Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Free as a Bird

When I took the dog out this morning, a flock of birds swooped in to sit on the limbs of a bare tree. They were chirping and flitting around like it was a spring day instead of a prelude to winter.

What would it be like to be free as a bird? Most of us are trapped in some way. We are trapped by our mental and physical health, our inertia, our finances, our obligations, or other life circumstances.

I thought about Jim, who was ensnared by dementia. The hardest part of him being in a nursing home was knowing that he had lost his freedom through no fault of his own. Jim had always been a free-spirited being.

I paused in remembrance of my brother Donnie who died on this day in 2012. Strokes  trapped him in his body, and he, too, had to spend his last days in a nursing home. Donnie cherished his freedom.

The biggest comfort now is knowing they are both free from the circumstances that trapped them in life. Jim and Donnie left their sorrows and afflictions behind, and they soar on eagle wings, flying higher and freer than any earthly bird.

Copyright © November 2017 by L.S. Fisher

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Monday, November 20, 2017

Heart Song

Ronnie, Leroy, and Jim Fisher
I was out walking my dog and the wind howled through the trees, making my face sting. The temperature hovered at freezing and the wind chill, well, was downright frosty. I cinched my hood on my coat to keep the wind out of my ears, put on my gloves, and shivered.

The wind made me think of a song I’d been attempting to play on my ukulele:  “The Wayward Wind.” In turn, the lyrics made me think of Jim. I don’t know whether he was actually born to wander or whether he acquired “white line fever” throughout his childhood.

Until I met Jim, I never in my life knew anyone who had travelled as much as he did or lived in as many different places. Or in such strange places for that matter: “We lived under that tree” or “We lived under that bridge.” I would have thought he was making it up, but other family members told the same stories.

Jim was happiest when he was on a road trip. I guess it would only naturally follow that when he developed dementia, he was a wanderer. It required constant vigilance to keep track of him. He would be out the door and down the road in a flash. He was restless and relentless in his pursuit of being where he wasn’t.

When Jim’s wandering made him too much of a challenge for his mom, my mom, and the hired caregivers, I had a short experience with adult day care. Jim took his guitar and amused himself by playing and singing—the same song over and over. I suppose the only ones who really appreciated it was the folks with short term memory problems that didn’t remember it was the same song he’d just finished.

Day care only lasted a couple of weeks. The day they had to track him down and found him on the highway, carrying his guitar, and headed toward home, they told me they couldn’t keep him anymore. It didn’t surprise me that even though he’d had enough of that place, he didn’t leave his guitar behind. His love of music remained in his heart long after it slipped his mind.

The past seven days has been hard on the music industry. Della Reese and Mel Tillis died. Sadly, Malcolm Young, AC/DC died from complications of dementia, and David Cassidy, Partridge Family,  who also has dementia, is in critical condition with major organ failure . Famous musicians leave a legacy of songs. No matter how long they are gone, their songs speak to the hearts of their fans.

A song can express heart emotions for us that we cannot express otherwise. Music provides a direct link to our strongest memories. My mother sings a song she refers to as “Jim’s song.” When Jim sang “The Way I Am,” he sang it from his heart. One thing I can say for Jim is that he never pretended to be anything other than what he was.

Jim was happiest when he was playing music with his uncles, or cousins. He often referred to these jam sessions as “picking and grinning.” It didn’t matter to him if he was playing his guitar, a mandolin, a banjo, or a fiddle. If an instrument had strings, he played it.

Jim loved the traditional gospel songs. I will never hear “Lord, Build Me a Cabin in Gloryland” or “Old Country Church” without thinking of Jim. We went to a country music show in Branson where several people played and sang old gospel songs in the lobby prior to the evening’s extravaganza. Jim was already having trouble speaking by then, but he sang every word with them.

Sunday at church, the minister asked us to join him in singing “Jesus Loves Me.” I fought back the tears and sang along. When Jim was having a really bad day and I was trying to get him to sleep, I sometimes sang “Jesus Loves Me” to him because I knew he would remember that song. His lips moved and he mouthed the words soundlessly, and I think he found comfort. It was one of his heart songs, and because of it, he was able to travel in his mind to a simpler time and a place far, far away.

Copyright © November 2017 by L.S. Fisher

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Friday, November 10, 2017

Veterans Day: Invisible Wounds

Veterans Day is November 11, but this year the holiday falls on November 10. At least this year, Americans will think about and honor our Veterans for two days instead of one.

The Capps family did double duty bringing the veteran’s perspective to Morgan County Schools. My brother Tommy, an Army Vietnam veteran spoke at Versailles High School and my nephew Charles, a Navy Iraq veteran, spoke at Stover High School.

The reality of war veterans is that the majority of them are wounded warriors. Some wounds are undeniable because they are visible, like Tommy’s wounds. Others have invisible wounds inflicted by chemicals and other environmental factors. Agent Orange and chemical exposure during other wars can be passed onto descendents, abroad and here at home.

Equally debilitating are the heart and soul wounds that battle within. Twenty-two veterans take their lives each day. I hate to even think how many contemplate suicide or attempt suicide. I know that Jim contemplated it many times.

There is no hard and fast evidence that Jim’s dementia had anything to do with his military service in Vietnam. I do know that he battled depression throughout most of his adult life. I also know that he was exposed to Agent Orange. I know that he suffered from PTSD, including flashbacks. I know that he had two complete mental breaks that required hospitalization. I know that he took medication that had long-term detrimental effects on his health.

Exactly how much Jim’s military service contributed to his dementia may seem to be more intuitive than proven. Although I had no luck convincing the VA that there was a connection, science is beginning to catch up with my conviction.

Several studies on veterans who have PTSD (or PTSS as it is now known) indicate that they are twice as likely to develop dementia. When you consider that 30% of Vietnam veterans and 17% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have PTSS, the dementia connection needs to be seriously addressed.

Our veterans deserve more than a pat on the back or a “welcome home” in recognition of their sacrifices for our country. They deserve the best health care for all their visible and invisible wounds. As a nation, we have an obligation to reduce the risk of suicide, dementia, and other health problems with a connection to military service.

Veterans are the folks who laid their lives on the line for the rest of us. Some came home broken and it is high time that the government does everything in its power to make them whole.

Can we ever have war without fatalities and a host of wounded warriors? Will the world ever be at peace?  

Until that utopia, we must take care of our veterans. Every day needs to be Veterans Day.

  

Source: https://www.agingcare.com/articles/veterans-might-have-higher-risk-of-dementia-169916.htm

Copyright © November 2017 by L.S. Fisher
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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Chilly Days and Spooky Nights

Fall is in the air, and when I take the dog out first thing in the mornings, I see frost on the ground and ice on the stock tank. Each day, I think I’m dressed warm enough for a winter’s day, but haven’t convinced myself that I’m to the point of needing gloves and a stocking cap. At least that’s how I feel until the wind hits me.

Halloween will be here soon so my thoughts turn to things that scare me. I know I’m in the age group where Alzheimer’s isn’t even considered “early onset” anymore. I’m now included in the scary statistical risk for women over age 65. One in nine people over age 65 have Alzheimer’s disease. The really scary part for me is that of the 5.2 million people with Alzheimer’s, more than 3 million are women.*

A few weeks ago, I wrote about showing up at grandparent’s day a day early. Now, I’m so paranoid about appointments that I keep them in electronic form and write them on the wall calendar. Yet, I still second-guess myself. I’ve been bringing the music for line dancing class while our fearless leader is recuperating from knee surgery. I arrived early to set up the equipment, and no one was there. I glanced at my watch to double-check the time and saw that it was still ten minutes early. I mentally assured myself it was the right day. Eventually, everyone showed up and I breathed a sigh of relief that I was at the right place, at the right time, and on the correct day.

A few days ago, I opened the microwave and started to put the gallon milk jug in it. “Oh, my gosh!” I said. “What was I thinking?”

The next day, I shook creamer into my cup because it mixes in better when I pour the coffee. I opened the refrigerator, grabbed the milk, and started to pour milk on my creamer. Wouldn’t that have been an interesting drink?

Yeah, Halloween is a time to think of scary things, like Alzheimer’s and the ten warning signs of Alzheimer’s:  (1) Memory loss that disrupts daily life. (2) Challenges in planning or solving problems. (3) Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure. (4) Confusion with time or place. (5) Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. (6) New problems with words when speaking or writing. (7) Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. (8)  Decreased or poor judgment. (9) Withdrawal from work or social activities. (10) Changes in mood and personality, including apathy and depression. *

Scary behavior aside, this Halloween has been special. My brother and I finally put our twisted tales and yarns together into a book titled Apparitions.  The goal was to have it finished in time for Halloween. Well, we made it in some respects since the e-book and paperback are available online. I don’t have the copies I ordered yet. There was a delay while we tried to get the cover to suit us. Another delay was my reluctance to let the book go live because of my fear that I’d made a stupid mistake during the editing process or missed a simple error.

My husband assures me that my mind tends to jump ahead rather than staying in the present. It might have to do with mental overload. I have too many appointments, obligations, and an out of control to-do list. Multitasking has turned into multi-taxing on my poor stressed out brain.

Halloween is a time of trick or treat. I’ve decided to treat myself to peace of mind in regard to turning into an absent-minded retiree. At least with my optimistic attitude, I believe my occasional odd behavior is from being distracted rather than a sign of early stage dementia. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.   

*source: Alzheimer’s Association: 2016 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures, https://www.alz.org/documents_custom/2016-facts-and-figures.pdf

Copyright © October 2017 by L.S. Fisher

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Monday, October 23, 2017

Individual Results May Vary

How often have you seen an advertisement—weight loss, growing hair on a bald head, miracle cure—where the final statement is: Individual results may vary. Yep, that is the catchall phrase to get the advertiser off the hook when the product miserably fails to deliver.

It is not just advertisers who promote the cautionary tale about individual results. When you develop a disease, you may often hear the same comment from your doctor. Along the way, they’ve tried to steer you toward the healthy path, but they know that some people defy all the odds, which they refer to as statistics.

I participated in a video conference recently, and the speaker talked about lifestyle as a way to increase your chances of attaining overall health for your body and brain. Of course, the ideal situation would be a strictly healthy diet, an exercise plan, and mentally stimulating activities.

The downside is that as humans we can’t always resist the donut, we’re too time crunched or physically drained for exercise, and rather than read a book, it’s much easier to zone out in front of our favorite TV program.

Although population in general would benefit, we all know individual results may vary. We all know the person who smoked, ate junk food, and never left the couch for anything more important than getting a beer out of the fridge. We may write off these individuals as having a death wish, but sometimes they just go on and on until they reach a ripe old age. On the flipside, we all know people who eat right and exercise but develop cancer or die from cardiac arrest. Individual results vary.

Yes, there are exceptions to known statistical risk factors, but as the researcher pointed out: Most of us fall within the middle and how we monitor our health can make a life changing difference. Lifestyle may be our best defense against Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

Genetics and environment play a major part in our overall health. If we are born with genes that increase our chances of developing Alzheimer’s, we can’t change that. In some cases, we can improve our environment. Where we are born and raised can affect our health throughout life. If we live in an area with air pollution, contaminated drinking water, or unhealthy living conditions, it increases our chances of developing life-changing diseases.

The bottom line is that no pill or treatment is a cure all for any disease. Hopefully, we are on track to find an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s, but even when that happens, how we take care of our bodies and minds can make a huge difference.

When individual results vary, we should strive to make sure our individual results vary toward a positive outcome.

Copyright © October 2017 by L.S. Fisher

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A Lucky Mistake

I left early for grandparent’s day at my grandson’s school so I could go by and visit my mom. Delays can happen when driving more than an hour, and I didn’t want to be late for the 2:10 event.

I  had called Mom as I pulled out of the driveway. “Would you like to go with me?” I asked.
She was having lunch with my younger sister. “We’ll be home by the time you get to town,” she said.

When I arrived, my mom and sister were at Mom’s house. We had a nice visit and a photo op before Mom and I headed to the school. We arrived at the school at 2:00 p.m. and I sent my daughter-in-law a quick text to double-check the grade he was in. “I think he’s in the fourth grade,” I told Mom, “but one year I showed up for grandparent’s day and went to the wrong room.”

My daughter-in-law confirmed that he was in the fourth. “We’re here!” I texted.

Mom and I walked up to the door and pushed the buzzer. “We’re grandparents,” I said. The door unlocked and we went inside. A woman behind a desk motioned for us to come inside the office.

“Grandparents day is tomorrow,” she said, holding up a flyer as proof.

Just then my phone buzzed, “Oh, no,” my daughter-in-law texted, “it’s tomorrow.”

I immediately thought of Alzheimer’s sign #4 “Confusion with time or place.”  Just as quickly I remembered that, occasionally, messing up an appointment is a normal age-related change. Whew! Dodged that bullet.

“This is what happens when you retire,” I said. “You lose track of the day of week or the date.” Today was the tenth and grandparent’s day at school was the eleventh. Close, but no horseshoe, as the old saying goes.

“You are exactly on time,” the woman said as if I needed some reassurance that I wasn’t completely in la-la land. “You’re just a day early. You can come back tomorrow.”

“I have an appointment tomorrow,” I said. Yep, for 2:15 p.m. no less.

“We have practice tomorrow,” my mom said. She and other family members play music at area nursing homes and they do a final run through before the week begins.

“Could we at least see him?” I asked.

She buzzed his room and in a few minutes, he came down the hall. We had hugs and a photo op.

“Enjoy visiting with your other grandma tomorrow,” I said.

I couldn’t help but think going a day early was a lucky mistake. I was able to spend time with my mom and saw my grandson. Grandparent’s day came a little bit early this year.

Copyright © October 2017 by L.S. Fisher
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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Ten-Year Leap

I can remember a co-worker who always said getting old was better than the alternative. She did have a solid point.

Unfortunately getting older does have its pitfalls. A good day can be defined as one when something isn’t aching. It seems that the older we get the harder it is to jump out of bed in the morning. I tend to drag myself out of bed and head toward the coffee pot. After the first cup and a few stretches, I feel almost human again.

It scares me to think that I’m the age now when Alzheimer’s isn’t even considered early (or younger) onset. Nope. I’m solidly into the age where if it happens, it falls into the statistical data as the ages of greater vulnerability.

Although Alzheimer’s is a disease and not a normal part of aging, age is still the biggest risk factor. If that news wasn’t bad enough, two-thirds of the Americans living with Alzheimer’s are women.

A gene called APOE (apolipoprotein E) regulates lipid metabolism. Less than five percent of the population has APOE2. This gene lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s. The most common variant is APOE3 which does not affect risk of the disease.

The culprit is the e4 version that increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Most of us don’t know whether we carry the e4 version of APOE. Jim’s neurologist asked to do genetic testing on Jim and I gave permission. He had one copy of APOE4 and one APOE3.

Gender further increases risk, especially for women. A study at Stanford University Medical Center in California used brain-imaging studies to determine that a woman with one copy of APOE4 has a much greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s than a male with one copy.

A study at the University of California found that women with a genetic predisposition to develop Alzheimer’s disease do so at an escalated rate between the ages of 65 and 75. It is believed that the reason the risk increases for women in this age bracket is because menopause and decreased estrogen begin at about 51.

If you inherit two copies of the APOE4 gene, your risk is even greater. This too, is not a complete determinant since some who have two copies do not have Alzheimer’s and some who don’t have the e4 version have Alzheimer’s.

People whose parents have dementia often fear developing dementia in their older years. My dad died when he was my age, but my ninety-year-old mother is as sharp as ever. I believe part of mom’s success is that she is active and takes almost no medications. In fact, we’re pretty sure she’s in better health than my siblings and I are.

The good news is that APOE4 isn’t a doomsday diagnosis. The bad news is that I have entered the ten-year period when women experience a leap in developing Alzheimer’s disease. More good news is that I at least plan to stay active like my mom. My goal in life is to find that fountain of youth she found and drink my fill.

Copyright © October 2017 by L.S. Fisher
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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Catching Up

Here it is autumn already. The season is catching up with the dead looking leaves on the trees attacked by the Japanese beetles. Hopefully, we’ll get some nice fall colors out of the remaining leaves.

The yard is starting to look like autumn. We are surrounded by cornfields that have turned golden brown as they quickly approach harvest time.

Yesterday was the first day it was cool enough to think of dragging out the autumn wardrobe. At least it was a day I didn’t feel like I had to wear a sleeveless blouse to keep from melting. We even had a gently autumn rain.

I wore a hoodie this morning when I walked the dog. With her long hair, she seems to be enjoying the autumn crispness too.

I keep telling myself that I need to get in gear and drag out my fall decorations. Last year, it was nearly Halloween before that happened. Unfortunately, decorating often falls into the “I can do that tomorrow” category. It seems each day I have a list of things that have to be done that day and can’t wait until the next. Or worse yet, the things that should have been done last week…or the week before that.

Catching up happens every year after Walk to End Alzheimer’s. I have a lot of catching up to do. I tend to let everything else slide in the last few weeks before Walk, and often in the two weeks following. That means the last week in September and the first week or so in October are times to put on a different hat and catch up on everything I put on hold during the walk.

Every year I look at my September calendar and think…it won’t get busier than this. Then, I flip the page to October and have to take deep breaths before I admit that I’m not going to be caught up until at least November.

I have several days on my October calendar double-booked and two days triple-booked. I have some serious choices to make. Throw into that the unknown, unexpected things that happen and October just got really, really scary.

I can’t help but wonder what I would do if I ever did actually catch up. I kind of think that’s never going to happen. Makes me think of what my sister-in-law used to say, “The hurriered I go, the behinder I get.” That just about sums it up.

Copyright © September 2017 by L.S. Fisher

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