Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Okay, so I didn't blog every day...

...but this Blogathon contest I entered made me post more than once a year, and that's huge. And I've heard from colleagues, as well as folks I don't know who have read the blog.

This past weekend, my husband and I watched The Iron Lady, the movie about Margaret Thatcher. I expected the movie to be chronological -- going through her career first, then getting into her battle with Alzheimer's.

Wrong! It started with Alzheimer's and flashed back on her life. It also dealt with hallucinations she had -- such as her husband still being alive, or she believed she was still prime minister.

It reminded me of times with my mom -- she would hallucinate that she was a little girl and would get up in the middle of the night and ask where her mom was. Thank God I was alerted to this by my sister and was able to figure out something that calmed her down.

My grandmother was a registered nurse and worked in the emergency room -- probably some nights. So I would tell Mom (pretending to be her sister) that her mom was working the night shift in the ER. Amazingly, that worked and she went back to bed.

I wish things were that easy with caregiving, or everyone dealing with a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer's. Unfortunately, as we all well know, it's never easy.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mother's Day is tough...

...tough for those of us who have mothers suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's Disease. My mom doesn't know her family anymore, though she enjoys visits from all of us. She's too far away for my sister and I to just hop in the car and go see her and that is tough.

I spent the Mother's Day weekend thinking about the things my mom taught me. I don't really remember her ever telling us "No, you can't" if we wanted to try something. For me, that equated to piano, viola, and harp lessons, ballet classes and encouragement to write. With my sister, it's similar -- voice lessons, choir, theatre and art -- she took over my mom's looms and weaves some incredible things. We both cook and bake. We love books.

Mom was environmentally active before it was popular. No way did we litter or else we'd incur her wrath. And I remember her having us volunteer at a glass recycling center in an abandoned factory. The only fun part of it was we got to break glass -- a lot of glass!

She was strict about what we ate -- we didn't have a boatload of candy or snacks. She was big on fruit and things like that. No sugar cereals for breakfast. This may not seem like much, but I don't think any of us eat a lot of junk food for that reason. Stunk when we were kids, but it sure helped us as adults.

Thanks, Mom.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A club none of us want to belong to...

Once a month I go to an Alzheimer's caregiver support group. In the beginning it was just me, then a former colleague came with me as her husband had early-onset Alzheimer's. He's since died. Then it was me and three friends from church. One of the three, Chris, no longer goes as her mom died several months ago.

Now it's me, MaryAnn and Carol. Mary Ann and Carol are caregivers to their husbands. There are others there as well -- a gentleman who cares for his mother-in-law, and two women whose husbands suffer from it.

There was a whole family who used to attend -- they were awesome. Dad was in a motorized wheelchair and still independent -- Mom had Alzheimer's. The adults kids and Dad came -- what a loving family! I unfortunately heard that Dad had a heart attack and died in the last year. Mom is still in the Alzheimer's unit at the nursing home.

I've learned so much from these people, as well as from Karen, our group leader. None of us want to be there -- but we are blessed to have Karen and each other for support.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Rest in Peace, Amy...

In memory of Amy Rauch Nielson, who died yesterday. I've mentioned her blog before -- it's worth reading. She was an incredible writer and woman.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

There are the other women in my life...

There are a number of women in my life who have lived, or are currently living, to a ripe old age. Most are related to me -- those who are related are not all by blood, but regardless, it gives me hope.

My Aunt Joyce
Aunt Joyce
My dad's sister is 86 (I think...forgive me, Joyce, if I am wrong) and still going strong. She, her husband, daughters, grandchildren and great-grandson travel the world on at least an annual basis. Yes, she's had to slow down some -- but hell, she's still traveling. I recently saw her at a family event and yes, she's slowed down. She may repeat herself some (see previous post on brain aging), but if I'm like her at 86, I'll be damn lucky.

My Grandma Corinne
Grandma Corinne was my step-grandma, but I still hope her spirit and genes morphed to me somehow. She lived to be just shy of 100 - died, I think, about four months before that birthday. Yet, she was always cognizant of what was going on around her. She was fully engaged in the life of her family. Yes, she needed help with stuff -- I used to take her shopping and had to help her in the dressing room at stores and write her checks for her -- but she knew what she wanted. She was also active at the care facility she lived in -- when I was home, Grandma Corinne would invite me to come over for "senior citizen aerobics." Seriously! No, it wasn't what you might think aerobics are, but hell, she still did them. More exercise than I was getting at the time...

My Great Aunt Prudence
Aunt Prudence was my mom's aunt -- she lived most of her life in Arizona - moving there from the Midwest. Like Grandma Corinne, she lived to be just shy of 100. I didn't see much of her -- in fact, very little of her, but she would write back when I wrote her letters -- which was huge for a youngster who liked to write. Even though I didn't have a lot of one-on-one contact with her -- some of my cousins did. One of my favorite photos of her was taken at the nursing home she lived in toward the end of her life -- she was playing cards and her nails were polished, make-up on and a smile on her face. I should note here that she came from my grandfather's side of the family -- the non-Alzheimer's side. However, seems to be her brain served her well, even when though it went through the normal senior aging.

My neighbor, Dorothy
Technically she is not my neighbor anymore, but I grew up in the house next to hers, where she lived with her daughter and husband. My dad and stepmom still live next door to her. Dorothy was the librarian at my high school. As a huge book lover, the library seemed like the perfect job to me. I remember working in the library as a student -- not for pay, but just to work there. Loved it. Remember Marian the Librarian from "The Music Man?" That's Dorothy. I would have horrendously overdue books, but Dorothy would sneak home a book for me to read if I needed it for class, and then sneak it back. She's 90 now -- still sharp. It's a joy to go see her when I am home.

I will think of others in my life, both men and women, who have made a difference for me and illustrate how to make the most of your life in the time you have. This is just a start.

Friday, May 4, 2012

We could start our own denomination...

My husband and I live in rural Michigan. We are members of a small Methodist church with roughly 60 members.

The unofficial count of church members who have someone in their immediate family with Alzheimer's disease is five -- nearly 10 percent of this very small congregation. While it's devastating that we have that many in our congregation living this nightmare, we also have an unofficial support group -- almost a family, if you will.

God does work in mysterious ways -- one of them was bringing this "family" together. Though I don't wish this disease on anyone, it does help to be around folks going through the same thing.

What? Me? Worry?

Okay, multiple generations of women on my mother's side of the family have suffered from Alzheimer's Disease. My mom. My grandmother. My great-aunt. My great-grandmother. And these are only the ones I know of.

I can't speak for my sister, but I'm sure it's crossed her mind, as it has mine. "Am I next?" It's a question that could rule my life, if I choose to let it. Though it is a question that I wrestle with on occasion, it's not taking over. I won't let it.

How do I get beyond it? How do I deal with it? Educating myself on the disease helped. Last year I wrote a newspaper article on "menopause brain." Essentially, it involves women getting forgetful during that stage of their lives - it doesn't last and it's not Alzheimer's. I also interviewed a nurse practitioner about brain aging -- something we all go through. I remember something she told me -- that everyone forgets where their car keys are, but you don't have to worry unless you forgot what the car keys are for.

That interview helped tremendously. That and realizing I'm going to live the best life I can and take care of myself and my brain. No, it doesn't mean I'll be doing crossword puzzles 24/7 or only eating those foods that help brain function.

I will, however, work on issues that could contribute to the disease and could come up in my life -- I know they came up in my mom's and she didn't address them -- anxiety and depression, to name a few.

And I'm keeping my fingers crossed that medical research finds some answers to combat this disease.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Long Journey

The diagnosis my mother received nearly 10 years ago from the Mayo Clinic was not unexpected -- she has Alzheimer's Disease. Not unexpected because her mother and aunt suffered from the same.

I wasn't totally unfamiliar with what happens to people with Alzheimer's. Grandma's diagnosis happened  smack dab in the middle of my parents' divorce when my sibs and I were teenagers. Mom moved from my hometown in Wisconsin to Michigan, and Dad and I ended up looking after Grandma while she was still in her apartment. She later went to a nursing home.

Mom and me in January
Watching Grandma and now watching my mom with the same disease is interesting. Grandma lived on her own and worked as a nurse. She raised Mom and her two sibs after my grandpa died of a heart attack -- he was 50 and Mom was only 16 at the time.

Grandma remained as independent as she could be -- she had taken care of herself and her family all those years and was not comfortable with a nursing home. She was particularly upset about her finances -- "Where is my money?" was a frequent question. Her father was a Methodist minister, and Grandma was not ever going to miss church -- so she and I went, week after week.

Mom has become more childlike. Since the disease was diagnosed, she has never been angry, at least with me. Caring for her was kind of like caring for a little kid. Unlike with Grandma, I read everything I could about the disease and how to care for someone suffering with it. (Back when Grandma had it, I'm not sure there was much out there on the disease). I joined a caregiver support group near my home.

Mom's now in a nursing home -- her second. Surprisingly, she has fooled us all and loves where she lives. She participates in activities and seems to be in a good mood. As my niece has commented, "She is the happiest Alzheimer's patient I've ever seen."

She doesn't know any of us anymore and her speech has become somewhat garbled. Other than that, she's in good health.

Alzheimer's and how to handle a loved one suffering with it will be one of the topics I'm blogging on during the month. It's therapeutic for me and hopefully my experiences will help someone else.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Putting myself out there...

Nothing like entering a blogging contest to get an introverted writer to blog. For going on 20 years...could be more, but who's counting, I have subscribed to a website for freelance writers -- It's an excellent site and I've learned a lot from my colleagues there.

One of my colleagues is a very successful writer and blogger named Michelle Rafter, and May is her 2012 Blogathon contest. To my loyal (and few) subscribers -- how long have you heard me say I was going to blog more. Uh...two years, right?

Well, one of the requirements of this contest is that I must blog EVERY DAY THIS MONTH! So, with that, I'll end today's post and give some thought about the topics I will be blogging about for the next 30 days.

Stay tuned!!