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Monday, April 26, 2010

“Bring the Past to the Present”—Coach Broyles

Coach Frank Broyles minces no words as he shares his mission to improve quality of life for more than five million Americans with Alzheimer’s, their caregivers, and their entire family. Coach Broyles draws on years of experience at the University of Arkansas and uses his leadership skills to rally family members to form a game plan.

“Attitude is your No. 1 asset,” the coach tells the audience at the Mid-Missouri Chapter’s Caregiver Conference. “You can’t be perfect,” the coach advises the caregivers. Rather than be unhappy about shortcomings, caregivers should learn all they can and feel good about doing their best.

The coach stresses the importance of having a game plan to provide the best care possible for your loved one. He urges caregivers to make their loved ones feel safe and loved. “It’s all about communication—be creative and compassionate.” He gave an example of creative communication. If his wife, Barbara, asked to see her mother, he would tell her, “You mother is out of town today.”

After Coach spoke, his daughter took the stage. Betsy Arnold and her family moved back in with her parents to help Coach take care of her mother who was in the middle stages at the time. Betsy’s part of the program is laced with humor, but it doesn’t keep her from giving nuts and bolts type of information. Betsy covers everything from the stages of Alzheimer’s to the stages of grief. She thinks the key to communication is to let the person with Alzheimer’s control the conversation.

Betsy suggests that making eye contact is the key to conversation. The eyes will help you determine whether your loved one is happy, sad, confused, or frightened. Betsy learned to communicate by speaking calmly and using positive language. She found her way through many crises by proclaiming, “Isn’t that great?” or “This is going to be so much fun!” When your loved one repeatedly asks the same question, the question is important, and you should answer it like you had just heard it for the first time.

When her mother asked to go home, Betsy learned to reassure her and make her feel safe. Betsy took her mother out for milkshakes as a distraction. She jokingly admitted her mother went from a size 4 to a size 12 thanks to the milkshake bribes.

The last conference speaker was Coach’s granddaughter. Molly Arnold was only twelve years old when her family moved in with her grandparents. One of the most vivid impressions she had of her family was how they turned a negative into a positive. When she and some of her cousins were sorting through some of her grandmother’s papers, she found the following quote: “Do a good deed today. If someone finds out, it doesn’t count.”

The Broyles family shares their experiences to encourage other caregivers to allow their love to guide them throughout the difficult circumstances of providing around-the-clock care. Coach Broyles said, “There is no substitute for touch.” He believes touch is vital for everyone, but especially for someone with memory loss.

Coach Broyles said that he and Barbara spent many pleasurable hours browsing through their travel scrapbooks. The photos from their vacations put a smile on Barbara’s face and made her happy. The scrapbook is an activity the entire family can enjoy. Bringing the past to the present helps you and your loved one reconnect through shared memories.

Copyright © April 2010 L. S. Fisher
http://earlyonset.blogspot.com

Recommended reading: Coach Broyles Playbook for Alzheimer’s Caregivers.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Alzheimer's Weekly - Young Hope, Tracy's Story

I first met Tracy Mobley in Washington DC at the Alzheimer's Public Policy Forum. It didn't take long for me to discover what an amazing woman she is. Most of us would crumble if given an Alzheimer's diagnosis at 38 years old. Tracy became a spokesperson and took action to help others diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's.

Tracy wrote a book based on her journal--Young Hope: The Broken Road. Tracy has quite a sense of humor. When I asked her to submit a story for Alzheimer's Anthology of Unconditional Love, I'm not sure what I expected. I don't think I expected a story called "Thank God for Pizza Pockets and Husbands." But then, knowing Tracy, I shouldn't have been surprised.

Tracy collected blocks for a memory quilt that she pieced together honoring our loved ones with Alzheimer's. She made Jim's block herself! I was so touched by her thoughtfulness. Tracy worked diligently to set up Camp Building Bridges for children whose parents have Alzheimer's.

With all her accomplishments, Tracy is a truly humble person. If you ask her what is important to her, I'm sure she would say being a good mom to Austin, a good wife, and faithful to God.

In Tracy's Poem, "The Alzheimer's Prayer", she says:

One more thing, Dear Lord, before I forget,
if I can no longer speak
Will You let them know I love them
and though I may have changed, I am still the same me

Alzheimer's Weekly chose Tracy's film as their pick from the winners of the 2010 Neuro Film Festival. You may not have had a chance to meet Tracy, but watch James Dreyer's film for a glimpse into her life.

Alzheimer's Weekly - Tracy's Entry

copyright (c) April 2010 L. S. Fisher
http://earlyonset.blogspot.com
Baby Boomer Blog: http://boomerobics.blogspot.com

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Write Way to Handle Grief

It probably wouldn’t come as a big surprise to any caregiver to learn that when the University of Indianapolis surveyed 400 Alzheimer’s caregivers, 80% identified grief as their No. 1 challenge. When your loved one has dementia, your grief is ambiguous because it doesn’t have a defined beginning. It just sneaks up on you when you think you’re doing a great job of handling everything.

Each time Jim lost a skill, I grieved. Not only did I grieve the losses, I anticipated more to come. Yet, I was determined not to become mired in a world of sadness without hope of better days ahead.

Writing helped me chip away at the seemingly insurmountable task of being a primary caregiver. My journal became my therapy as I wrote about my thoughts, fears, and frustrations. Along with the bad, I interwove moments of joy and humorous incidents.

I wrote throughout our ten-year journey including April 18, 2005, the day Jim left this world for a better land. Anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis realizes that writing helped me through the years I was a caregiver, and has turned me into a woman on a mission. I hope sharing our story will help others who travel this same journey.

Caregivers and people who blog tell their story, and while they write about the abnormal that has become their norm, they find spiritual healing in the midst of chaos. Writing is therapy for those who struggle with grief. While collecting and editing 37 true stories for Alzheimer’s Anthology of Unconditional Love, I often received notes from the authors telling me how cathartic it was to write about their experiences.

I’m a believer in the therapeutic benefits of writing and have completed a first draft of a manuscript on writing as therapy. I began blogging in 2008 and a year later published my posts in Early Onset Blog: Essays from an Online Journal, and this year released Early Onset Blog: The Friendship Connection.

Sometimes the intensity of re-living the most difficult decade of my life helped me put everything into perspective, but it also left me emotionally drained. My blog is filled with my non-fiction writing, and you may not realize I also write fiction.

Although all therapeutic writing research is based on non-fiction writing, I find fiction writing to be therapeutic too. The best thing about fiction—you can make it turn out anyway you want. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never figured out how to do that in the real world.

Now, I am working on a fiction project, an anthology—A Shaker of Margaritas: Hot Flash Mommas. This book is going to be a fun project. Submissions are open to everyone! Visit www.mozarkpress for details about the Hot Flash Mommas Fiction, Fun, and Forties Writing Contest and the anthology.

Writing may not work for everyone, but I think of it as my lifeline. When I write my problems down, or craft a story, I can almost feel the tension flowing from my fingertips onto the paper.

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Available at www.amazon.com: Early Onset Blog: The Friendship Connection, Early Onset Blog: Essays from an Online Journal, and Alzheimer’s Anthology of Unconditional Love.
For a book review of the Early Onset Blog books: http://plantcityladyandfriends.blogspot.com/.

Copyright © April 2010 L. S. Fisher
http://earlyonset.blogspot.com
Baby Boomer Blog: http://boomerobics.blogspot.com

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A New Day—A Fresh Start

The only good thing I can say about a long, hard winter is it makes me really appreciate spring. A spring day gives me renewed hope and vigor. I now feel capable of tackling those obstinate problems that seemed insurmountable when the wind chill was below zero.

It is refreshing to open the patio doors and have a spring breeze flush out the stale breath of winter. The sound of twittering birds and barking squirrels are infinitely more welcome than the sound of sleet against my bedroom window.

To me a spring day is like the joy of Easter after the gloom of Good Friday. It is the rebirth of my spiritual wellbeing. How could I be depressed or sad when redbuds, dogwood, and lilies provide color against a backdrop of shades of green—grass, leaves, bushes, and evergreens?

Words cannot express the glory of the sun’s golden rays. No one even complains much when driving into the blinding morning or evening sun.

I feel like a flower, turning my face toward the sun, and showing bright spring colors. I am tired of dull and drab. The winter blahs already seem like a memory, and I walk with a spring in my step.

I can even forgive spring its sorrows and the sad days of remembrance. Jim died on a warm April day five years ago. For a time, I thought that would make me dread April and the memories of that moment when dementia took Jim away. In reality, death gave him back to me. In the midst of losing Jim to dementia, I learned to accept the changes in him and to love him for the person he had become. It was too painful to remember him as he was before dementia.

After Jim died, I could embrace the memories of the man he was before the disease stole him away. In April 2005, the youthful Jim, the fun-loving man, the person who cherished me and became my best friend was reborn in my memories.

Life goes on and although my babies are grown to men, my four grandchildren bring joy into my life with the dependability of flowers breaking through the soil to brighten the days of spring.

Last weekend, my six-year-old granddaughter handed me a sheet of paper and asked me to sign up for art classes.

“I can’t sign up for art classes,” I said, “because I can’t draw.”

“Grandma Linda, you don’t have to draw, I just need you to sign up.”

“Okay, then . . . if I don’t have to draw, I’ll sign up.”

In a few minutes she handed me a marker and a sketch pad. “Draw a picture of a flower,” she said.

“Oh, I can draw a flower,” I said, and quickly drew a circle surrounded with loops, a stem, and threw in a few blades of grass at the bottom.

Ever the encourager, she said, “That’s a good picture, Grandma Linda. It looks real!”

“Smell it,” I said. “I bet it smells like a flower.”

She held the sketch pad up to her nose and took a whiff. “It smells just like paper!” she declared. Let’s face it, there is no substitute for the real thing.

No matter how dead plants and trees may look during the frigid days of winter, they flourish anew with the passage of time. A spring day is a new day, a new chapter in life, a time for a fresh start, and a resurgence of hope.

copyright (c) April 2010 L. S. Fisher
http://earlyonset.blogspot.com
Vist my baby boomer blog at http://boomerobics.blogspot.com

Monday, April 5, 2010

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

Jim liked to play the lottery, and insisted he would eventually hold the winning numbers and become a millionaire. I always said I didn’t want to win.

“That doesn’t make sense. Of course, you want to win!” he insisted.

“No, I don’t. It would just mess up my life,” I said. I had read too many stories about people who won a million dollars and used their newfound wealth to spend themselves into bankruptcy. Too many people think a jackpot is an infinite amount and when they live a multi-millionaire lifestyle, a measly million didn’t go as far as they thought it would.

Well, Jim never hit that jackpot, and I simply don’t play, so there is no danger of me becoming wealthy overnight. Still I was surprised to read a story in the paper a few days ago about someone who wasn’t thrilled by winning $1 million.

Grigory Perelman, a 43-year-old unemployed Russian man, solved a mathematical problem that seemed to be unsolvable and was awarded $1 million for his wisdom. On the surface he seems to be one smart fellow, but he hasn’t accepted his prize money, and isn’t sure he will.

Okay, I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a mathematical genius, but it seems to me that if you had the choice of (a) being unemployed with little or no income or (b) being handed $1 million, odds are you wouldn’t have to be a genius to choose (b).

The International Mathematics Congress isn’t too surprised since Mr. Perelman previously snubbed the Fields Medal, considered to be the equivalent of a Nobel Prize in Mathematics. They are willing to give him time to think about the award and are hopeful he will accept it. I think Perelman should turn the problem into an algebraic equation that plots out his life if he accepts the million versus what happens if he declines.

This story made me stop and think about my long-term attitude that I didn’t want to win the lottery. I can’t see myself turning down $1 million if someone offered it to me. I can’t help but wonder, what is Grigory thinking?

In reality, Jim was the type of person who would turn down $1 million if he thought the money would compromise his principals. When Jim was in Vietnam, he turned down a purple heart because he didn’t consider his wounds to be severe enough to warrant the medal. He received an Army Commendation medal and never told anyone. I learned about it when I saw his discharge papers years later. By then, Jim had dementia and couldn’t, or wouldn’t, tell me why he received the award.

Yes, I could imagine Jim turning down $1 million, but not me—the person who didn’t want her life ruined. I’m much too practical to scoff at instant riches.

On the surface, Grigory Perelman might seem to be foolish to the nth degree, but we don’t know about his life, his expectations, his principals, or how much he wants to remain his own man, a private person.

Apparently, not everyone wants to be a millionaire. Geniuses among us realize riches aren’t measured by dollars, but you don’t have to be brilliant to figure that out.

Copyright (c) April 2010 L. S. Fisher
http://earlyonset.blogspot.com
http://boomerobics.bogspot.com