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Thursday, September 21, 2017

For Those Who Wait

We didn’t get any decent tomatoes all summer long. Harold left for town this morning and gave me a call. “We have three or four semi-ripe tomatoes.”

“Okay, I’ll go out and pick them,” I said. I walked out to the potted tomato plants expecting to pick a few and bring them inside. Ripe tomatoes were everywhere. The saying, “Good things come to those who wait” popped into my head.

You wouldn’t think that I’d even think of this expression since patience is not one of my virtues. Sure, I have a lot of good qualities: empathy, a good work ethic, general optimism, and so forth. Patience does not make that list. Nope, not even as an afterthought.

My lack of patience gets me into trouble sometimes. I get really frustrated when I’m trying to open a file on the internet. I absolutely hate waiting for that little circle to stop spinning. Or for an ad to pop up and obstruct my view. Life is too short to wait, and wait, and wait. Often, I’ll just close it and figure that I didn’t really need to know the latest “shock and awe” news story.

Patience. I know men don’t usually have any patience, but everyone expects a woman to have it. I used to have a certain amount of patience, but I guess years of budgeting my time has zapped what was left of it.

My saving grace is stubbornness, or bull-headedness if you ask certain people. When I don’t have the patience to complete a task, I’m stubborn enough to see it through.

I’m starting to lose patience with a cure for Alzheimer’s. People die every day from Alzheimer’s and related dementias. We can’t find a cure soon enough to suit me. I can’t wait for the first survivor.

We thought about that first survivor at the Walk to End Alzheimer’s this year. During opening ceremony, we hold high pinwheel flowers in various colors to represent the walker’s connection to the disease.

I always choose a purple flower because I’ve lost someone to the disease. Yellow is the color for caregivers, blue for those who have the disease, and orange for those who are supporters. This year, a new flower was introduced. Two young children held up the white flower that represented our hope for the future. The white flower is for the first survivor. That person does not exist at this time.

After the ceremony, they gave me one of the white flowers. I hope before much more time passes, I can take the white pinwheel back to the walk and personally hand it to the first survivor in our town. I hope to see our walk filled with white pinwheel flowers.

No, I will not patiently wait for the first survivor. I’m going to be walking, advocating for more research funds, and doing all I possibly can to push, cajole, and become the squeaky wheel.

Patience is not one of my virtues. I might as well make the most of my shortcoming.   

Copyright © September 2017 by L.S. Fisher

#ENDALZ #GoJimsTeam

Monday, September 11, 2017

Together We Can…

Saturday was my twentieth Alzheimer’s Walk.

In 1998 the year of my first walk, four troublesome years had passed from the time I had noticed Jim was having trouble remembering basic information. Jim had always had an amazing recall for numbers and dates, but had forgotten his social security number. I thought that strange, but I didn’t push the panic button until he admitted he didn’t know his birth date either.

After testing, it was determined that Jim had dementia of the Alzheimer’s type. Jim, of course, insisted he didn’t have “that,” as he referred to it, but when we saw an article about an upcoming “Memory Walk” in Sedalia, he wanted to go. “I have memory problems,” he said. I had already signed up for the walk and had raised some money, but since Jim didn’t have “that” I thought he wouldn’t want to go.

We arrived at the first walk to discover we were the only people from Sedalia. The other walkers were Helen and Chuck from Slater, Joetta and Penny from the Alzheimer’s chapter office in Columbia, and Penny’s dog, Victoria. Six people and a dog, and I knew all their names—including the dog.

Saturday, was a different story. More than three-hundred walkers and thirty-six teams crowded into the highway gardens. We had professional DJ’s, a super sound system, corporate sponsor booths, volunteer shirts, a professional photographer, and pinwheel flowers. We even had an official playlist of songs. At the first walk, the closest thing we had to music was Helen’s hunting horn. The highlight of the walk was going into the VFW where a veteran asked Helen to blow her horn. After she blew her horn, they took up a collection to add to the walk total. The grand total was $600, almost all of which I had collected from co-workers and friends.  
 
To make my twentieth walk special, I wore my 1998 shirt and my team wore the 1999 - 2017 shirts. We knew they weren’t exactly vintage shirts, but my niece and I laughed about struggling not to call them vintage. Old, I guess was the correct terminology.

Yesterday, Facebook posted a “memory” from twelve years ago, September 10, 2005. My son, daughter-in-law and their two kids were at the Memory Walk wearing 2005 shirts. I smiled at how small the grandkids were, and then I realized that was how small they were when Jim died earlier that same year. It made me incredibly sad to realize that they lost their grandpa at such a young age, and Jim missed out on seeing his grandkids grow up. Family was everything to Jim. He loved being a dad and was over the moon about being a grandpa.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing for twenty years. I logged my shirts before I took them to the walk to make sure that all the years were covered. Some of the shirts did not have a year and I had to look at photos to determine which years went with which shirts. Then, I identified the shirt by what it said: Move; We’re on the Move; WALK (in Alzheimer’s Logo).

After the walk changed from the Memory Walk to the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, the message on the shirt conveyed increasingly positive meanings. The 2017 shirt, Together We Can End Alzheimer’s, told its own story. When we work together, we can change impossible to possible.

It is shocking to realize that my kids are older than I was when Jim developed those first troubling symptoms. Time passes so quickly. Lifetimes come and go. There have been times in my life when I felt I was walking alone, but more often, I’ve relied on and been supported by others. Together, we can accomplish anything. Together, we can accomplish everything. Together, we can end Alzheimer’s.

 Copyright © September 2017 by L.S. Fisher

#ENDALZ #GoJimsTeam

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Remembering Jim

Today would have been Jim’s 72nd birthday. In honor of his birthday, I wanted to share some of my memories of Jim before dementia.

Jim’s uncle introduced me to Jim on a hot summer day in 1968. I don’t know if it would qualify as love at first sight, but it was darned close to it. He was drafted in September and after training, he left for Vietnam in May of 1969.

Jim liked to say he won me in a craps game. He came up with the idea that he could take R&R in Hawaii, and I could fly there and we could get married. The only problem was, neither of us had any money. Jim decided to take what money he had and shoot craps to finance a honeymoon. Sure enough, based on the roll of the dice, he had enough money to fund the trip.

We were married at Fort DeRussy on December 20, 1969. It was a small wedding with the chaplain, Jim, and me. The witnesses signed our marriage certificate before the nuptials so they could go home. Jim, being Jim, refused to wear his uniform for the wedding. He bought some “civvies” for the ceremony.

During the early morning hours of Christmas Day, Jim went back to Vietnam and I flew back to the states. We began our lives together when he returned home April 5, 1970. He still had a year’s obligation to Uncle Sam so we moved to Manhattan, Kansas.

The couple who had the smallest wedding also had the smallest apartment: one small room with a bathroom. We had no air conditioning, and I mostly remember the sweltering heat and the two of us sleeping on a twin bed. In early fall, we moved to a bigger apartment in the same house.

Jim was a family man. He loved spending time with his family and my family. We traveled home about every other weekend. We always drove an old clunker because Jim was a genuine shade-tree mechanic and could keep any vehicle on four wheels running well past its prime.

The army didn’t pay much so we learned early on to budget our money. We always had a savings account for emergencies. Our entertainment was inexpensive. Jim would play his guitar and sing, we went for long drives, and we spent a lot of time at Tuttle Creek because Jim loved to fish. If we really wanted to splurge, we went to the movies or ate at Dog and Suds.

Glen Campbell’s song said “Manhattan, Kansas, Ain’t No Place to Have a Baby,” but we were excited to become parents. Eric was born at Fort Riley Hospital and cost us a whopping $7. When Rob was born two years later at Bothwell, we sold my car to pay the $700 bill.

Jim loved to travel, and we often made trips to Oregon to visit relatives and his childhood places. Later, we went to Colorado every summer to camp in the Rocky Mountain National forest. Jim was happiest when he “had something to look forward to” code for a road trip. He would pack the van for days in anticipation of our annual vacations.

Jim was generous to a fault. He would literally give someone the shirt off his back. He gave away valuable musical instruments to other family members. He was stubborn and wouldn’t do anything that was against his principals. He could be exasperating at times.

Vietnam haunted him. He was mentally and physically broken by his time in the jungle. He had a fractured neck that wasn’t treated until years later. He had PTSD before anyone knew what it was. He suffered deep depression and had to be hospitalized twice.

Jim was intelligent, loved to read, play video games, had a wacky sense of humor, was musically talented, and a deep thinker. He believed in ghosts, the unexplainable, angels, God, and that death was simply closing one door and opening another.

He loved with all his being and was fiercely loyal to those he loved. He loved his boys, his grandchildren, his parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, friends, and I never, ever, doubted his love for me. He called me his bride, princess, honey, sweetheart, but never called me Linda.

Of all the things I miss about Jim, I think I miss our quiet times the most: drinking a cup of coffee and talking about the mysteries of life. I miss the adventures, the comfort, and all the things that made Jim the unique man who stole my heart and held it gently.

Copyright © August 2017 by L.S. Fisher

#ENDALZ #GoJimsTeam

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Memory Trick and Tricks of Memory

As an Alzheimer’s blogger, I think a lot about memory and how it often tricks me. My husband finds that memory tricks, or association, helps him to remember some important fact.

One day last week, Harold asked me to remember a number. Generally, when he tells me to remember something, I write it down. That is the only memory trick I know. It so happened that when he asked me to remember the number, I was outside on the deck drinking coffee and didn’t have anything to write with, or on, for that matter.

“Okay,” I assured him, “I can remember that.”

About thirty minutes later, he said, “What was that number I asked you to remember?”

“Two-eight-four?” I guessed.

“You are close, but wrong,” he said. “It was two-eight-six.”

“Well, if you remembered it, why did you ask me?”

“It’s really easy to remember, if you remember the first number is two, and if you subtract two from eight, you get six.”

“Uh, okay,” I said. I really didn’t think that would help much.

My most memorable experience with association as a memory trick was a speaker who spoke at an assembly at the College of the Ozarks. The man, whose name I do not remember, walked around campus and learned the names of a few dozen students.

At the assembly, he had them stand up and he pointed at them one at a time and gave their names. He explained that he had accomplished this feat of memory by associating the name with a mental reminder.

Later, a student inspired by the speaker’s phenomenal memory decided he could learn the trick . “Everyone calls me Capps,” I said. After that day, he called me “Tops” because he pictured something on top of my head.

Memory problems can create amusement for those of us who are so distracted that we can’t remember simple things anymore. Normal aging accounts for a certain amount of forgetfulness. My husband thinks my memory problems are because my mind is clogged up with too much trivia. “It doesn’t work like that,” I confidently assure him every time he says that.

Short-term memory loss is an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease. Along with short-term memory loss, a person with dementia can’t remember all the steps to complete a task. A strange environment can make this even worse.

One time, we were on vacation and Jim started to make a pot of coffee. The following excerpt from Jim’s memoir Indelible explains how dementia can turn an everyday task into an ordeal:
  
One morning Jim prepared to make coffee in the in-room coffeemaker. He picked up the pot, set it down, picked it up, and set it down. He looked around in confusion trying to decide what to do next. From the bed, I said, “Put coffee in the basket.” 

“Oh! That’s right.” He added the coffee and then acted as if he expected the coffee to make itself.

“Put water in the pot.” He put water in the pot.

“Pour it in the top.” He poured it in.

“Turn the pot on.” He turned it on. As soon as the coffee was done, he was back in full form. He poured the coffee into the thermos, cleaned the pot, and brought me a cup of coffee in bed.

Memory is a tricky thing. As far as that pesky number, Harold and I were on our way to an appointment and he asked, “Do you remember the number I asked you to remember yesterday.”

“Two-eight-six,” I replied without hesitation. “What I don’t remember is why the number was important.”

Harold thought about it for a few minutes. Finally, he broke the silence with, “I don’t remember either.”

Copyright © August 2017 by L.S. Fisher

#ENDALZ #GoJimsTeam

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Total Eclipse of the Heart


I can remember a solar eclipse when I was a kid. We were warned not to look directly at the sun, but to use a pinhole in a box to see the shadow of the eclipse. Now, in less than a week, we are going to see a total solar eclipse—a once in a lifetime event.

So how this weird happening is going to shake out remains to be seen. I live in the area of totality. That means I can observe the eclipse in my own backyard. It also means that some of my relatives who live outside the area of totality are going to share in the experience by coming to my house. That is, if the roads aren’t gridlocked with the thousands of folks from the four corners of the United States who plan to flock to the area of totality.

Watching the eclipse isn’t something you do on the spur of the moment. If you plan to look at the eclipse, you must have proper eyewear. Before we ordered ours, Harold researched the ISO ratings, reputation of the seller, and recommendations from the brightest minds in the world. His vigilance paid off since our glasses were not among those “recalled” due to being questionable.

All this talk about eclipses reminds me of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” I visualize a total eclipse of the heart as a heart that is beyond broken--a heart with a shadow hanging over it.

Some events in our lives can hurt our hearts seemingly beyond repair. When we lose a loved one to an accident, to incurable disease, or from suicide, life ceases to be the same. During the total eclipse of the heart, it seems that life will always hurt.

I can’t think of anything sadder than losing a child or a grandchild. As hard as it was for me to lose Jim to dementia, I can’t even imagine how heartbreaking it was for my mother-in-law. Our sons were grown when Jim developed dementia, but younger onset dementia or familial Alzheimer’s disease can often leave school aged children without a parent.

In the United States, 15.9 million unpaid caregivers provide care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. Caregiving for a loved one with dementia is more labor intensive than for seniors without dementia. About a quarter of the caregivers responding to a survey reported they provided 41 or more hours of care a week. Caring for a loved one with dementia is often a long-term commitment. According to the NIH and aging trends study, 47.4% provided care for more than six years.

Investing the time and energy to provide quality care for a loved one with dementia is the ultimate act of love. Caregiving becomes a way of life and when that ends, emptiness fills the space.

The concept that love can be a total eclipse of the heart takes on additional meaning when you learn more about a total eclipse. The world, as we know it, is transformed into a strange place when darkness falls in the middle of the day and the temperature drops dramatically.

Time becomes your friend as you rebuild your life. Much like the total eclipse, the shadow gradually moves away and the world is bright and normal again. A new normal, but normal.

Copyright © August 2017 by L.S. Fisher

#ENDALZ #GoJimsTeam

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Rest in Peace, Rhinestone Cowboy

At the National Alzheimer’s Dinner in 2013, my mom and I were seated at a table near the stage. Our table was on the outside edge near some curtains.

“Rhinestone Cowboy” cued up and everyone began to clap in time to the music. Suddenly, from behind the curtain, several people emerged. All eyes were on Glen Campbell as he brushed past us smiling and waving his way toward the stage.

Filmmakers James Keach and Trevor were working on the documentary I’ll Be Me, the story of Glen’s Alzheimer’s journey. They were on hand to present the Sargent and Eunice Shriver Profiles in Dignity Award to Glen Campbell. Glen was a truly deserving recipient. His “Good-Bye Tour” and the documentary were unselfish ways of bringing a new level of awareness to a vast audience.

Glen seemed humbled by the award. His voice broke with emotion when he said, “Everyone’s been so good to me throughout my years as a musician. Thank you for helping me and my family.”

We sang “Happy Birthday” to the country music star and helped him celebrate his 77th birthday. I brushed away tears as my heart broke for the years he would be facing.

After the program, Glen posed to have his photo taken with many of the ladies, including my mom. He was charming and sweet, but I could see his hesitation and hear his halting words as he struggled to adapt to his new reality.

His daughter, Ashley, testified in front of a congressional hearing on Alzheimer’s. Advocates wearing purple Alzheimer’s sashes, packed the room. Ashley’s emotional testimony explained the changes in her relationship with her dad. She said it was hard for him to recall her name. Their times fishing together no longer lived in his memories.

Two years after the forum, I saw the documentary, I’ll Be Me. My impressions as written in a 2015 blog post:

It brought back memories of Jim’s loss of communication and musical skills. At least only family witnessed Jim’s problems and not a paying audience.

The Campbell family told of their struggles to make sure they walked the fine line between the cathartic benefits of Glen performing and being vigilant of him embarrassing himself. Audiences were tolerant. If he played the same song twice, so what? At least they got to see him perform.

Campbell’s physician felt that performing on his “Goodbye Tour,” doing what Glen loved, helped him maintain the ability to function longer. Sometimes his daughter, Ashley, had to tell her dad the correct key for certain songs. During their “dueling” instruments, her with a banjo, him with his guitar, she admitted that sometimes he didn’t always follow along. Glen relied heavily on Teleprompters to remind him of the words to songs he had sung for years.

When watching old family films, Glen asked, “Who’s that?” His wife, Kim, gently supplied the pertinent information: “It’s you, honey,” or “That’s your first wife,” or “It’s your oldest daughter.”

The film shows the relentless progression of Alzheimer’s disease. By the time of his final performance on stage, Glen did not know it was his last performance.  Cal Campbell said that when his dad performed, “He actually becomes himself again.”

The story ended with the recording session of “I’m Not Going to Miss You.” At this point, Glen is already fading away but his eyes sparkle when he finally gets into the song. This song really tugs at the heartstrings. The idea stemmed from Campbell’s remark that he couldn’t figure out why everyone was so worried about him having Alzheimer’s. He said, “It’s not like I’m going to miss anyone, anyway.”

Glen Campbell’s Alzheimer’s story was heartrending and, oh, so familiar to millions who have lived a similar story. Today, August 8, 2017, Glen Campbell ended his courageous battle with Alzheimer’s, and the Rhinestone Cowboy rode to his final horizon.

Copyright © August 2017 by L.S. Fisher
http://earlyonset.blogspot.com
#ENDALZ #GoJimsTeam

Monday, July 31, 2017

Beautiful Feet Carrying the Message

Sunday morning I took my usual seat for early church services. A woman came in and sat at the end of the same row. When the pastor gave us an opportunity to greet each other, I introduced myself to her, and she told me her name.

I recognized Laura's name as one I had seen on the Sedalia walk site. “Are you involved with the Walk to End Alzheimer’s?” I asked.

“Yes, I am!” she said.

We had a brief discussion about walk committee meetings, and then it was time for services to resume. The sermon was based on Romans 10:15 (NLT) “...How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”

I know that we may not see physical beauty when we look at our calloused feet, maybe marred with hammertoes, blisters, corns, or bunions . What we can imagine is the power of these “beautiful” feet to bring about change.  

Each year we have about 400 pairs of beautiful feet spreading the not-so-good news about Alzheimer’s disease. Many of the participants in the Sedalia walk have a loved one living with Alzheimer’s. Others, like Jim’s Team, walk to honor someone lost to the disease. Many members of Jim’s Team walk to honor other loved ones who have, or had, Alzheimer’s.

All these beautiful feet are boots on the ground in the battle to turn Alzheimer’s into a national priority. The walkers’ beautiful feet raise awareness and funds to help families coping with Alzheimer’s find resources to help them throughout the difficult journey.

At the same time, the Walk to End Alzheimer’s helps the Alzheimer’s Association fund research grants that explore new avenues toward finding a cure. New approaches, coupled with prior research, will hopefully build the momentum to find what has thus far been an elusive cure.

Alzheimer’s volunteers are a special breed of focused individuals. It’s kind of scary to me to realize how different my life would be if I had not taken that first step to become involved with the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Because of my volunteer work, I’ve gained dozens of amazing friends.

Perhaps it was merely a coincidence that Laura sat close to me Sunday morning. Or maybe, it was divine intervention to bring together two warriors to fight the Alzheimer’s enemy.

As we left church on that beautiful day, we paused to talk.

“There’s a woman on another team in my line dancing class. You should meet her too,” I said. I hadn’t realized who she was until our instructor Ruth had encouraged the class to participate in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. She told me she was already walking. In fact, I had just announced her team, Poppy’s Posse, on the radio as the current top fund-raising team.

“I’d like to go to line dancing,” she said.

“You should join us. We have a lot of fun! Our instructor Ruth is a joy to be around.”

While we talked, people from the early services were leaving, and others were streaming in for the next services.

I told Laura the days and time of our three line dancing classes, and while we were talking, Ruth, joined us.

“I heard some women were talking about line dancing.” Ruth explained that the young man greeting people at the door had gone to the bookstore where she was volunteering to let her know some women were talking about line dancing. Ruth invited Laura to join us for line dancing exercise class.

Sunday was a day of connections with a dear friend and a new friend, both with beautiful feet to spread the good news that we are on the MOVE to End  Alzheimer’s.

Copyright © July 2017 by L.S. Fisher
http://earlyonset.blogspot.com

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Use It or Lose It


For the first two years of our marriage, Harold and I drank our morning juice out of mustard-colored Tupperware juice glasses. One day, I noticed some stunning crystal goblets shoved to the back of the cabinet. I knew they had never been used because they still had the stickers on them. Now, wouldn’t my tomato juice and his apple juice look so much better in those glasses?

After using the glasses about six months, I managed to break the stem off one of them. I threw it away and took another one down. A few days later, I told Harold, “I broke one of the juice glasses.”

He shook his head and said, “I bet I’ve had those glasses twenty years.”

“Well, look at it this way,” I, the optimist, said, “since we started using them for juice glasses, you’ve gotten more pleasure out of them than you did during the entire twenty years you had them.” Really? How much good is something if you never use it?

Anyway, this little incident caused me to think about the expression, “use it, or lose it.” That expression can be taken a couple of different ways. Like so many people my age, I’ve accumulated so much stuff that I don’t use a lot of it. I basically flunked out of minimalist class because I couldn’t seem to “lose” enough stuff.

There is another way that use it or lose it applies to our health. Lack of exercise is damaging to our minds and bodies. Oh, sure, we all know about going to the gym to exercise, but do we think about exercising our brains?

We lose a certain amount of physical and mental agility as we age. When we exercise our bodies, it helps keep us physically agile. When I was much younger, I went to a wellness seminar. One woman said, “I walk so that I am able to walk.” She had severe arthritis and said that unless she kept moving, she wouldn’t be able to.

When I don’t feel like moving, I am most motivated to do it. A few days ago, Carolyn and I were walking into exercise line dancing class and we were talking about our aches and pains. But we were both there and ready to dance. Amazingly, I felt better by the end of class.

Mental agility works the same way. Use it or lose it. Keeping your mind active doesn’t guarantee that you won’t develop Alzheimer’s, but it may reduce your risk.

We all know how to exercise our bodies, although we may not do it. You might be a little puzzled as to how to exercise your brain. As with physical exercise, if mental exercise isn’t fun, you won’t do it!

To decide on the brain exercise that will work for you, think about the things you always wanted to do, but never seemed to find the time or the motivation to follow through.

Here are a few ideas:
1.      Take a class. Have you fallen behind on technology? Check out online or community college classes. Many colleges offer short courses on a variety of interests.
2.      Learn a new skill or hobby. After going to a few “painting parties” my sister discovered she had an artist’s eye. She’s learning and expanding her skill canvas by canvas. I decided to try to learn to play the ukulele. I may never be great at it, but I have a lot of fun and at least my dog enjoys hearing me play.
3.      Read, read, read. Read for pleasure and for learning. With a library card, reading must be the least expensive pastime ever! I don’t even need to spend gas money to read. I browse hundreds of library books online and check them out on my Kindle.
4.      Working puzzles is another inexpensive hobby. I buy crossword puzzle books and Sudoku books at the dollar store. I also work the puzzles in the newspaper. Heck, I’ve already paid for the paper, so the puzzles are free. A good way for me to ease into the day is to work on a puzzle while drinking my first cup of coffee.

Exercising your brain is a way to lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and enrich your life at the same time. Make your own list filled with things you enjoy.

My goal is to have as much mental agility throughout my lifetime as my ninety-year-old mother has. The only way to reach that goal is to think, plan, and take action to use my brain every day.   

Copyright © July 2017 by L.S. Fisher
http://earlyonset.blogspot.com

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Choose Your Battles

In Missouri, 2017 should be put on the calendar as the year of the Japanese beetles. Sure, we had some last year and they were a nuisance, but this year they are a plague of biblical proportions.

These voracious bugs started on our grapevine—just like last year—then they moved on to the wild roses, blackberry bush, returned to destroy the apple tree and all the apples on it, attacked the yard trees making them look like autumn instead of summer.

It’s a dilemma how to battle beetles. The traps attract more, and it certainly was tedious to pick them off and throw them in soapy water. That might work if you had a scattering of beetles, but when they congregate in huge clusters and there are thousands of them, picking seems like an exercise in futility.

So we sprayed a little Seven on them, but mostly we hoped they would move along like they did last year. But oh, no! They were way cockier than last year. One morning while relaxing with my cup of coffee on the deck, I was horrified to see our rose of Sharon bush covered with the foliage eating monsters. “Okay, they have gone too far!” I told Harold.

I used the remainder of the spray he had mixed, and although it killed hundreds, it seemed that a legion was moving along the front line of the battle to kill the bush. Harold got serious and bombarded the tree with spray. That seemed to do the trick. We had chosen our battle and although they haven’t left entirely, the remaining beetles lost interest in the bush.

As a person who is often out of sync with the opinions of those who surround me, I’ve found that choosing battles has become more important than ever. It isn’t always easy for an outspoken, opinionated woman to do that, especially when so many have lost their sense of civility and respect for their fellow humans.

Choosing battles became an integral part of caregiving. When Jim was in long-term care, I could count some residents’ family members charging into the memory unit just spoiling for battle. Nothing was ever done to their satisfaction. Complain, complain, complain. I might mention that the biggest complainers were the ones who seldom visited their family member. Too often, it seemed that since they felt guilty, they wanted to belittle the aides and nurses that tended to the residents.

These were the same people who saw me feeding, bathing, or providing extra care for Jim who would say, “You shouldn’t be doing that! You are paying to have that done.” In the first place (a) it really wasn’t any of their concern what I wanted to do for my husband, and (b) I saw how overworked and unappreciated the aides were.

There were two kinds of aides: the ones that needed a job so desperately they were willing to try anything, and the majority who had a caring nature and whose job was less of a job and more a “calling.” The people who stayed were not working solely for a paycheck.

Abuse and neglect of  your loved one should not be tolerated. Show up for care planning and provide helpful input. Rather than ranting at the unfortunate person who happens to be nearby, rational conversation with the person in charge is much more effective.

In life, we need to choose our battles. Instead of waging war against fellow human beings, negotiation may be the key to settling problems.

On the other hand, an all-out battle against Japanese beetles is not only totally acceptable, it may be the only way to save your yard.

Copyright © July 2017 by L.S. Fisher
http://earlyonset.blogspot.com

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Company Comin'

My dog goes crazy every time the doorbell rings. She runs through the house trying to get to the front door ahead of us. We have to hang onto her squirmy, wiggly body to keep her from running out the door in her over-excited state. I think she’s always hopeful that the grandkids are at the door, but she’s ecstatic to see the UPS man too.

A few days ago, I took the dog for a walk. We went out the back door, but after walking in the oppressive heat, I decided that we would just use the front door since it was closer. Of course, the front door was locked, and I rang the doorbell so that Harold would let us in.

As soon as I pressed the doorbell, the dog began her happy dance and looked eagerly at the door. When Harold came to the door, she shot through the door running amok in her eagerness. I’m pretty sure, she was wondering who the “company” was, never once realizing it was us.  

When I was a kid, I remember a song “Company Comin’ up the Road.” We lived twenty miles from nowhere deep in the Ozark hills, and company was a rare occasion.

Later, when I became a part of the Fisher family, it was a completely different situation. It was not unusual to have several different families converge on my in-laws’ house. Virginia was an amazing cook, and she could whip up a big meal on a moment’s notice. She always welcomed family and insisted they sit down at her table to eat the mouth-watering meal she prepared “such as it is.”

Family time wasn’t limited to weekends and holidays. Any night of the week might involve a spirited card game, a jam session, or coffee and conversation. Company comin’ was expected and an occasion to rejoice.

Times have changed, and so many of the family are gone now. Recently, Virginia’s baby brother Larry passed away, so one less smiling face will be at the reunion this year.

We lived next door to my in-laws for several years. I always enjoyed the company, but being a person who has to have quiet time, I would sometimes slip away for an hour or so and go to my house. Most people didn’t pay any attention to my comings and goings, but Larry would always smile and say, “You just had to get away for a while, didn’t you?” It was as if he was the one person who understood.

Another time after Jim developed dementia, Larry watched the interactions between Jim and me. “It must be awful hard thinking for two,” he said, having another insightful moment.

Life has gone full circle. Although, we don’t live twenty miles from nowhere, we don’t have a lot of company. Sometimes, the dog hears company comin’ up the driveway, but usually she doesn’t get too excited until the doorbell rings. Today, when she beat a well-worn path to the door, she was dancing with delight as she greeted the grandkids.

After playtime, she was exhausted and ready for a nap. After my busy, busy day, I’m ready for a nap too.

Copyright © July 2017 by L.S. Fisher

Friday, June 23, 2017

We Are Not Alone

When I walk my dog late at night, I always look at the sky. I’ve seen several mysterious lights. Some of them suddenly zoom across the sky, others disappear. What are those strange flying objects? Okay, a disclaimer—I do live close to Whiteman Air Force Base, and they do have some planes that look like they belong in a sci-fi movie.

According to an article I read in the newspaper recently, NASA is on a planet hunting mission. They have determined that ten new planets exist that have the potential to support life. They are in a galaxy far, far away, but the possibility exists that beings may be trying to contact us.

How many people believe our planet has been visited by “men in black” is somewhere between 25% and 45%, depending on the source. So, if you’ve seen something inexplicable, you are not alone.

Other than visitors from other worlds, we may sometimes feel alone. It seems we can live “down the road” from a close relative and seldom see them. We live in a world where many of us do not know our neighbors. We tend to go about our business and mind our own business.

When I was growing up, it would have seemed sci-fi to believe that someday we the entire world would be a few keystrokes away. Who could have foreseen twenty-four hour TV, or so many channels that we never watch them all?

Still, in the world of connectivity, some of us feel alone. I believe many Alzheimer’s caregivers feel the loneliest of all. In fact, caregivers may feel like their world has turned upside down, and they have landed in a strange and foreign land.

We each have our own road to travel; our own frontiers to conquer. We never know how strong we can be until we face an unconquerable challenge. For me, that challenge was Jim’s dementia. For others it may be cancer, or heart disease, or the sudden death of a loved one. We never know what the next day, or for that matter, the next hour, will bring.

Earth is our home for a certain time. We have only a finite number of years to gaze at the stars, fall in love, have children, and visit with our loved ones who may live down the road or across country. We have things to do—so many things to do—and a short time to do them.

When I walk the dog and look at the heavens, sometimes I feel a chill, or an unexplainable ache. I see many things at night, and sometimes during the day.

One day earlier this week while the dog and I were meandering across the backyard, I looked up at a blue sky with a few scattered fluffy clouds. I saw a strange, rectangular white object passing rapidly by.

“Do you see that?” I yelled at Harold. Of course, he didn’t hear me. Just as I marveled at that object, I saw another. In a few minutes, they were gone.

I told Harold what I’d seen, and he said, “Probably a weather balloon.” Just like my dad, he thinks every strange flying object is a weather balloon.

“What I saw was flat. Didn’t look like any kind of balloon.”

Oh, well, there’s no way of really knowing what the strange flying objects were. They could have been something from Whiteman AFB, a runaway pair of drones, sheets off a line that decided to go for a thrill ride, or maybe a deflated weather balloon.

Since the objects were unknown, I like to think they might have been a couple of angels making their way toward the heavens. Maybe, I was the only one looking up during that brief moment of visibility. At least there were two of them, so neither was traveling alone.

Copyright © June 2017 by L.S. Fisher
http://earlyonset.blogspot.com

Friday, June 16, 2017

Silence, Please

My granddaughter was in a production of Dancing to Never Land, and I drove to Jefferson City to watch. As we were waiting for the program to begin, I remembered to silence my phone. While we patiently waited for her part, I took photos with my spanking new camera to make sure I could get quality photos.

An hour-and-a half into the program, my phone began to play a happy tune. What? How could that be? Of course, it didn’t play its tune during a set change or when the music was loud—oh, no, it was during a quiet time. Then, it dawned on me—it was my sunset alarm. Since we’ve been closing the blinds in the evenings, I don’t have my bird’s eye view of the setting sun, so I set an alarm to remind me to look. Turning off the ringer and media sound does not silence the alarm.

Last Sunday I heard a phone ringing during the pastor’s message. It rang, and rang, and rang. I don’t know if the person was deaf, ignoring the ring, or not wanting to call attention to himself by pulling out the phone.

Maybe they thought it was someone else’s phone. That happened to me once many years ago during an Alzheimer’s Board Meeting with my first cell phone. I could hear a phone ringing and thought, “How rude!” Except, when I reached my car I saw I had missed several phone calls. My son wanted me to know that we were under a tornado warning. He didn’t know I was in a different town at a meeting.

Then, there’s always the talker that won’t stop when a prayer begins. They are way too involved in a conversation to notice everyone has fallen into silence. How annoying that all you can hear is their conversation instead of the prayer.

When some people are alone, they have to fill their home with noise—the TV, radio, or some other racket—but I always loved the quiet. I’ve never found anything more soothing than the sound of silence, or the quiet sounds of a country night.

I’m not the only one who reveres silence. Others have provided poetic and practical observations about silence:  silence is golden, listen to silence—it has much to say, speak only if it improves the silence, silence speaks louder than words, silence says it all…

I saw a TED talk on noise. Julian Treasure said that most noise in our lives is accidental and unpleasant. Noise affects us physiologically, psychologically, cognitively, and behaviorally.
Silence or soothing noises can improve productivity and improve mood.

After leaving a party where dozens of conversations are going at once, walking out of a noisy restaurant, or shutting off a too-loud TV, I retreat into my favorite environment of stillness and relaxation. My mind thinks, “What a relief!” I’m in my element when all I can hear are the blessed sounds of silence.

Copyright © June 2017 by L.S. Fisher


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Go Purple in June

I was at the grocery store a few days ago and the woman at the checkout asked me if I liked purple. Now, how did she know that? Well, let’s see—purple Alzheimer’s shirt, purple bracelet, purple nails, purple shoes, purple purse…

“Yes, I do,” I said. “Purple is the Alzheimer’s color and I plan to wear purple every day in June for Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month.”

Tuesday was a complete Go Purple day for me. Not only did I wear purple, I spent the day with Paige from the Greater Missouri Chapter on Alzheimer’s related activities. First, we taped shows on two different radio stations, we contacted several businesses about teams and corporate sponsors, and we found a venue for an August program and care consultation. The day went really well and I found the enthusiasm and support to be a refreshing change.

The Alzheimer’s Association has a one-day event called the Longest Day. Of course, the longest day of the year is in June and this year, the fundraiser is celebrated on June 21. The Longest Day is about love for those affected by Alzheimer’s disease. People do an activity they love—playing games, exercising, sports, hobbies—and while they enjoy their activity, they raise funds for the Alzheimer’s Association.

The Longest Day is a perfect fit for the Alzheimer’s Association. Caregivers can attest to the intensity and length of each caregiving day. The most well-known family guide about Alzheimer’s and related dementia caregiving is called the 36-Hour Day for a reason. Any Alzheimer’s caregiver can tell you why.

By June, I’m always working on the Alzheimer’s Walk and have never fully participated in a Longest Day team. I believe this would be a great opportunity for someone who isn’t involved in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s , but wants to help support the Alzheimer’s programs.

Of course, I’d encourage everyone to participate in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. We are always pleasantly surprised to see people we weren’t expecting show up on walk day.

Our walk committee has been small for several years. The same core group has faithfully taken on the task of making the walk a well-attended community event. As it gets closer to walk time, we hope to grow our committee. Many hands make light work. We’ve always been fortunate to have event day volunteers, but fresh ideas and new perspectives are always welcome. We want our walk to be better each year!

I hope you get a chance to participate in the Longest Day or a Walk to End Alzheimer’s no matter where you live. You can go to act.alz.org to find information about the Longest Day and/or find a walk near you. You can help in many ways—you can volunteer for the committee, start a team, join a team, support a team, or show up on walk day, make a donation, and enjoy.

In the meantime, remember to Go Purple! When someone asks you if you like the color purple, it is your opening to create awareness for the five million in the United States who have Alzheimer’s and the fifteen million family caregivers.

Copyright © June 2017 by L.S. Fisher

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Decoration Day


In case I’d forgotten this was Memorial Day weekend, I was reminded by the bumper-to-bumper traffic in town yesterday. Our town sets between Kansas City and the Lake of the Ozarks so every summer weekend we are in the cross-hairs of tourists. Memorial Day and Labor Day turn Limit and Broadway into parking lots.

I don’t suppose most of those people are headed to cemeteries to decorate graves of loved ones. Decoration Day was established to honor Americans who died in wars, but has evolved into a weekend of fun in the sun and store-wide “Memorial Day Sales!” Yep. The way to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice is to celebrate and buy bargains. Memorial Day is most definitely a red-white-and-blue day right down to sales ads for clothing, hardware, lawn furniture, and every other consumerist purchase possible.

I remember when as a working person, Memorial Day was the first official holiday of the year. I admit that after our annual run to place flowers on the graves of loved ones, we spent the rest of the weekend pursuing some sort of fun activity.

Now, the highlight of Memorial Day is to attend the ceremony at the Veterans Cemetery in Higginsville and place flowers for Jim in front of the columbarium. Many of the graves at the cemetery hold the bodies or ashes of those who died fighting for this country. Others, like Jim, didn’t die in the war, but as one veteran said at a Vietnam program, “I died in Vietnam; I just didn’t know it.”

That’s what happened to Jim. Taking human life stole part of his soul and left it lying in the jungle beside the fallen. His life was never the same after he saw the lifeless bodies taken down by his M16. Jim had PTSD before we knew it even existed. When dementia faded his short-term memories, Vietnam clamored to the forefront of his mind.

Did you know that 3:00 p.m. local time is set aside on Memorial Day as a national moment of remembrance? At the appointed time on Monday, pause, remove your ball cap, and bow your head for the 1.1 million American soldiers who have died for this country.

Maybe a fun-filled weekend is the way to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice to keep this country free. It’s a time to think about what is right about our country instead of what is wrong. This patriotic weekend is a time of remembrance. The most important thing we should remember is that our freedom wasn’t free.  

Copyright © May 2017 by L.S. Fisher

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Benefit of Laughter

Linda at Roast
The 2017 Greater Missouri Alzheimer’s Association’s roast was a roaring success. I can’t help but think a person must be quite comfortable in his skin to allow a group of people to “roast” him. Or as the emcee, Bob Pugh put it, “sear him” on first one side, then the other, before roasting him to well done.

I was assigned a seat at the “Hawk” table along with my new friend, Kathleen. We were glad to see each other since we were the first two at the table, and both of us wondered if we’d be seated by anyone.

“Are you a Hawk?” she asked me.

“No,” I admitted.

We wondered what a “Hawk” was. “Well, if they don’t show up, we can eat their desserts,” she said. We were joined by a charming gentleman who said he was not a Hawk, but eventually, the Hawks joined us—a husband and wife team. Everyone else at the table personally knew the roastee, Mark Fenner, CEO of MFA Oil, which made the experience even better for me.

Mark and the roasters looked quite dashing in their purple tuxedos. The evening was filled with good-natured ribbing, including Mark teasing a donor for selling a $10 million business, but donating “only” $25,000. The roast was topped off with a guitar and a sing-a-long.

Laughter as a benefit correlates to the benefits of laughter. I can’t think of many people who need laughter more than caregivers. The health benefits of a good chuckle cannot be taken lightly. According to Mayo, laughter is the ideal stress buster.

A good laugh:

·         Lightens your load mentally. Laughter relaxes you, and reduces your stress hormone levels, and releases neuropeptides to fight stress.
·         Eases physical pain. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, nature’s feel good chemical.
·         Improves cardiac health. The American Heart Association believes humor can help your heart by reducing artery inflammation and increasing HDL cholesterol. We have good and bad cholesterol. The easy way to remember which is which is “H”DL is the “happy” cholesterol and “L”DL is the “lousy” cholesterol.  

Laughter is good for body and spirit. It gives you short-term and long-term benefits. Having a good laugh every twenty-four hours is just what the doctor ordered!

I easily stored up a week’s worth of laughter at the roast. It was good to spend an evening with long-term friends I’ve met over the years, and with new friends I met for the first time at the roast.

I can’t think of a better fundraiser than one that is fun. Beneath the laughter was the serious business of raising money to provide our chapter’s outreach and to laugh our way to a world without Alzheimer’s.

Copyright © May 2017 by L.S. Fisher

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Trip You Don’t Want to Take

I was carrying my Mother’s day potted dahlia up the deck steps when I tripped on the steps and fell. I smacked my elbow, knee, and scraped my foot.

It was a little shocking to find myself down, but I dusted myself off, moved my limbs without pain. It seemed the only visible damage was a toenail torn halfway off. I was luckier than my sister-in-law who had fallen over the weekend and fractured her hip.

Unfortunately, I had landed on the plant, crushing the plastic pot and breaking off a few of the flowers. We re-potted the plant, and I believe it, too, will recover.

These two falls made me think of all the times Jim fell. As I worked on his memoir Indelible, it became apparent to me that he had fallen more times than I remembered. None of Jim’s falls resulted in broken bones, but he often had bruises, swelling, and cuts that had to be stitched.

Jim’s main problem seemed to be balance. After several falls, he eventually used a merry-walker, a device that looks much like a baby walker for adults. He even managed to flip the merry-walker from time-to-time and the nursing home weighted it down. At one time, he was falling out of bed, so they placed it on the floor.

Up until the last several months of Jim’s life, I was able to take him for walks. I held onto him, and he seemed to do pretty well. Once he began to tilt his head back most of the time, I had more problems keeping him balanced. Eventually, our “walks” involved pushing a wheelchair around the parking lot.

A myriad of problems associated with dementia can increase the risk of falling. Dementia causes problems with balance and gait, confusion, vision and perception, and, of course, the ever present medication.

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), nearly 32,000 people died from unintentional falls in 2014. Injuries from falls are the most common accidental death for older adults.

Six out of every ten falls happen at home. NIH (National Institutes of Health) has some suggestions to make our homes safer while we go about our daily activities. Slick floors and poorly lit stairways are two examples of hazards.

NIH lists these factors that can lead to falls: (1) loose rugs, (2) clutter on the floor or stairs, (3) carrying heavy or bulky things up and down stairs, (4) not having stair railings, and (5) not having grab bars in the bathroom.

If you want a to-do list:

·         Remove safety hazards. It is easy to trip over electrical cords, clutter, dog dishes, or small furniture. One time as I was knocking down cobwebs, I tripped over a footstool.
·         Improve lighting. Make sure bulbs are bright enough that you can see where you are going. Have a lamp at your bedside, night-lights throughout your home, and keep a flashlight handy.
·         Install handrails and grab bars. Stairs and bathtubs are prime spots for accidents. Having something to hang onto reduces the risk.
·         Move items to make them easier to reach. As a short person, I applaud this idea. Almost everything is out of my reach!

Having a recent fall makes me more aware of the danger. I had a really bad fall on ice one time and my first thought was that I was going to die, my second thought was that I had “broken” my head. Ice is another story for different season. For now, let’s work on those indoor hazards that might catch us unaware.

Copyright © May 2017 by L.S. Fisher
http://earlyonset.blogspot.com