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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

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

An Eye on the Goal: A Cure for Alzheimer’s

Setting a goal is the first step to success. If you don’t know where you are headed, you don’t really know when you get there.

In the year 2001, our local Alzheimer’s Chapter Executive Director Penny Braun asked if I’d like to go to Washington, D.C., to the Alzheimer’s Forum. “We’re asking for research funding,” she told me. “The goal is one billion dollars.”

“Well, we need to find a cure, and I don’t mind asking for a billion dollars,” I said with full confidence. It wasn’t long before I discovered that research funding was way short of a billion dollars. Alzheimer’s was pushed firmly to the back burner and funding was so tiny it barely made a blip on the NIH budget.

So year after year, I packed my bags and went to D.C. with that illusive billion-dollar goal in mind. I can remember being challenged with, “And just where would we get that money?” and “We can’t ‘earmark’ NIH funds.” We inched a little higher, except for some of the tight budget years when we lost ground.

Things began to look up when the National Alzheimer’s Project Act was approved in 2010. This act required the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to annually update the National Alzheimer’s Plan. The plan laid out a goal to prevent or find an effective treatment by 2025.

The Alzheimer’s Accountability Act of 2015 required scientists at NIH to submit an annual Alzheimer’s research budget to Congress. This “bypass budget,” and it lets Congress hear what scientist think should be in the budget for Alzheimer’s research to meet our goals. They determined that if NIH invested $2 billion in research, we could meet the goal.

It wasn’t easy to jump research funding from the mid-millions to $2 billion. It wasn’t not an easy sell, and it seems there was always a medical crisis that got the billions to stop them while the five million people with Alzheimer’s waited for a cure.

Alzheimer’s advocates are determined people! Alzheimer’s disease costs our country $259 billion annually, but research dollars have traditionally been tight. In 2015 (FY 16), we received a historic $350 million increase.  Once this increase was appropriated, the annual research budget was closing in on the billion-dollar mark at $991 million.

In 2016 (FY17), the Senate Appropriations Committee requested a $400 million increase which would bring our total to $1.4 billion. We celebrated with the appropriations chair Senator Roy Blunt at the 2016 Alzheimer’s Forum.

Then, this year, we received the bad news that NIH’s overall FY17 budget would be cut, and our historic increase was in jeopardy. We knew we were fighting an uphill battle to reach our goal. We weren’t sure if we had been successful, but our champions vowed to fight for us.

Once the budget was approved, my inbox was filled with “hip-hip hoorays” as Alzheimer’s advocates cheered the success of reaching our research goal.

In his letter to advocates, Alzheimer’s Association CEO Harry Johns said, “This has been a historic week for the Alzheimer’s Association, the Alzheimer’s Impact Movement (AIM) and our cause. As you know, on Monday, congressional leaders from both parties and both houses of Congress announced that the 2017 federal government funding bill includes the largest increase in history for Alzheimer’s research, $400 million. Today, the president signed that increase into law, bringing Alzheimer’s research funding at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to nearly $1.4 billion.”

First goal reached (around at least since 2001): research funding of $1 billion. Next goal: finding a cure by 2025, or sooner! The sooner, the better. Keep an eye on the goal.

Copyright © May 2017 by L.S. Fisher