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What would your loved one want?

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More frequently than I can tolerate, I have visited long-term care (LTC) facilities during Holiday celebrations: July 4th, Christmas, New Years Eve, etc., and I find residents in the dementia wing with accoutrements, e.g., July 4th hats, reindeer horns, festive party hats, that the resident with Alzheimer’s or other dementia would NEVER consider wearing if they had a choice.

My suggestion: before you allow anyone to adorn your parent, spouse, grandma/grandpa, aunt/uncle with a party adornment, ask yourself this question:

What would ______ want?

 Why do facility employees feel obligated to dress up their residents with what can only be described as hideous garments/accessories during Holiday seasons?  It’s demeaning.  It’s borderline abusive.  It’s just not right unless the resident himself has chosen to wear such accessories.

Becoming a clown does not equate to living a dignified existence.

My father, on the right, with his brother. My dad was in the Canadian artillery during World War II.

Prior to living in long-term care facilities, these senior citizens lead distinguished lives, fought in wars, managed households and families, and most likely survived tough financial times.  These men and women just happen to be older now, but no less important; no less dignified. In one of my earlier articles, Be an advocate for your aging loved one, I stated, “If your loved one no longer has a voice in which to defend or advocate for herself, who better to do so than you?”  Chances are in these costumed situations during the Holidays, your loved one doesn’t even see themselves in a mirror, and if they do see themselves, the image they’re seeing may not be comprehensible to them.  Would they want to look like a child wearing a season-appropriate party hat?  Would they have worn that hat in public prior to the advancement of dementia?

This brings to mind another article, Senior citizens are NOT children!  In that article, I broached the topic of talking down to Senior Citizens by using cutesy names: caregivers do it, customer service employees do it, DON’T YOU DO IT!  We have to get out of the mindset that our older population is somehow less worthy of respect simply because of their advancing age.  If anything, the opposite should be occurring.  All of us should honor the lives that were – and the lives that still remain.  This station in life, these circumstances, are not who they are.  They are simply where they are right now.  Use the memories that you retain of your loved one to promote the true person they are.  Don’t let others – caregivers or well-meaning friends – define your parent/spouse/family member.  It is my firm belief that regardless of the severity of a person’s Alzheimer’s or other dementia, the essence of the person remains in tact.   Make it your responsibility to enhance other people’s understanding of your loved one by correctly defining their true essence.

Dignity and quality of life are a right, not a privilege.

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Optimism amongst the chaos.

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In the book, Gabby, by Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly, Congresswoman Giffords’ husband, Mark, provides statements about optimism that have greatly encouraged me.  Here are just a few:

  • “I saw how optimism is a form of therapy and hope is a form of love.”
  • “Doctors at TIRR, the rehab hospital, told us that our optimism and encouragement could make a great difference in Gabby’s recovery…”
  • “To be of help to a brain-injury patient, we were told, families need to find a way to balance pragmatism and optimism.”

In a Time Magazine article published December 13, 2011, Congresswoman Giffords addresses the struggles she and her husband have endured as they continue to adjust to the “new normal” brought about as a result of a bullet that pierced her brain on January 8, 2011 when she was reaching out to her Congressional district in Arizona.  So many of us have new normals as we walk, or fall, head first into Baby Boomerism.  This normal may involve a loved one who has a fatal or debilitating illness.  This new normal may be characterized as our own bodily/physical struggles inherent with our age.  Each of us have some sort of chronic something-or-other that inhibits our ability to function at 100%.

What is the chronic something-or-other that inhibits your ability to function at 100%?

The above question is a rhetorical one.  Neither myself nor the public need to know the specifics – but you know the specifics and you’re the one making long-term adjustments as a result.

What processes do you follow to unearth the optimism that exists somewhere in your psyche? How do you overcome your personal challenges so that you end most days victorious, rather than defeated?

My wonderful sister, on my left, and I at a Napa winery - tasting wine of course! Cheers!

For me, it’s acceptance.  For me, acceptance doesn’t mean giving in or giving up; rather, acceptance means being o.k. with how things currently are and finding ways to succeed within that new normal.  This mentality or attitude is more optimistic than you may think.  Again, for me, I  decided to allow optimism to nurture the hope that oftentimes is buried deep within me.  Things could very well change for the better –  which doesn’t have to be defined as being 100% problem-free.  Nope.  If I garner optimism at the start of each day, I’m making a conscious and aware decision to acknowledge and celebrate even the smallest of victories that might occur in the next 24-hours.  If I wait for a humongous, star-spangled mega-victory, I may wait forever.  Instead, I attempt to be aware of even the smallest improvements/goodnesses in my day so that my life is filled with many victories to celebrate.  The previous sentence says that “I attempt” to garner optimism throughout my day.  I don’t always succeed – but I try.

What small victory can you celebrate today?

What works for you? The rest of us would love to celebrate that victory with you.

Baby Boomers: what topics interest you?

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Irene writing on lanaiWhat do you want to read and comment on?  I thoroughly enjoy this blogging experience but it’s not satisfying enough for me to have a one-way written conversation.  My family would be the first to say that once I get going, it’s hard to shut me up.  (As of March 2016, I’ve posted 700 articles.)

But I want to enhance my own Baby Boomer experience with your wisdom, advice, successes, even failures.  It’s in those practical experiences that we grow the most.

So I sincerely covet your input as to what would draw you to my “Baby Boomers and More” Blog more frequently.  What topics interest you enough that you would provide comments and even contribute your own articles that I’ll press/link to my own Blog site?

Truth be told?  This is not just my site – it’s out there for everyone.  I hope you’ll be candid and honest with your input.  Bring it on – I’m good and ready for your Baby Boomer Blog ideas.

Preserving your loved one’s dignity.

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The more a person becomes dependent on others, the more protection he needs.  A person with dementia needing the assistance of others is considered a vulnerable adult.  He can’t defend himself or speak up for himself.  He can’t demand exceptional care, courtesy, and respect.  As his advocate – that’s where you come in.  When he doesn’t have a voice – you step in to be that voice.  Your reward will be great if you succeed in doing so.

Part of what I do in my working life is to advocate for vulnerable adults by doing what I can to promote dignity and quality of life for those I have the privilege to serve.  As a family member, or good friend, to an adult with dementia, your task is a monumental one because along with your caregiving role, you must also excel at the task of advocacy.   In my blog article, “Be an Advocate for your Loved One” posted on this blog November 14, 2011, I discuss the various ways in which you can advocate for your loved one.  This current article is the last article in my “Understanding Alzheimer’s and other dementia” series and it addresses the issue of dignity and privacy.

My dad in the 1960's; a former Marathon runner

As those of us who have, or have had, loved ones with dementia we know without a shadow of doubt, that our loved one’s current condition does not reflect the pre-Alzheimer’s/dementia person.  A grandmother who previously never spoke the “F-word” now speaks it as though it were just another word in her vocabulary.  A previously modest and distinguished gentleman now routinely removes his clothes in front of others, and/or may be inclined to grope his caregivers or other residents.  A former globally recognized businessman, sought after for his abundant knowledge in his field, now needs others to feed him and has lost the ability to string a meaningful sentence together.  Our loved one’s new normal is shocking to those of us who are close to the person with dementia, and completely foreign to those who are not.

Keeping people informed about your loved one’s condition.

Those who definitely have an attachment to your loved one: friends, coworkers, close neighbors, and of course family members, will probably appreciate knowing what’s going on with him.  It’s important to use discernment when deciding who needs to know – and who doesn’t.  And thanks to e-mail and texting, we can update people immediately and thoroughly with no need to pick up the phone.  That’s truly a bonus, isn’t it?  You’re already stressed and emotionally drained by your situation so having to conduct numerous telephone calls and provide the same update to several people would be prohibitive at best.

But with the ease of e-mail comes the temptation to be too thorough in the e-mail missive.  You’ve already discerned who needs to be kept updated; now you need to use judgment on how much you say and how you say it.  Does your neighbor really need to know about your husband’s incontinence?  How would it benefit your mother’s former coworkers to learn that their former Marketing Executive now drools throughout the day and can no longer feed herself?  More to the point – ask yourself this question: How would my spouse/parent/partner/sibling/friend feel if they knew I was providing all the gory details of their dementia progression to those near and dear to them?  The answer, I believe, is obvious.  If they could, your loved one would say, “Please don’t let everyone know what I’ve been reduced to.”  Showing respect for your loved one includes protecting her privacy, and thereby her dignity.  And I’ll tell you from experience – those on the receiving end of the information would rather you be brief and not overly descriptive.

Celebrate the uniqueness of your loved one.

My dad in the 1960's "fixing" the toilet. He always was a jokester!!!

Your loved one is not just some generic living and breathing person in the Early, Middle or Late stage of Alzheimer’s.  He may not be able to do everything he previously could – maybe he’s not even able to speak – but you can still celebrate him as a human being.  Everyone mourns what’s been lost; hardly any one celebrates their loved one’s remaining attributes.  I learned a lesson from my father during the middle stages of his dementia.  I was quick to finish his sentences, or rush him along by answering people’s questions for him.  My dad didn’t have to use words to express his displeasure when I did that.  He slumped in his chair, looked at me, and let out an exasperated sigh.  I stopped right then and there and made no further attempts to rush him as he conversed.  Doing so would take away one of the abilities he still had – talking and getting his point across.  It may have taken him a long time to complete his thought, but he still had the ability to do so.  Please don’t take away the remaining vestiges of your loved one’s independence and abilities.  If you feel compelled to feed your loved one just because they take a long time to eat their meal, you’re training them to rely on you for that assistance when they could have been doing it on their own.  Who cares if it takes 60 minutes instead of 15 to finish a plate of food?  If they’re still able to feed themselves – celebrate that ability.  Don’t take it away for your own convenience.

Walk into their reality – don’t force them to enter into yours.

We’ve all experienced conversations with our loved one wherein he or she talks about things that didn’t really happen, although they are convinced that they did.  What’s the harm in agreeing with them and going along with their story.  Your wife says, “Didn’t you enjoy that trip to the Grand Canyon we took with the kids a few years ago?”  O.K. – first of all you don’t have any children, and second of all, you’ve never been to the Grand Canyon.  Instead of trying to convince her of what’s real – and making her feel bad/ashamed in the process – talk about the great view, or how all the kids fell asleep in the car and missed the entire gorgeous spectacle.  I can guarantee that if you change your paradigm regarding this development, both you and your loved one will be better off.  The Alzheimer’s Association has a great adage that they offer us caregivers to help us along the way.  If you don’t insist – they can’t resist.  I challenge you to go with the flow instead of trying to paddle upstream.  Don’t cause contention.  A little make-believe goes a long way and harms no one.

AARP magazine reviewed the book Dancing with Rose: Finding Life in the Land of Alzheimer’s by Lauren Kessler. This memoir by Ms. Kessler is portrayed as “an  Alzheimer’s tale that’s warm, uplifting, even hopeful – qualities not normally associated with the illness.  This odd dichotomy – joy atop a ravaging disease – makes this book a refreshing standout.”  Alzheimer’s and other dementia have the ability to peel away a person’s former mask to allow what’s underneath to surface – pleasant or not.  What Ms. Kessler learned in her journey with her mother is that “if viewed from a different perspective, Alzheimer’s is not the end of personhood.”

Yes – dementia changes who your loved one is.  It oftentimes reduces him or her to childish, and then infantile behavior.  But they are still a person.  They are no less worthy of your respect and your compassion.  This hardest task of your life will end some day.  In the interim, may you be merciful to your loved one and may those with whom you are associated support you along the way.

Understanding Alzheimer’s & other dementia

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There are diagnostic tools in place that try to make sense of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other dementia; some are conclusive, while others are simply an educated guess because knowledge of this disease is evolving day by day in the medical and scientific fields.  And for certain, no two people with the disease have the same manifestation thereof.

Whether or not an actual diagnosis is presented, you as family members, or perhaps as the patient, are struggling with this new reality and are attempting to carry on as normally as possible.

In the days ahead I am going to submit four articles addressing some of the challenges inherent with this disease.  I am not an expert – I have no PhDs and no medical degrees – but what I do offer is advice gleaned from my own practical experience and from that of those with whom I have been fortunate to be acquainted.

The four articles will be as follows:

  1. Denial: Roadblock to better health and better care.
  2. Driving with dementia: the dangers of denial.
  3. Long distance caregiving (provided in two parts.)
  4. Preserving your loved one’s dignity.
My wonderful brother Don, and our dad in June 2005, a year after dad's Alzheimer's diagnosis.

As Charles Darwin once said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent.  It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

I hope that ALL of us will have something to offer as these four articles are presented.  I covet your input and hope that you feel free to provide it.

On being grateful….

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On being grateful…..

I’m truly grateful for this posting by Morris in his  Musings from Third Base blog.   My mother always told me that you don’t have to look very far to locate someone worse off than yourself.  That doesn’t mean you ignore the valid feelings of desperation or frustration that one feels from time to time – especially as we become more and more of a Baby Boomer.  But what it does mean is that we can probably honestly say that we also have a few reasons to celebrate during this stage in our lives.  I don’t wait for the grandiose, huge reasons to celebrate – I don’t want to wait THAT long.  Instead I celebrate even the smallest of accomplishments, or good times; that way I have far more celebratory moments in my life.  Forget about not SWEATING the small stuff.  Let’s CELEBRATE the small stuff that give us reasons to be grateful.

I sang for my Dad today … January 30, 2011

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I sang for my Dad today … January 30, 2011.

I am so pleased that I FINALLY figured out how to post someone else’s blog entry and I do so with this one by Lark Elizabeth Kirkwood.  How wonderful that Lark was able to have that musical connection with her father at that time in his disease.  One of the last songs I sang to my father, a couple hours before he died, was “Aloha Oe” which is a good-bye song in Hawaiian.  I know he heard the song as he rode on the wave of departure from this Earth. Reading Lark’s many posts about the positive effects of music on those with dementia or brain injuries is so timely as I am still reeling from the positiveness of Diane Sawyer’s 20/20 program on ABC that was broadcast earlier this week.  Her story of Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly was  inspirational on so many levels.  Music had, and continues to have, an AMAZING healing effect on Congresswomen Giffords recovery from that horrific gun shot injury on January 8th, 2011.