Sunday, March 30, 2008

Walk a Mile in My Skechers

I usually don’t look at the J C Penney One Day Only sales because I can almost always find a “must have” item, usually shoes. I am especially susceptible to buy-one-and-get-one-half-price shoe sales. Can you believe one of those sales was going on today? Wouldn’t you know they had a picture of a pair of white Skechers similar to the two black pair and burgundy ones I own and love?

So, like a true shoeaholic, I entered Penney’s holding my four-year-old granddaughter’s hand. After a cursory look at clothing, we meandered to the shoe department. On prominent display was not just ONE pair of Sketchers different from the ones I had, but FOUR.

“I would like to try these, these, these, and these,” I told the sales clerk.

While the clerk searched the storeroom for the shoes in my size, my granddaughter selected a pair of pink house slippers with a fluff of fur and Disney princesses on the toes.

We found a bench to try on our shoes. I slipped off the burgundy Skechers I was wearing to try on the natural colored pair with a lacy pattern. “The mirror is over there,” the sales clerk said.

“Those look cool with your black socks, Grandma Linda!” My granddaughter said with the enthusiasm of the very young. She pronounced the white pair with mesh ventilation and the black lacy pair as “Cool!”

I tried on a shiny brocade shoe with a water lily design, and my granddaughter said, “Those are precious, Grandma Linda!” She smiled at me, her face lit with joy, a beautiful child in a pink glitzy shirt, with silky blonde hair held back in with a poofy pink bow. I felt a pang that because of Jim’s dementia, he never had the opportunity to share these happy moments with his grandchildren.

Sometimes when I was immersed in the daily responsibilities of caregiving, I felt my joy had been stolen. When someone who had never taken care of a person with dementia offered simplistic views or started a sentence with “If I were you,” I knew that even if they walked a mile in my shoes, they could not begin to grasp the heartbreak of being a caregiver.

Yet, love for my family made me realize that life goes on, and many, many happy moments are yet to come. The sales clerk and I smiled at the Skechers being described as “precious.”

“OK, precious or cool? I’m only buying two pair. You are my fashion consultant, and I want to know which two pair to buy.”

Without the slightest hesitation, she pointed to the white mesh pair, “Those, and,” pointing to the natural pair, “those.”

“Not the precious ones?” I asked, running my fingers along the silky finish of the shoes.

“No. The cool ones.” Well grandmas want to be cool.

I left the store with a bulging bag of shoes and could easily walk a mile in my cool pair of Skechers along a path where moments of joy pop up like wildflowers to remind me how precious life is.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Green Apple Gum

Not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought of Jim since I met him in 1968. He died almost three years ago and remains with me through memories of the life we shared. Sometimes the little things, or pebbles, become lost in the big rocks, or major events. When something triggers our thoughts, we discover a pebble hidden by the shadows.

As I exited church last Sunday, I caught the scent of green apple gum. I smiled, and I assume that everyone just thought I was happy, or being friendly. In that moment, I could feel Jim’s presence beside me, and he definitely was not happy.

When our kids were small, they thought green apple gum was the best tasting gum available. Jim would not tolerate the gum in the house, or even worse, the car.

“Who’s chewing that stinky gum!” he would shout, as he glared into the rearview mirror at the kids. The offending child would roll his window down and spit the gum out. It became a joke in the family that Jim could not tolerate the smell of green apple gum. This is a man who liked limburger cheese, which in my opinion, smells like road kill. A small piece of green apple gum made his stomach roll, and he would retch if exposed to the smell very long.

One time we drove to Kansas with our friends, Rick and Sandy. We stopped at a rest area to get gas, and Sandy who had heard of Jim’s legendary aversion to green apple gum, bought some. “This will be so funny!” she said as she paid the clerk.

“Sandy, he won’t see the humor in it,” I warned her.

As soon as Rick pulled his van out of the parking lot and headed down I-70, Sandy started shoving green apple gum into her mouth until she had such a wad of it she could hardly chew it. As soon as the smell released, Jim whipped his head around and shouted, “Who’s chewing green apple gum!”

“I am,” Sandy said meekly, aware now that it really set him off. Without being told, she opened a window and threw the gum out.

That was the last time I smelled green apple gum until Sunday at church. I shook hands with the pastor and left the building. Jim would have hunted down the person with the green apple gum and informed them they were polluting his air space. That was the Jim I knew and loved, and the one that sometimes exasperated me.

I have never chewed green apple gum, and never will. I don’t have the low tolerance for it that Jim had, but a whiff of green apple gum pelts my senses with a pebble of memory. Green apple gum triggers a random remembrance of the complex and very human man who shared my life for 37 years and still lives in my heart.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

How to Find Trusted Information about Alzheimer’s

He pushed the speed dial on his cell phone to call his stock broker and said, “Check and see if my stock sold today.” He rattled off his account number and the stock symbol. “What do you mean, you don’t know? Just look it up on your computer.”

“You need to talk to my manager, and he is on the phone.”

“How long will he be on the phone?” he asked, irritated that he didn’t get the information he wanted. “OK, I’ll call back later.” As he touched the disconnect button, the display showed he had been talking to Days Inn.

With today’s technology, we have information at our fingertips that once took hours of intense research. The problem is that sometimes the information is incorrect or incomplete.

Enter “Alzheimer’s” into Google, you get 14 million hits. How do you determine which websites contain accurate and truthful information? Sometimes websites look official, but they aren’t. Domain names are distributed on a first come, first serve basis and the names are sometimes intentionally deceptive.

The Alzheimer’s Association is the largest private nonprofit funding resource for Alzheimer research. With 300 points of service in the U.S., you can contact your local chapter for support. To find the closest chapter and trusted information on Alzheimer’s, visit the Alzheimer’s Association’s website at

If you are traveling and need a room reservation, call Days Inn. But if you need care consultation or immediate information about Alzheimer’s, call their 24/7 Helpline at 1-800-272-3900.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Alzheimer's Anthology of Unconditional Love

Alzheimer’s Anthology of Unconditional Love is a collection of thirty-seven true stories about Missourians who have embarked upon an unwilling journey into an uncharted world toward a future different than the one envisioned. It is the death of dreams, plans, and the birth of unconditional love. The stories capture the effect Alzheimer’s has on caregivers, sons, daughters, in-laws, friends, children, grandchildren, and healthcare workers. The collection includes two stories from persons diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. The writers range from a Pulitzer Prize nominee to unpublished authors. For those beginning the journey, these true stories
will help them realize they are not alone.
Available at,, and at Missouri Barnes and Noble stores. Signed copies available at

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Alzheimer's: The Power of Our Words

I saw a demonstration of how much our words and thoughts affect others. The speaker, Travis Mathes, asked for a volunteer, and a self-confident business man, Daryl, came forward. Travis asked Daryl to hold his arms outstretched to his sides and resist his attempts to force his arms down. Then he asked Daryl to lower his arms, looked him in the eye, and said, “You are ugly, you are stupid, you are worthless…”

After about eight derogatory statements, Travis asked Daryl to hold his arms out and without using any more force than the first time, easily pushed Daryl’s arms down. Daryl’s take on it, “Wow, that was weird!”

This demonstration shows how our words can demoralize another person into a position of weakness. Travis immediately said eight positive things, and Daryl had the strength to resist the pressure on his arms.

After Daryl sat down, Travis asked a woman to come forward. Instead of saying anything to her, he simply asked her to look into his eyes for about a minute. He easily pushed her arms down. They made eye contact again, and this time his attempt failed. The difference? The first time, he thought the same things he said to Daryl. The second time, he thought positive, flattering thoughts.

We have often heard how our tone of voice and body language can affect people with Alzheimer’s. Even if their communication skills have degraded, our tone of voice conveys whether we are complimenting them or degrading them. If we speak to our loved ones with dementia in a positive tone with words that make them feel good about themselves, they will be stronger emotionally and physically. If we scold them or disparage their value as a human being, they become weaker and downtrodden.

Medical science cannot develop medicine as powerful as our words, attitude, and body language when it comes to preserving quality of life for ourselves and our loved ones with Alzheimer’s. The power is within each of us to encourage and positively influence our loved ones. It can be something as simple as saying, “You smell great today. You have a beautiful smile. I love you.”

Don’t get me wrong. I understand being a caregiver is challenging, and at certain times you may find yourself incapable of positive thoughts or words. At those times, find a mirror, look into your own eyes, and say, “I’m doing my best. I am a good caregiver.” Your words will make you strong.

Thank you, Travis, for the eye-opening demonstration.

To contact Travis Mathes for a speaking engagement, email

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Young/Early Onset Dementia

My head is still spinning from my conversation last Friday with Connie Wasserman, Program Director of Senior Services, Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center, East Hills, NY. Connie is a dynamic lady dedicated to improving quality of life for young onset individuals. Yes, she refers to those with dementia that began before age 65 as young onset.

Connie told me that the first time she attended a roundtable discussion about early onset dementia, half of the people attending mistakenly thought “early onset” was synonymous with “early stage.” The terms are confusing!

Early stage has nothing to do with age; it refers to the stage of the disease. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, a person may exhibit personality changes or memory loss that affects job performance, show lapses in judgment, demonstrate difficulty remembering words or names, and could have problems handling money or paying bills.

Early onset means the disease has been recognized in a person who is younger than 65 years old. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 500,000 people in the United States have early onset dementia.

People with young onset dementia require stimulation to improve the quality of their lives. Connie described Sid Jacobson’s “Let’s Do Lunch” program. In addition to lunch, participants enjoy music therapy, step aerobics, art therapy, and a creative writing program. This adult day program for young people in the moderate stage of a neurodegenerative disease is innovative and carefully developed.

Connie and I share a mission to advocate for better lives for those with dementia. I have begun to collect stories for the Early Onset Project, which will provide an opportunity for those with early, or young, onset to share their stories. In addition to compelling slice-of-life stories, the book will contain informational articles. Connie plans to write an article for the Early Onset Project about their programs for young onset individuals.

If you or someone you love has early onset dementia, you will agree with Connie Wasserman that “this population is more than underserved—it is non-served.” Let’s hope the ripple in New York turns into a tidal wave of recognition and ACTION toward improving quality of life for those with early onset dementia.

To watch a video and for information about the young onset programs visit
For complete submissions guidelines for the Early Onset Book Project visit my website at and click on the Early Onset Project link.