Health & Wellness

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

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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.

Adjustment disorder: a long-term care facility side-effect.

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Duct-tape Moving Van

Think of a moving/relocating experience you’ve had with all of its inherent tasks of purging of items, packing what remains, and leaving all that is familiar as you move into uncharted territory.  In your new neighborhood you’re starting all over again to find: new friends;  a new supermarket with the best deals; perhaps the best school(s) for your children; a new church; and new ties to the community.  Not exactly an enjoyable experience.  It took you some time to adjust to your new community and feel that you fit in, didn’t it?

Now imagine doing the same thing as someone who is at least 70 years old with failing health, no family nearby, and perhaps with a compromised cognition level.  Vulnerable adults move into a long-term care (LTC) housing environment because of a condition, or combination of conditions, that make living independently no longer an optionBecause of this disruptive move, another disorder – adjustment disorder – makes their move a perilous one.

A loss of context in a new environment.  In my work as an advocate for vulnerable adults, I had the privilege of hearing a wonderful speaker, George Dicks.  At the time, Mr. Dicks supervised the Geriatric Psychiatry Service clinic at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, WA.  He was also a contracted instructor for the University of Washington, teaching courses on Gerontology, Psychiatric Consultation, and Mental Health.  He emphasized that residents living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities struggle to look for context within their new environment.  For example, context is hard to come by when your daily bath occurs at 2:00 in the afternoon instead of in the morning or evening as was the case prior to the move.  And forget about finding comfort in routine because the demands on LTC staff are such that caring for numerous residents on their shift can’t possibly assure a routine on which the residents can rely.

Just providing care doesn’t mean that a staff person is caring.  Everyone who moves into a long-term care facility will have difficulties, but those who are cognitively impaired face an especially arduous adjustment.  As I previously mentioned, staff are hard pressed to provide individual care to their residents, and oftentimes are poorly prepared to handle the disorders that walk through the door.  Just getting through their daily shift is troublesome so trying to learn the habits and routines that are so vital for quality of life of the resident with dementia is a very time-consuming task.

a hand holding unidentified white pills
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Quite frequently, the only contact a staff person has with a resident is when they are making demands of that resident: “time to take your medicines Mrs. Jones;” “let’s get that soiled clothing changed Mr. Smith;” “open your mouth Mrs. Clark so I can feed you.”  Providing for  basic needs is not providing care.  Why?   Because the staff are requiring something of the resident.  There is no connection.  When a staff person interacts with a resident, absent a provision of care, that’s a better definition of care.

How to lessen the effects of adjustment disorder.  Those living in a long-term care housing situation oftentimes feel as though they left all their power, and all of their basic human rights, at the door.  They are constantly surrounded with reminders of their condition – all those other residents who look as lost and helpless as they do – and it seems that the only time anyone pays attention to them is when someone is demanding something of them in the form of providing some sort of assistance with their care needs.  If every staff person spent just five minutes of non-task-oriented time with each resident during their shift, those residents just might start feeling better about themselves.

  • Walk with a resident for a few minutes by simply accompanying them in the hallway and reassuring them along the way.
  • Play music the residents like in the common areas and in their rooms – and don’t assume that you know what they like to hear.  Take the time to find out what gets their feet tapping.
  • When you walk past a resident, greet them, smile at them, just as you would if you were in a social environment instead of a clinical environment.  Again, do so even when you’re not providing a care service.  Your friendly, heart-felt greeting may just make their day.
  • Start a dialogue with residents that allows them to open up to you about who they are; what their lives were like prior to arriving at the facility.  If you need to jot down some of their stories so you’ll remember them later, do so and continue the dialogue the next time you see them.  Wouldn’t it be a pleasant surprise to a resident when you asked them, “Tell me more about your grandson Charlie.  He seems like a real character!”  Wow – you were actually listening, and it shows.  Now you’re connecting with the resident.

If you are a staff person in a long-term care facility, can you put your grandma or grandpa’s face on your patients/residents faces thereby having a greater incentive to connect with those receiving your care?  Or if that doesn’t work for you, do what you must in order to add an element of care to those you serve.  Just because you’re helping the resident perform a task, doesn’t mean that you’re providing the care that they really need.

Music therapy: a key to unlocking the diseased brain.

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Cab Calloway (1933?)
Cab Calloway still has a musical impact to this day! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Alzheimer’s and other dementia don’t hold a candle to the positive effect music has on its victims.  The attached video, a brief portion from the documentary, Alive Inside, is entitled: “Music and Memory, an old man’s reaction to hearing ‘his’ music.”  It illustrates so beautifully how music can unlock the brain that is addled by memory loss resultant from injury or disease.

I hope Henry’s story, and his dramatic transformation,  encourage you.

Cost of Dying: planning for a good death, from advance directive to talking with your family

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Cost of Dying: planning for a good death, from advance directive to talking with your family.

The article posted here is well worth the read.  It is very comprehensive and reveals the nitty gritty of the decisions that are so important, and too often emergent, as we and/or our family members age.

When my husband and I set up our living wills/advance health care directives a few years ago, we did so as a living gift to each other.  The attached article reflects that sentiment as well.  With all of the details spelled out in advance, the surviving loved one is not thrust into an emergent decision that by its very nature holds one of the biggest responsibilities we can carry on our shoulders.  To be sure, an advanced health care directive doesn’t take away all of the end-of-life challenges that occur but it does allow the surviving family members to feel at ease as they respect their loved one’s wishes that were expressly made known well in advance of the need for implementation.

Having these discussions with loved ones can be uncomfortable for some,  but if framed in the guise of being a living gift to those left behind, the discussions take on a whole new meaning and can’t help but come out in a positive light.

Caregiving as a Baby Boomer – Joan Lunden’s experience.

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Caregiving is not for wimps as is evident in a recent CNN article, “Caring for loved ones the ‘new normal’ for boomers.”  This article highlights the challenges that former “Good Morning America” host, Joan Lunden, faced when helping her mother transition into a long-term care (LTC) housing facility.  Even with all the resources at her fingertips, it took three LTC housing moves before Ms. Lunden found the one best-suited for her 88-year-old mother.

Where will your search for senior housing land you?

My article, “Selecting a Senior housing community – easy for some, not for the rest of us,” addresses the challenges inherent with even beginning ones search for senior housing.  Just like everything that is new to our experience, there are an entirely new set of vocabulary terms associated with long-term care housing so it helps to understand those terms prior to starting off on your journey.

Additionally, the article “Avoiding the pitfalls of selecting senior housing” addresses the ways in which you can discern whether or not the housing community you’re considering has had any run-ins with licensing, the Department of Social Services, and the like.  You will be pleased to know how easy it is to check up on the facilities you’re considering just by making a few phonecalls or perusing websites that provide vital information to consumers about incidents that might have been investigated at the facilities.  No one needs to go into this task blindfolded and uninformed.  The better informed you are, the better the chance of success in choosing the most appropriate senior residential situation for you or your loved one.

What has been your experience as someone looking for long-term care housing options?  Certainly all of us can benefit from the experiences of others just like yourself so I hope to hear from you in the form of blog comments soon!

Where do you find peace?

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Do you find peace within the circle of your family; or does meditation or prayer, an inspirational book, or music fill your soul?  Wherever the source – how do you keep that peace from slipping away?

On the Threshold of Eternity
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Certainly when we’re exposed to sorrowful or earth-shattering news, any semblance of peace and calm seem to disappear, such as: acts of terrorism – both domestic and abroad; heartless school shootings; bigotry and hatred; and even devastating illness.  How many times has your armor been pierced by such circumstances?

Too many to count. So how do we find peace amongst the chaos?

We can find peace in many small ways – probably the easiest way to do so is to acknowledge the beauty that surrounds us.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re a creationist or an evolutionist, the beauty you see is the same.  It’s always refreshing when I walk through my local plant nursery, Molbaks, to see the intricacies of flowers and their natural, yet seemingly unrealistic, colors.  How did that happen?  How can so much detail just happen and we had nothing to do with it?  I relish the peace I feel when roaming the rows and rows of flowers and I capture that moment and take it home with me.

Português: Céu rosa com nuvens um pouco antes ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And the colors of sunrises and sunsets – what a joy to behold!  Even though my house is located in such a way as to not be able to directly see the sun’s rising and setting, I still have the privilege of seeing its aftereffects in the pink and ruby colors of the sky.  My mother’s favorite color was pink, so when the sky is beautifully colored in that tint, I credit my mother for this natural artwork, somehow executed from her heavenly resting place.

Celebrating even the smallest of victories in one’s life.  Time and again I remind myself to acknowledge the small goodnesses and victories in my life.  I learned this practice shortly after having a fairly major orthopedic surgery several years ago.  The recovery and rehabilitation were lengthy so I had to take comfort in even the smallest signs of improvement so that discouragement didn’t creep in to rob me of the positive steps I had made towards recovery.

So too is it important to pay attention to all the emotional windfalls that come our way.  A huge lottery windfall – such as recently happened (December 2013) in California and Georgia – isn’t the type of emotional windfall I’m talking about.  We can experience far more authentic emotions that are not tied to money or things.  Someone greets me with a smile or has a word of encouragement that I absolutely needed at that moment?  That feeds my soul.  I greet someone else with a smile and a hug?  Even better – now I’m paying it forward!  It’s been said many times before that the richest and longest lasting gifts are those that don’t cost a cent.  As trite as it may sound, it’s still absolutely true.

Where or how does one find peace when hit with a wall of hurt – whatever that hurt may look like?  In my experience, I have to force myself to look away from the hurt/pain/stress/negativity in order to clearly see some peaceful element, regardless of how small, that will convince me that all is not lost, because I still have this, whatever “this” may be.  When we consciously turn away from the wall of hurt, we then have the ability to find some element of peace, somewhere, in our purview.  That doesn’t mean that we ignore what is required to resolve the hurt that came our way, but we make a conscious decision to redirect our focus elsewhere so that all the focus isn’t on the hurtful things that have come our way.

Dona Nobis Pacem.  I really like this blog entry entitled, Dona Nobis Pacem, from a blog written by Kathy that focuses on her quest to find peace after the death of her mom to pancreatic cancer.  To be sure – finding peace is a journey, it’s not just a decision one makes – and Kathy’s article addresses the work required to attain peace.  But initially she had to make a decision to simply start on that peace-finding journey, and doing so, she’s nearing her quest.  I hope you will visit Kathy’s site and take the time to also watch the video she attached that highlights the song Dona Nobis Pacem – Give Us Peace.

Retirement communities: the good and the bad.

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In the April 2012 issue of the AARP Bulletin, two articles caught my eye.  The first article, “To be a Bride Again at 100” (attached is the video link) celebrates the marriage of Dana Jackson, 100 years old, to her groom, 87 year old Bill Stauss.  This is a love story between two residents of a nursing home in Bowling Green, Kentucky.  This nursing home celebrated their love, and their death-do-us-part vows, in such a lovely way.  The management and staff of the nursing home exhibited a wonderful sense of community and support of Dana and Bill.  Whether they realized it or not, the staff at the Rosewood Health Care Center helped the newlyweds exercise their rights as long-term care residents.

The second article in the Bulletin’s column, What an Outrage, “Barred from a fine dining restaurant,”  shines a spotlight on a Virginia retirement community that not only did not exhibit a sense of community and support, but they quite literally violated the rights of a husband and wife living there.  When the husband’s care needs required him to switch to the skilled nursing care portion of the retirement community, while his wife remained in the independent living portion of the community, their meals together were abruptly stopped.  The wife could continue to dine in the fine-dining restaurant of the retirement community, but her husband was barred from doing so.  He and the other sixteen nursing care and assisted living residents were required to eat in their own separate dining room.

Harbor’s Edge retirement community had a couple non-fatal choking incidents involving three of its nursing care and assisted living residents in 2011 so a new rule was put in place segregating the more inform from the less infirm, even going so far as to ban the more infirm residents from attending events where food was served.  Keep in mind, residents in this retirement community make a sizable deposit to live there, to the tune of a half million dollars, PLUS a $5000 monthly fee.  I guess money doesn’t buy happiness but it sure should have bought these residents the right to eat where they pleased!

The outcome: the Virginia Department of Health was contacted and soon thereafter, the ban was lifted.  In Washington State, laws are in place to protect the residents of long-term care (LTC) facilities so that these residents can experience a dignified quality of life.  Vulnerable adult residents are guaranteed specific rights by law.  Revised Code of Washington )RCW) 70.129.020 Exercise of Rights, says in a nutshell that a resident has a right to a dignified existence, self-determination, and communication with and access to persons and services inside and outside the facility…The resident has a right to be free of interference, coercion, discrimination and reprisal from the facility in exercising his or her rights.  The remainder of RCW 70.129 further details all the civil & resident rights afforded vulnerable adults in the State of Washington.  If in your experience you suspect that someone’s long-term care resident rights are being violated, please contact the long-term care ombudsman program in your state by visiting the attached weblink for the National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center.

What great, and not so great, experiences have you had relative to long-term care residential living?  I would love to hear from you so we can celebrate the good, and expose the bad, for all of our benefit.

Alzheimers Test, the Alzheimers Questionnaire Alzheimers Reading Room

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Alzheimers Test, the Alzheimers Questionnaire Alzheimers Reading Room.

No test for Alzheimer’s disease is fool proof and I would venture to say that ALL tests of this nature aren’t black & white.  There are many gray areas when attempting to discern the presence of Alzheimer’s or other dementia in its earlier stages but as is often said, knowledge is power and certainly some information and guidance is better than none.  I hope the article linked here will prove helpful to you.

What are YOUR Lack-Of-Customer-Service Pet Peeves?

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Here are just a couple of mine.

Today I experienced the inevitable straw that broke the camel’s back regarding poor customer service that inspired me to write this article which, I warn you, will be full of complaints and negative energy.

I’ll start off with the incident that inspired the diatribe you’re about to read:

The original Piggly Wiggly Store, Memphis, Ten...
The original Piggly Wiggly Store, Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Grocery check-out lines.  Purchased my weekly dose of grocery items today – a mere $225 worth.  From the start of the transaction to its bitter end, the checker didn’t utter one word.  No baggers were in sight so I started to bag my own groceries, even though there were two employees standing five feet from me at the self-checkout area with nothing to do other than to watch this Baby Boomer bag her own groceries.  (Bagging groceries by employees is still a common practice at most supermarkets in Washington State, including this one.)  The transaction ended with the checker putting a couple remaining items into a bag, handing the receipt to me, logging off his register, and walking away.  Mind you, all my grocery bags still remained on the checkstand counter, leaving me no option but to personally place them in my grocery cart.  I feel a letter to the manager forming in my brain – not the first letter I’ve written to grocery store managers.

A patient having his blood pressure taken by a...
I don't know why THIS guy is so happy! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Assembly line doctor visits.  I’m convinced that doctors are required to meet a certain patient quota per day – at least my doctor is.  The last few times I’ve visited her, she’s rushed me through the visit, even going so far as to do the following: 1) using a hand gesture to hurry me up – picture her hand going in horizontal circles in front of her while I’m trying to explain my reason for the visit; and 2) two weeks after major spine surgery this same doctor expressing her impatience by saying, “Hurry Irene, this appointment needs to end!”  Sorry to have messed up your day, doc! How callous of me for talking to you about my horrific and painful surgery experience!

A surgeon’s god-complex.  I just have to mention the aforementioned surgery experience.  A neurosurgeon operated on me a year ago to perform an anterior cervical spine disc replacement and vertebral fusion: a four hour surgery, one night in ICU, a full year of recovery.  At my two-month post-surgery appointment with this god-surgeon, I explained how difficult it had been going through such a drastic surgical experience.  His comment, and I quote, “It wasn’t that drastic of a surgery.”  Ahem.  My comment, and I quote, “It may have been the 5000th cervical spine surgery you’ve attended but it was my first!”  Imagine him minimizing my surgery, thereby dismissing my discomfort and recovery experience?!  Grrrrrr.

Before my blood pressure rises to unsafe levels – which would take a lot because my normal BP is 96/65 – I’ll stop right here to let you vent about YOUR frustrating lack-of-customer-service experiences.


Making Memory Books for People with Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia.

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Making Memory Books for People with Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia..

This post, from a wonderful Blog about caregiving, http://www.letstalkaboutfamily.wordpress.com provides an excellent idea.  It’s never too late to start this project for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other dementia.

Long Term Care Insurance scares me.

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insurance, n. A thing providing protection against a possible eventuality.  Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th Edition; 2004.

Result of a serious automobile accident
Image via Wikipedia

Auto insurance, home or renters insurance, and health insurance – we understand these policies and know that more likely than not the need for the aforementioned insurance policies will rear its ugly head in the near or distant future so we pay the premium for said policies, hoping we won’t need it, but sleeping better at night because we have it.

Why is purchasing long-term care insurance such a difficult step to take for me and my husband?

  1. Unquestionably, it’s expensive;
  2. Fearfully, companies who offer this product are going out of business left and right and may leave us holding an empty bag;
  3. Definitely, it’s a real difficult type of policy to understand; but
  4. Undeniably, the financial need for it can outweigh the cost of purchasing it.
New Orleans, 1942. Doctor at Marine Hospital p...
Image via Wikipedia

My husband and I have still not made an effort to look into it further.  Here are my two reasons based on family experience – both of which tend to contradict each other:

My father’s long-term care insurance policy.  My father had a long-term care insurance policy for which he paid premiums for at least 20 years – no small amount of money to be sure.  He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 84 and died five years later.  His care needs at the retirement facility in which he had lived for 13 years didn’t meet the insurance reimbursement threshold until his final month of life.  As with most policies, the insurance holder’s care needs must meet a defined level of care before the insurance company kicks in their assisted living care reimbursement payments.  When that happens, the insurance holder no longer pays any more premiums.  Twenty years of paying premiums for one month of reimbursement benefit.

My sister-in-law’s long-term care policy.  My brother and sister-in-law purchased their long-term care insurance policies when they were in their late fifties.  Less than a year later my sister-in-law was diagnosed with early-onset dementia and approximately two years later drew benefits from her policy.  A couple of years of paying premiums for what will be years of reimbursement benefit.  If that isn’t the good news/bad news of long-term care insurance I don’t know what is!

I have no excuse. I know the devastating costs of long-term care because in my past professional life I worked for a senior housing provider and they represented the Champagne & Chandelier variety of assisted living.  But even the generic assisted living providers charge high rental rates and as ones’ care needs increase, so do the care fees.  This isn’t avoidance behavior on my part and I’m not squeamish about the subject of health and ones’ eventual death.  I’m just finding it hard to take this leap into signing up for insurance, even though it holds the assurance of fending off the potential of total personal financial collapse without it.

How are you Baby Boomers dealing with this subject?  If you finally bit the bullet and purchased a policy – how did you finally take that leap of faith?

I AM NOT LOOKING TO BE BOMBARDED BY SELLERS OF INSURANCE AS A RESULT OF THIS BLOG ARTICLE SO PLEASE DON’T GO THERE.  But I welcome other constructive feedback for those of us on the brink of making this difficult decision.

Sufficient caregiver training: vulnerable adults deserve nothing less.

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Local and Federal governments have more red on their accounting ledgers than black.  Citizens balk against any raise in taxes, regardless of how infinitesimal the increase.  The same citizens demand more services from their government.  How does one get what they need without paying for it?

THEY DON’T.

I’m not a politician – and never will be.  I’m not a brilliant person nor do I fully understand all the nuances inherent in government bureaucracies.  About this one thing, however, I am absolutely certain: many valuable services that were initially set in place for those considered vulnerable in our society are still desperately needed for even a modicum of dignity and quality of life.  Did the needs suddenly disappear?  NO.  Did the vulnerable in our society somehow experience a miracle and are now fully capable of managing their lives on their own?  NO.  The needs are still there and the vulnerable in our society are being pushed to the wayside and are slipping through the cracks.  Do I like paying taxes?  NO.  I guess I’m wondering how to generate funds for needed programs without “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”  Taking from one program and sliding it over to a different program robs other needed services.  If ever there was a Catch-22, this is it.

Let’s look at caregiver training.  In Washington State, in the year 1996, caregivers were only required to pass First Aid training, CPR and HIV training, the Fundamentals of Caregiving training (22 hours), and had to successfully pass the State’s criminal background check.

In a Seattle Times article printed January 23, 2000, Push on for more caregiver training, the following statement begins the article:

With a first-aid card and some training about CPR and HIV, you can find yourself a challenging new job caring for the elderly and infirm, bathing them, feeding them, and fielding punches from them.  For this you can make about $7.50 an hour.  At McDonald’s, you can make more slinging burgers and fries.  It’s a wonder anyone cares for the elderly and infirm at all.

The year 2000.  For the third time in four years, the Washington State’s long-term-care ombudsman (who is independent of any government agency) pushed for more training for caregivers.  “The Legislature and the industry both need to step up and say this is an important key profession…People who take care of human beings are important people.”  State bill I-1029 passed which would increase the number of required training hours and implement specialty training for residents with special needs such as dementia, mental health, and developmental disabilities.    Implementation of this Bill’s provisions was delayed and set to go into effect March 1st, 2002.

Fast forward to February 2002.  Let’s look at another Seattle Times article, Caregiver-training issue causes split in state’s long-term-care community.  After the Bill from the year 2000 passed, the Department of Social and Health Services didn’t get the training curriculum revised in time for the March 1st, 2002 implementation so the State Legislature delayed the start-up of the new training requirements to September 1, 2002.  Private providers of long-term care – those not accepting Medicaid – would have to foot the bill to provide employee training, most certainly passing the costs along to their residents.  Long-term care facilities that accept Medicaid payments would rely on the State Medicaid program to provide the mandatory additional training and the State contended that the budget does not exist to provide the mandated training voted into law from initiative I-1029.  Time to go back to the drawing board.

Bear with me.  Fast forward to November 2008.  Let’s look again at another Seattle Times article, Voters back more caregiver training.  In 2008 a revised caregiver training Bill was passed requiring a training increase from 34 to 75 hours for new long-term care workers and required caregivers to undergo a Federal criminal background check.  This bill passed overwhelmingly.  It’s great that the citizens of my fair State decided that anyone taking care of the vulnerable should be held to a high standard.  Oops – in the same voting cycle, initiatives that would have imposed taxes on candy, soda pop, and other piecemeal purchases failed big time.  These miniscule, microscopic taxes would have saved vital services for the vulnerable and would have helped the State pay for the “mandated” new training.  No money – no increased training – no Federal background checks.

One more time.  Fast forward to November 2011.  Washington voters asked to boost caregiver training again, Seattle Times.  The Legislature delayed the implementation of the 2008 Bill because of budget cuts.  And during the voting cycle of 2011, a re-worked caregiver training initiative made it to the ballot once again as Initiative I-1163, right in the middle of an ever-increasing budget crisis, and the Washington State voters overwhelming approved it.  Implementation of the new training and background check requirements are set to start in 2012.  Lawmakers pushed implementation to 2014 but the good news is that the Legislature won’t be able to delay implementation of the new requirements without a two-thirds majority.  As of March 1, 2012 – the Washington State legislature has yet to finalize any enactment of the Bill protecting vulnerable adults; those that the voters of my state approved – and voted for – numerous times since the early 1990’s…stay tuned…

WHAT’S HAPPENING IN YOUR STATE?

HOW IS YOUR STATE PROTECTING YOUR VULNERABLE ADULT POPULATION?

Five Sources of Hope for the Deeply Forgetful, Dementia in the 21st Century

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Five Sources of Hope for the Deeply Forgetful, Dementia in the 21st Century.

I’ve found the Alzheimer’s Reading Room to be very helpful in my efforts to continually improve my understanding of Alzheimer’s and other dementia.  The good news?  Subscribing to the Reading Room is free!  I hope all benefit from this attached article about dementia in the 21st century.

Common Caregiver Challenges

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Common Caregiver Challenges.

The words Caregiver and Challenge go hand-in-hand.  Here’s an article to shed some light on a caregiver’s predicament.

Activities for People With Dementia

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Activities for People With Dementia.

It’s very difficult to successfully engage someone with Alzheimer’s or other dementia.  I hope you benefit from this Blog article by Lauren Watral.

Alzheimers Caregiving, It’s All in the Palm of Your Hand

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Alzheimers Caregiving, Its All in the Palm of Your Hand.

No is the biggest, most frequently used word in the Alzheimer’s World Dictionary.  This article, reblogged from the Alzheimer’s Reading Room, addresses the difficulties of communicating with a person with dementia.  Remember – don’t always take No for an answer.

10 Government Programs You Can Access for Your Elderly Parents

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10 Government Programs You Can Access for Your Elderly Parents.

This VERY comprehensive article is designed for a person’s elderly parents but guess what…us Baby Boomers need to be aware of these resources as well so I want to pass this article along to you!  It helped me – I hope it’s a great resource for you as well.

Alzheimer’s and other dementia: Advance Directives

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Most people don’t want to talk about end-of-life issues but all of us know it’s a topic requiring early discussion and appropriate timing to be of any use when emotional, and sometimes emergent, decisions must be made.

Auguste Deter. Alois Alzheimer's patient in No...
Image via Wikipedia of a patient for whom Dr. Alzheimer provided care. This patient became the model for diagnosing Alzheimer's dementia.

My siblings and I benefited from my parents’ end-of-life documents that dictated their wishes should we need to become involved.  My mother died in her sleep in 1994 so no active involvement was necessary but my father, suffering with Alzheimer’s for five years by the time he died in 2007, gave us a gift by spelling out in detail his end-of-life wishes set in place at least a decade before he died.  Think of an Advanced Directive or Living Will as a gift to your loved ones.  It certainly was a gift to my siblings and me.

An organization in Washington state, Compassion & Choices, worked with Seattle University Clinical Law Professor, Lisa Brodoff, to create a new advance directive for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementia.  This same law professor was instrumental in the passage of legislation in Washington State creating the Mental Health Advance Directive for people with mental illness.  This statute is considered to be model legislation for other states wanting to expand the rights and planning options for people with mental illness.  Bravo Washington State!!!

Although not yet available, the new Alzheimer’s/Dementia Advance Directive will be based on one created by Professor Brodoff for a 2009 Elder Law Journal article titled (excerpt attached): Planning for Alzheimer’s Disease with Mental Health Directives.  The new Alzheimer’s/Dementia advance directive is not intended to replace existing end-of-life documents such as a Living Will and/or Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, but is designed to work in concert with those documents to ensure that any issues important to the patient with dementia that are not addressed in standard advance directives are honored as much as possible.

What additional issues are addressed in the new advance directive for those with Alzheimer’s or other dementia?

Potential issues that might be addressed are preferences regarding:

  • care in and outside of the home;
  • financing of said care;
  • caregiver choices;
  • involuntary commitment;
  • consent to participation in drug trials;
  • suspension of driving privileges; and
  • any future intimate relationships.

To get on the mailing list in Washington state to receive a copy of the new advance directive contact Compassion Washington: by email, info@CompassionWA.org or by calling their office at: 206.256.1636 or Toll free: 1-877-222-2816.  At the very least, regardless of where you live, using their model as a guide when creating your own Advance Directive may be helpful when such Directive affects the life of a loved one with dementia.  Being prepared for the unexpected, or even what you indeed suspect might be a future health issue, provide peace of mind for the patient and for his or her caregiver. 

That’s a priceless gift to be sure.

The Best Alzheimers Caregiver Tool of Them All, Harvey

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The Best Alzheimers Caregiver Tool of Them All, Harvey

There is no such thing as easy caregiving – anyone who has been, or is currently, a caregiver for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other dementia can attest to that fact.  The good news, however, is that every once and awhile we’re fortunate enough to be exposed to glorious snippits of wonderfulness that help us through the day.  Here’s hoping that this link does just that for you.

 

Retirement planning – it’s not what you think.

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How do you define using your time in a meaningful way?  If you’re getting ready for retirement – or are already retired – how are you going to spend those 40+ hours you previously filled at your job?  “That’s easy!”, you say. “I’m gonna do whatever I want to do, whenever I want to do it: sleep in, read, play golf, travel; I’ll have no problem filling in the time!”

Now fast forward a year or two: you’re bored; your spouse is sick of you just hanging around the house; you’re feeling like there’s something more you could be doing; and even with doing whatever you’ve wanted to do, something’s missing. You wish there was more to this long sought after retirement phase of your life.

How do you envision using your free time?

You’re not alone.  The founding Director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, Laura L. Carstensen, correctly states in a recent AARP article, that “people are happiest when they feel embedded in something larger than themselves.”  As we all know, we are living longer.  In order to make good use of these added years, we need to ask ourselves what we can offer others in these bonus years of our lives.  Should we continue in what might be our restricted scope of the past: getting by, doing what we can for ourselves and our family, but rarely reaching out beyond that confined scope?  If you feel as I do, that’s not nearly satisfying enough.

What should our lives look like now that most people spend as many years as “old people” as they do rearing children?

How should societies function when more people are over 60 than under 15?

Ms. Carstensen is certain that today’s generations of older people will set the course for decades to come and that “change will happen, one person at a time.”  I personally think that too often we think that any “doing” that we do must be grandiose in scale; or remarkable and newsworthy in order to be worthwhile.  If I felt that way, I don’t think I’d even make an effort to give of my skills, my time and my passion to my community.  Why bother?  It won’t do any good, right?  WRONG!

“If every person over 50 makes a single contribution, the world could be improved immeasurably.”

Is this the sunset of your life or just the beginning?

Think about it: us Baby Boomers have a history of life skills that can benefit so many!  How sad it would be if the engineer, the lawyer, the CPA, the household family manager, the medical professional, and other highly skilled people put those skills on the shelf, never to be used again?  What a waste!  I’m not saying you continue to be that engineer, lawyer, and the like in your retirement.  What I am saying, however, is that your past experience, regardless of its nature, can be used for the good of others but perhaps reshaped into a different form.

The bulk of my employment experience has been in the legal field and the senior housing industry, but at this stage of my life I’m not specifically involved in being a paralegal, or a senior housing manager.  What I am doing, however, is combining those skills and directing them towards areas for which I am very compassionate, e.g. advocacy for older adults, and counsel for those taking care of a loved one with dementia.  You too can contribute to your local community by applying your skills in ways that benefit others and are meaningful to you.  I would be of no use to anyone if I didn’t believe my personal Baby Boomer motto:  Committed to strengthening my community one person at a time –  not one society at a time; not one State at a time, and certainly not the world.  But I can motivate myself to strengthen my community one person at a time.

At what do you excel and what do you like to do?  As an older adult, perhaps retired, you now have the luxury of doing what you LIKE and WANT to do, not just what brings home steady income and puts food on the table.  Whoo hoo!  What a luxury!!!

LET’S TALK ABOUT THIS SOME MORE:

What are you doing now to plan for a satisfactory remainder of your life?

How are others currently benefiting from your knowledge-base and how did you find the new venue in which to share your knowledge?

If you’re retired: How satisfied are you in this stage of your life?  If you’re satisfied: why?  If you’re not satisfied: why not?

Open Wide and Say Ha! Three medical jokes for your week.

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FIRST JOKE:

A woman accompanied her husband when he went for his annual checkup.  While the patient was getting dressed, the doctor came out and said to the wife, “I don’t like the way he looks.”

“Neither do I,” she said, “but he’s handy around the house.”

SECOND JOKE:

Three doctors were on their way to a convention when their car had a flat.  They got out and examined the tire.  The first doctor said, “I think it’s flat.”

The second doctor examined it closely and said, “It sure looks flat.”

The third doctor felt the tire and said, “It feels like it’s flat.”

All three nodded their heads in agreement.  “We’d better run some tests.”

In this Blogger’s humble opinion, I guess that’s a hint at why the health-care system is broken.  Yes?  No?  Probably.  Which leads us to the LAST JOKE of the week:

A physician went to heaven and met God, who granted him one question.  So the physician asked, “Will health-care reform ever occur?”

“I have good news and bad news,” God replied.  “The answer is yes, but not in my lifetime.”

Life can turn on a dime.

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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.

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.

Long distance caregiving: Part II

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Whether your aging parent lives in a long-term care (LTC) facility or in his or her own home, if you live more than an hour away from them, you’re their long distance caregiver.  What are you doing to protect them, and yourself, during this trying time?

As I mentioned in Part I of this article, published December 3, 2011, bridging the gap between you and your parent can be a difficult task.  Being able to monitor your parent’s day-to-day  life from a distance, especially when a parent has dementia, is a frightening task, and it’s one for which you need suitable support.  What follows are suggestions gleaned from my experiences with my father.

If your parent lives in a long-term facility:

  1. If you haven’t done so already, meet all the department heads entrusted with your parent’s care.  Do what you can to be on record as the go-to person.  If you are your parent’s health care representative and/or financial representative, make sure that the facility has the appropriate legal documents in your parent’s file.  Whether a crisis arises or you simply need to discuss your parent’s condition, making sure the staff know of your legal authority to discuss care will make your, and their, job a smoother one.  If you don’t have those specific legal documents in place, and if your parent is still able to designate you as the approved contact regarding care, do so as soon as possible.
  2. When it’s time for your parent’s care conference, a time when the resident – if able – and care staff discuss the resident’s plan of care, be present by phone.  This is a more common occurrence than you may think.  Share your observations of your parent’s behavior, phone abilities – or lack thereof – and don’t be shy about asking detailed questions about your parent’s care, regardless of how intimate the details.  As your parent’s advocate, you have the right to question the staff’s care plan – and you should.
  3. Meet your parent’s primary care physician.  Be sure that he/she has it on record that you are your parent’s health care representative.  Being able to talk to my father’s doctor to discuss all of his medical conditions, as well as all treatments, including medications, kept me in-the-know and enabled me to keep my siblings informed.  My brother and sister were also a big part of my dad’s life and they were also long distance caregivers.  They told me time and again how appreciative they were that I was on top of dad’s care, and that I was able to keep them informed at all times.

If your parent lives at home and is in the early stages of dementia:

  1. Follow point 3 above because even if both of your parents live in the home, you probably can not rely on them to be on top of their own care.  The parent without dementia is the on-site caregiver, and at his or her advanced age, might not be able to adequately function on his own behalf, forget trying to do so for his spouse with dementia.  If your parent is living alone without the presence of a family member, you have no choice but to nurture a relationship with his/her medical team so that you know what treatment your parent is receiving; what medications have been prescribed; and what long-range care goals should be addressed.
  2. Engaging the help of trusted friends, church members, and neighbors might provide some sort of care continuity as they do drop-in wellness checks of your parent.  If you have people who are able to provide this type of observational visiting, I suggest you utilize web services, such as the following, that can help get you organized: Lotsa Helping Hands, which is “Free, private, web-based communities for organizing friends, family, and colleagues – your circles of community – during times of need.  Easily coordinate activities and manage volunteers with our intuitive group calendar”; or Caring Bridge which is “Free, personal and private websites that connect people experiencing a significant health challenge to family and friends, making each health journey easier.”  Additionally, Caring From a Distance provides resources that are available in your parent’s local area: “Whether you live across-the-world or an hour away, you and your family face special challenges.  Where can you find the local resources they require?  How can you, your family, and friends communicate in an emergency?”

What if the burden is too much for you to bear?

You’re in good company.  If I had been familiar with the services listed above I think my caregiving journey would have been a smoother one.  But believe it or not, this type of caregiving challenge is one that is relatively new in the grand scheme of things.  If you’re losing ground as your parent’s long distance caregiver, it might be time to consider the services of a Geriatric Care Manager.  The National Association of Professional Care Managers is a non-profit resource that can put you in touch with someone who might be able to provide the bridge you’re looking for.

Consider the cost of managing your parent’s care from a distance:

  • time off from work;
  • driving and flying time to your parent’s location;
  • hotel accommodations, food and other travel expenses; and
  • the emotional and physical toll on yourself.

Paying a Geriatric Care Manager to manage your parent’s care, whether he lives at a long-term care facility or in his own home, may greatly pay off in the long run.

Whatever you choose, and which ever direction you take, I hope you will carefully consider the best option for your particular situation.  As I’ve said in past articles, only you know what is the best fit for your family.  Consider all the alternatives and move forward confidently.

Long Distance Caregiving: Part I

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Numerous authority figures are entrusted with your loved one’s care – most of them a fraction of their age.  If you can’t be a physical presence for your loved one what will you do to bridge the gap between physical absence and an effective long distance presence?

My mother and my daughter, circa 1976.

My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 84 and died in 2007 at the age of 89.  By the time of his diagnosis he had been living in a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) for seven years.  His wife, my mother, died a month before they both were to move to this CCRC located in Oregon state.  My mother was truly looking forward to the move with my dad but on September 24, 1994, she was granted the wish that she had thrown into the universe many years earlier – that when her time came, she wanted to die in her sleep.  My father still moved to the Oregon CCRC because at the age of 77, he knew he still had a valid reason to move there.  Both he and mom didn’t want to be a burden to us three children, so moving into a retirement community that would meet all the needs of his aging body and mind was dad’s gift to us.

Dad, myself, and his wife Barbara on his 87th birthday.

A few years after my mother’s death, dad married a resident of the CCRC and they had a wonderful late-in-life marriage.  Dad’s wife, Barbara, died from complications of Parkinson’s in 2003 so once again, dad became a widower, but this time his biggest challenge was that he was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.  He was still able to live semi-independently in an assisted living apartment at the complex and he was able to perform his activities of daily living (ADLs.)  Of us three adult children, the job of being dad’s caregiving team leader quite naturally fell to me.  I had worked in the senior care industry for several years so I was quite familiar with caregiving lingo and body frailties, not the least of which was Alzheimer’s and other dementia.

Dining room at my father's facility.

Initially, the miles that separated us wasn’t all that challenging.  He was still active, was fully capable of getting himself up in the morning, taking his medications, getting to the dining room, etc.  Us children would call dad frequently – and he still had the ability to call us – and we continued our visits throughout the year and although his dementia was obvious to us, we knew he was in good hands and that he was functioning quite well.  The staff was very attentive to him and if they had concerns, as his health care representative and financial power of attorney, they kept me abreast of the latest, the greatest, and the ever-increasing not-so-greatest.

The not-so-greatest happened one frightful evening.  Dad called me telling me that he felt very agitated and he couldn’t stop walking around his apartment; he couldn’t settle down; he didn’t know what was going on.  I asked him if he had recently taken any medication and he replied, “Just some cough syrup.”  “How much did you take?”  “I don’t know.”  So while I had my father on my home phone line, I called the front desk of the facility on my cell phone and told them that my father was having an emergency in apartment #94 and a nurse needed to get there immediately.  I kept my dad on the phone and told him that a nurse was on the way to see him and that he would be taken care of very soon.  The nurse arrived quickly, and the emergency was averted.

Bottom line?  We now knew that dad was no longer capable of managing his own medications.  He took way too much cough syrup that evening and it caused his heart to race, resulting in extreme agitation.  This precipitating event was the start of his noticeable decline and medication management became the first ADL for which my dad needed assistance.

The above example barely scratches the surface of what many of you are dealing with.  Your long distance eyes and ears seem thoroughly ineffective and you’re concerned about your loved one’s well-being.  There is hope for the long distance caregiver.  It’s not the same as being there, but this hope somewhat bridges the long distance caregiving gap.  Part II of this article, published December 4, 2011, addresses some practical steps you can take to help in your caregiving journey.

Denial: Roadblock to better health and better care.

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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.

THREE MAJOR REASONS WHY ONE SHOULD ACT ON AN ALZHEIMER’S DIAGNOSIS:

  • 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.”

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.

Adult children: taking care of an abusive parent.

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When an adult child’s earlier relationship with a parent has been wrought by abuse, how does the child manage to provide care to this parent who reigned verbal, physical, and/or sexual abuse upon him/her?

  • Is it possible?  Yes.
  • Is caregiving required of an adult child in this circumstance?  No.
  • Is the child wrong to turn his or her back on a parent requiring care and attention?  Absolutely not.

Every individual’s situation is unique due to the extreme nature of this type of family dysfunction.  There truly is no textbook answer that fits each circumstance.  Not only is the situation unique but we’re talking about emotions – and how one deals with those emotions.  We’re talking about the balance of how the previous harm has been handled and whether or not contact of a caregiving nature may prove newly damaging to the adult child/victim.  For the purposes of this article, we will assume that the adult child has decided to participate in her abusive parent’s caregiving.  CAVEAT: Anything I offer in this article is not based on personal experience, but rather, experiences that have been relayed to me through my work with adults who are also caregivers for their parent.  I’m not an expert, I’m only an observer.  I covet any input that my readers may be able to offer.

The caregiving well is shallow.

More likely than not, the well from which the child can draw may be very shallow.  If the adult child has chosen to keep her distance from the abusive parent for many years, being suddenly thrust into one of the most difficult jobs she will ever perform could be a next to impossible task.   Let’s say that she has decided to give it a try but she has been wise enough to set up an escape route that she will follow when the going gets tough.  I don’t necessarily mean an actual, physical escape route.  Rather, she has established the upper limit that she will bear should matters get out of hand emotionally or physically.  She makes a commitment to herself that sets a comfortable threshold after which she will walk away, guilt free, knowing she made a valiant effort.  She is strong enough to acknowledge that at some point she may need to cease all caregiving efforts.

As I mentioned in a September 2011 Blog entry, “Deathbed promises and how to fulfill them,”  (found in the Caregiving category of this site) even adult children with a fabulous relationship with their parent struggle greatly in their caregiving efforts.  Whether you end up being a hands-on caregiver (providing the care in your parent’s home or yours) or you find yourself as the primary family contact with the staff caring for your parent at a long-term care (LTC) facility, you are pulled into the intimate aspects of a parent’s life and it is not an easy role in which to function.

Feeling obligated vs protecting oneself.

Too often, we do things out of a feeling of obligation rather than heartfelt compassion.  In the situations outlined above, obligation will either be the only thing that places you in the caregiver role, or it will convince you that you’re not emotionally available to walk down that rut-filled path.  I am an advocate for vulnerable adults – I live by that mantra – but in this situation I feel that the person needing the most advocacy is the adult child who still struggles with the effects of a past abusive relationship with a parent.  If you are not able to provide the caregiving, please know that there are others who can do so in your place.  You don’t have to be “it” ‘in this situation, and having someone else step in could very well be the best caregiving scenario for you, and your parent.  If you ever find yourself in this role, please do not act alone.  The community around you: churches, local government health service organizations (such as that found in Washington State), organizations that protect the abused, are an absolute required tool in your toolbox to be an effective caregiver, and an emotionally protected adult child.

Anyone out there who has been in this role or is currently in this role of taking care of an abusive parent?

Your input is very valuable and could very well help those struggling with this scenario.  If you feel strong enough to share your story you have my thanks for opening up on this Blog.

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.