Sunday, July 25, 2010

Something to Look Forward To

Life is more fun and exciting when we move through it with anticipation. It is easy to get into a rut or a funk when all you have to look forward to is drudgery.

Jim was always the traveler in the family, and he was happiest when we had an upcoming trip. He would plan for months and pack weeks in advance. “I have to have something to look forward to,” he would always say.

Later, to make it through the caregiver years, I took Jim’s advice. I’ve kept up the habit of marking my calendar months in advance when I have an upcoming event or trip.

It doesn’t take a major event to give my spirits a makeover—I’ve learned to find joy in unexpected places. I spent last week in Minneapolis for a benefits conference which is held in three or four different locations throughout the year. Minneapolis isn’t the most popular location, but it is the one that worked out for my schedule. To sweeten the deal, my co-worker and I went online and found tickets to “A Streetcar Named Desire” at the Guthrie Theatre.

With the extensive traveling I’ve done throughout my lifetime, I had not once been in Minnesota. As the plane came in for a landing, the thing that caught my eye was all the lakes. It looked like every housing development was clustered around its own lake.

Our hotel was at the city center and Brenda, my co-worker, and I pulled our suitcases toward the exit with full confidence we could catch a taxi to the hotel. All the taxis were on the other side of the street behind a barricade. I had never seen a setup like that before. We found a policeman and asked him how to cross the street. If that doesn’t make you feel like a country cousin, nothing will. He called it “poor design” and we had to go back inside the building, down a level, cross under the street and then up a level to come out on the other side.

On the way to the hotel, Brenda asked the taxi driver where the Mall of America was located. “It’s the other side of the airport,” he told us. “It will cost you about $80 for a taxi from your hotel.”

How can you go to Minneapolis and not visit the iconic Mall of America? Isn’t that sort of un-American? Not to be deterred, we checked with the concierge, knowing that downtown hotels would not want to lose customers because it cost so much to get to the huge tourist attraction across town. Sure enough, he told us we could exit the hotel turn the corner, go two blocks and take the light rail to the Mall of America for $1.75. Much, much better than $80.

The best way to get to the Guthrie Theatre where the Tennessee Williams’ play was showing was on the light rail. We rode the street car known as Hiawatha to watch a “Street Car Named Desire.” The theatre was only two blocks from a Transit Station, and when the play let out at 10:45 p.m. we walked to the station. The trains passing by in the other direction were jammed with Twins fans who had boarded at Target Stadium. Before long, we hopped on and rode back to the hotel. Round trip equals $1, experience priceless.

We kept noticing a lot of young ladies wearing tiaras and beauty queen sashes. They were in town for the Queen of the Lakes competition and the Aquatennial Torchlight Parade. Before the parade, hundreds of runners participated in a 5k run. All this took place within a half-block of our hotel. I don’t recall ever seeing so many people run and the parade turned out to be the parade that never ended. Long after we were back in the hotel room we could still hear the pa-rum-pa-rum-pum of the high school bands.

As a bonus, the conference turned out to be one of the best I had ever attended. Interesting speakers updated us on all things benefit related.

While riding the light rail, we noticed all the people climbing on board with their suitcases to go to the airport. The train stopped at two different terminals, but a chart showed that we would get off at Lindberg to fly on Delta. Okay, we could take a taxi for $40, or ride the train for $1.75. It wasn’t a tough decision at all.

All in all, it was a great little break from everyday work. Having something to look forward to helps me wake up in the mornings and want to get out of bed. Having a good time and not breaking the bank, is a plus. Still, as much as I enjoyed it, a week was long enough and I woke up with a singing heart this morning because I’m at my favorite place—home.

copyright (c) July 2010 L.S. Fisher

Monday, July 19, 2010

Comparing Apples to Pears

The Alzheimer’s Association sent a newsletter this week that says “pear” shaped women are at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s than “apple” shaped women. This is the first health bulletin I recall that gives apple-shaped women, who carry excess weight around their waists, an advantage over pear-shaped ladies, who carry their weight on their hips and thighs.

I know most women would prefer to be slim and trim, but that becomes harder as we grow older. In fact, a recent obesity report says that slightly more than one-third of Americans are obese. Obesity in my home state of Missouri is 29.3 % and we weigh in at No. 12 in the state rankings.

If you don’t consider yourself to be obese, but merely overweight, you should check the guidelines. BMI (body mass index) is used to determine whether an adult is merely overweight or obese. If your index is in the 25-29.9 range, you are overweight. Anything over the magic 29.9 indicates obesity. If you don’t know your BMI, you can find free BMI calculators on the Web. One thing is obvious when I look at mine—I just need to be a couple of inches taller. Who would have ever thought my goal in life would be to have a BMI that falls into the “overweight” category.

I’ve been honest enough to rank myself with the apple shapes for many years. The extra weight around my middle makes it hard for me to tie my shoes and dang near impossible for me to polish my toenails. That is a major problem during the sandal-days of summer. The only thing I can say is that once I huff and puff until I get it done, the super-duper nail polish I buy stays in place for several weeks.

Finding my way around polishing my toenails doesn’t make me any healthier. Apple shapes have a greater risk of cardiovascular disease. The recommendation for both pear-shaped and apple-shaped women is, of course, to lose weight. Higher risks for any obesity-linked disease have to do with the type of fat stored in our bodies. Women who carry their weight on their behinds, hips and thighs store the kind of fat that increases their risk of Alzheimer’s. Cognitive tests show a relationship between the amount of fat and forgetfulness.

I have high cholesterol and triglycerides. My apple shape puts me at a higher risk for heart attack, diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke. Holy cow, that should be enough to get me on a serious diet. It is easier to think of dieting right after my cholesterol and fat rich breakfast of bacon and eggs. I have been a bad, bad apple-shaped woman this morning. I don’t make a habit of eating such a breakfast, but there’s something about a Saturday morning that makes it irresistible. I’m usually in such a rush that I’m lucky to eat an English muffin or bagel. Skimping on breakfast goes against my upbringing.

I was raised to believe that a day should start with a good breakfast. Health and nutrition guides tout the importance of breakfast based on student test scores and adult productivity in the workplace. Any diet aficionado will tell you to eat your calories earlier in the day. I’m pretty sure most diets don’t recommend the kind of breakfast I ate this morning, but the general idea of taking time for breakfast is there.

The bottom line is that to reduce Alzheimer’s risk, pear-shaped women should lose weight. Don’t we all know that exercise and losing weight is part of a healthy lifestyle? I have a gym membership and, at least most of the time, opt for low calorie, no-sugar, omega rich foods, I lose probably fifty pounds a year, but it’s the same five pounds over and over.

Genetics determine our body shape, and we just need to do the best we can with our inheritance from our foremothers. Living a long life isn’t the only goal we have as intelligent human beings. We are stewards of our bodies and want to live happy, healthy, independent lives.

copyright July 2010 L. S. Fisher

Sunday, July 11, 2010

States Plan for Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s Advocates throughout the United States have worked with their home states to develop a plan to prepare for the silver tsunami made up of aging baby boomers. So far twelve states have completed their plans. Another eighteen states, including Missouri, are developing plans.

In addition to the expected elected officials and aging professionals, the nineteen member Missouri Task Force includes a person with memory loss and a caregiver. Community Forums were held throughout the state to address the challenges of families facing Alzheimer’s disease.

The 110,000 Missourians who have Alzheimer’s disease are cared for by 180,000 unpaid caregivers who provide 156 million hours of unpaid care. Most caregivers want to care for their loved one at home as long as possible. With the necessary support and services in place, this army of dedicated unpaid caregivers can save the state $1.7 billion.

The Missouri Community Forums helped the Task Force pinpoint the areas that needed attention. The concerns family members voiced at the Alzheimer’s Association Mid-Missouri Chapter’s forum were:

1. Access to early and accurate diagnosis by doctors and health care professionals.
2. Availability of affordable home health and respite care to keep loved ones at home longer.
3. Investment from the state of Missouri for Alzheimer’s research.

This short list of goals is reasonable, and any caregiver can attest to their validity. Early diagnosis is important. If dementia-like symptoms are caused by a treatable condition, it is important to take proper measures to address the underlying problem. If the diagnosis is Alzheimer’s, a proper treatment regimen can be started when it does the most good. Early diagnosis helps the family plan for the future.

Affordable home health and respite are basic needs when a loved one is cared for in the home. One person cannot be awake and alert twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Providing care for a person with Alzheimer’s is a huge undertaking! Not only do states need a plan, individuals need one to prevent burnout and illness. A care plan designed to provide relief for the primary caregiver with home health support and occasional respite care will keep people in the comfort of their own homes longer.

The state of Missouri annually spends $100 million in Medicaid for dementia long term care. By investing in Alzheimer’s Service Grants to support families caring for their loved ones at home, the state could save millions in Medicaid dollars.

The Missouri Alzheimer’s State Plan will be delivered to the governor in November as part of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. It is a fiscal responsibility of our elected officials to tap into this valuable resource of dedicated caregivers.

Copyright © July 2010, L. S. Fisher

To see which states have plans:

Monday, July 5, 2010

What Do You Like Best About Independence Day?

Ask most people their favorite part of Independence Day, and their automatic response would be “The fireworks.” What’s not to love about exploding patterns of brilliant color and the thunderous booms of deluxe pyrotechnical wonders?

The fireworks displays are not my favorite part of the holiday, perhaps because as a Vietnam Veteran, Jim had serious problems dealing with the warlike sounds. Have you ever thought about how hard it is to make it through the 4th of July without being exposed to fireworks? It’s really unavoidable.

As dementia began to affect his reasoning, Jim regressed to the time of war and the posttraumatic stress that went with it. He called me at work one day. “Those boys! Those mean boys!” I couldn’t get him to tell me what had happened. I was afraid he had hit one of them with the car. I came home to see what had upset him so much, and he finally stopped shaking long enough to tell me the neighbor boys had set off some firecrackers as he drove by.

So after years of avoiding fireworks, I’ve watched the fireworks display at Truman Lake for the past two years. J.B. and Wanda have their house festively decorated and the food is fantastic. The breeze and cooler temperatures this year were perfect for sitting on the back patio visiting with them and my son and daughter-in-law.

More important than the fireworks and food is spending time with friends and family. My sixteen-year-old grandson lit the fireworks in the yard. Between choosing and lighting the fireworks, he checked his cell phone for text messages. My twelve-year-old granddaughter and I made arrangements to go see the latest vampire movie. My grandchildren are growing up so fast that I chide myself for being so involved in work and writing projects that I don’t spend enough time with them.

While I was at the lake, my youngest son and his family drove to my house to watch fireworks at Julie’s backyard celebration. It doesn’t seem that long ago that when Rob and Julie’s brother wanted to go, Julie always asked, “Can I go with?”

After an evening spent with friends, Rob and his family planned to leave early for their Colorado vacation. They were asleep by the time I got home, but my seven-year-old granddaughter met me at the door with a hug. She always sleeps with me, and had told her mom and dad she was waiting up for “Grandma Linda.” I tucked her in and she was fast asleep by the time I was ready for bed.

The next morning, she cuddled up next to me while I drank my coffee and opened the “Why?” book. I read the questions, and she read the answers. While she read about molecules, my youngest grandson brought his play golf game into the living room to practice his swing. You would have thought he made a hole in one when he hit the ball over his dad’s head and into the space between the couch and wall. Then he found a handheld bowling game and wanted his dad to make it work.

“The batteries must be dead,” Rob said. Pretty soon, the game was up and running.

“You must have figured it out,” I said. Rob told me he hadn’t figured it out at all. I guess you can’t expect a grownup to compete with an almost three-year-old.

Spending time with family was always Jim’s favorite activity. If he had never had dementia, I bet he would have tolerated, perhaps enjoyed, watching the brilliant aerial kaleidoscopes while surrounded by loved ones. It is for certain he would have been a proud dad and grandpa if he could see his family now. Jim would have savored every moment and have recognized the thunderous sounds to be a national celebration of independence and known that he had done his part to keep America free.

copyright (c) July 2010 L.S. Fisher