms.  I’ll do something about it when it really gets bad.  Ill-advised, right?  Most people would not follow that path.  But Alzheimer’s disease, and other dementia, are no less serious.  As a matter of fact, cancer isn’t always fatal, but Alzheimer’s is.  There is no cure and no potential for one at this time.

Most people would spring into action upon receiving a cancer diagnosis: learning as much as possible about it; taking measures to curtail  the cancer’s effects on their lives.  The sooner one does something about it, the better the chances of successful treatment.  For some reason, when a person receives an Alzheimer’s diagnosis there’s a self-inflicted stigma attached to it; as if the afflicted person brought the condition on themselves.  This is an unfortunate perception and one that should be put to rest.  Whereas clinical depression or mental illness used to be a taboo subject, those conditions are now more readily accepted in the public eye.  Alzheimer’s must be brought out into the open, especially as it affects you or a loved one.


  • The window of opportunity to start early drug therapy can be a very narrow one.

The time to seek medical assistance is when symptoms become fairly consistent and more than just a “senior moment.”  A thorough medical exam should be conducted to rule out any cause other than dementia.  Some medical conditions and/or medication usage can mimic cognitive decline.  All the more reason to act early to rule out what might be a readily fixable temporary condition.

If after the thorough medical exam a cognitive workup is warranted, you’ll have a defined cognitive baseline and can start treatments and/or make adjustments in the household that will minimize the disease’s impact on your lives.  Now you’re in the driver’s seat, regaining some amount of control over the disease.

  • Those close to you need to be informed.

As mentioned in an earlier post, “Caregiving: The Ultimate Team Sport” (article located in the “Caregiving” tab) you can’t assemble a care team if you’re ignoring the needs and challenges facing you and your loved one.  You’ll be amazed at the relief you’ll feel knowing that you’re not battling this disease on your own.  Let your family and close friends know early on what you need from them.  Partner with them to become a formidable force upon which you can rely.  You need support and it’s available from several resources.

  • Join a local Alzheimer’s Association support group.

The Alzheimer’s Association lists support groups in most geographical regions that should prove extremely helpful to you.  Type in your zip code in the “Find Us Anywhere” upper right area of their website and you’ll be connected with the Chapter located nearest to you.  Within that local Chapter you’ll then be able to search for a support group by typing in your city, county,  or zip code.   You’ll find groups for family members who are attempting to support their loved one who has received a dementia diagnosis.  You might also find support groups for patients who are in the earliest stages of their illness.  Both groups can do much towards providing you with confidence and hope when none can be found.  These groups become a practical resource into which you can tap to benefit from others’ experiences in managing the disease.  If by chance there is no nearby Alzheimer’s Association Chapter, check with your local hospitals, community colleges, senior centers, and the like as they oftentimes hold groups that are facilitated by trained professionals.  These alternative groups are very adequate options when no other groups are available.

If you or a loved one has received an Alzheimer’s/dementia diagnosis, you’ve just entered one of the most difficult chapters of your life.  You deserve all the support and medical attention you can get.  Ignoring the condition doesn’t make it any less real so please take the steps needed to manage this stage of your life effectively.

The next article in this “Understanding Alzheimer’s & other dementia” series is : “Driving with dementia: the dangers of denial.”

Advocacy starts with the smallest effort to make a difference


I was touched by the following quote that appeared on Lark Kirkwood’s Elder Advocates site a few years ago:

Do all the good that you can, in all the places you can, in all the ways that you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, for as long as you can.  – John Wesley

I want to add the following sentiment which has become a sort of mantra for the way I conduct myself:

We can begin by doing small things at the local level, like planting community gardens or looking out for our neighbors.  That is how change takes place in living systems – not from above – but from within, from many local actions occurring simultaneously.  – Grace Lee Boggs

It only took 3 people to raise $100’s at a garage sale for the local Alzheimer’s Association.

I’m so encouraged by the different types of advocacy that I’ve witnessed across this nation.  Some advocate for the elderly, some the disenfranchised or marginalized, others advocate for the humane treatment of animals.  Whichever the focus – it’s all about advocacy.  The good news is that whether a person lives in Redmond, Washington, like myself, or Washington, DC – we are all making a difference in each of our small corners of the Universe.  Imagine if everyone did just that.

Instead of having the mindset that the only things worth doing are those which are grandiose and news worthy – and therefore believing that you have nothing to offer – do what you can, with what you have, and your impact will be grand.  Many small, positive actions add up to great advances in the betterment of our world.

Regardless of your age, you can make a difference in the lives of others.  If you’re looking for something to do, consider helping an elder or two.  Let’s face it, unless death comes early for us, we’re all going to enter the elder category at some point in the future.  You may someday benefit from someone else’s tender loving respect and care.