Monday, August 26, 2013

Turn Up the Heat

Linda at Walmart
A group of four volunteers sat outside Walmart Saturday morning with forget-me-nots and Walk to End Alzheimer’s information. This has been an annual event for the past several years. When Sheila and I first set up, it seemed that no one was going to make eye contact and our “Good morning” greetings often when unanswered. I couldn’t help but think that this was going to be a waste of time.

We arrived early—eight thirty—in hopes of beating the heat. We’ve gone through the entire summer with unusually cool weather, and here we were outside on a day when the thermometer was predicted to zoom into the nineties.

After thirty minutes, flies began to buzz and the sun barreled down on the spot where we had set up our table. “Do we dare move it any closer?” I asked eyeballing the small spot of shade between the soda machine and the trashcan. “We don’t want to be so close that the door stays open.”

We left our table where it was and moved into the small spot of shade. Then, people began to stop and ask about the Walk and about Alzheimer’s. The morning had started getting interesting. They placed donations into our collection jar and we had them write names on the forget-me-nots. Sometimes they wrote a loved one’s name. Other times, they wrote their own name. I handed the marker to a little boy and he signed with scribbles.

“How old is he?” I asked.

“He’s four. His name is Cash.”

I smiled. It never occurred to me that he was too young to write, and of course, he would have a distinctive name. Most kids do now-a-days.

Sheila with Forget-Me-Nots
“Sheila, with all the nice weather we’ve had this summer, why did we pick the hottest day to schedule this?”

“Well, we didn’t know it was going to be this hot,” she pointed out. I used a forget-me-not for a fan and she used a flyer.

From time to time, we saw people we knew, but most passersby were strangers to us. Most had the story of loss that paves the path of the Alzheimer’s journey.

Our donation jar filled up with dollars, fives, tens, and one twenty. The forget-me-not skirt around our table grew in length.

We handed out team packets and donor envelopes. People just walked past and stuffed in dollars. Their voices murmured, “Mom,” “grandpa,” “husband,” “friend...”

One woman wrote a name on a flower and said, “My mom won’t go see the doctor, but we’re pretty sure she has Alzheimer’s.”

I handed her a brochure. “Call the number on the bottom. They will help you even though you don’t have a diagnosis. Encourage your mom to get a medical workup to find out whether she does have Alzheimer’s. Other conditions can cause dementia symptoms and some are reversible.”

“Thank you so much!” she said. “I never thought of that.”

Then, the highlight of my day—a woman named Betty told us about a new Alzheimer’s Support Group. Our group had dwindled, and we stopped having regular meetings. People call me from time to time about support group and I refer them to the chapter and offer to meet with them. Now, a woman stood in front of me telling me that she was going to have the required training to be a support group facilitator. I wrote down the information.

“An Alzheimer’s article is coming out in The Democrat,” I said. “She wants some information for a side-bar and this is so timely.”

Shortly after meeting Betty, Wyann brought the forget-me-nots and donations they had collected at the other entrance. Soon, Jessica and Samantha brought over the money they had collected at Big Lots. She also brought the yummy looking cupcakes she had left over.

It felt like mother nature had turned up the heat, and although we had rearranged our table to be in the shade, we were sweltering.

“Well, now we need to stay until all the cupcakes are gone,” Sheila said.

“I’m game,” I replied, “but I’m tired of drinking hot water. I’ll go to McDonald’s and get us some iced tea.”

Two hours later, the iced tea was almost gone, and the last two cupcakes went to a woman who had four kids. “They can share,” she said.

As we packed up and folded the table, Sheila said, “You know, it was hot, but it was fun.”

“It was! I feel good about it,” I said. “I’m so excited about the Walk!” I took my things to my car and headed back to the store to get the items on my shopping list.

As I neared the entrance, a man holding two shopping bags said, “Whew, it’s getting hot out here, isn’t it?”

“It sure is,” I agreed just as I felt a blast of cold air from the open door. The heat is on in Missouri, but that isn’t going to stop us from doing what we can about Alzheimer’s.

Copyright (c) August 2013 by L.S. Fisher

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Those Days Have Come and Gone

Maybe it was because my grandkids went home and the house was too quiet. Maybe it was just the thought of growing older and retiring. Whatever caused it, I had dreams of my brother Donnie, of Jim, and days long gone by. We were all younger in my dreams. As I awakened from a deep sleep the words echoed through my head, “Those days have come and gone.”

It’s hard to understand the world of dreams. Sometimes they inspire me to write short stories or provide a scene for my novel in progress. This time, the dreams weren’t so important, or unusual, it was the truism that stood out from my night’s sleep.

The past is a part of me that lingers in my mind just to be awakened in my alternate life—dreamland. Dreams can seem so real at the time. It made me think of Poe’s “A Dream Within a Dream.” Reality blurs with dreams, and it is possible to cling to the past of a “surf-tormented shore” while we watch the sands of our lives slip through our hands.

Unlike Poe, I choose to not weep and fall into despair over the days that have come and gone. Yes, at times, it is more challenging to put the past aside than others. Keeping busy, working toward goals, feeling a sense of accomplishment are tools to push away the dark sadness of another time gone forever, another place that no longer exists.

Yet, the very busyness that helps keep the past from tormenting, can also cause regret. Sometimes, I have to choose between obligations and inclinations. If I’m not careful, I find myself having regrets that I let work interfere with family time. But if I’m realistic, which I am most of the time, I realize that work has been a beneficial part of my life in more than a financial sense. When Jim was in need of constant care, I needed work as a diversion from the overwhelming job of caregiving.

Being around my grandkids this week reminded me of when my kids were young. Instead of just grabbing something, anything, to eat, I needed to think about meal planning, like when my sons were small. Even going to the state fair took on a retro atmosphere. It had been years since I stood on the Midway while the kids ran from one carnival ride to another. I’m older, slower, and somewhat wiser now. I wore comfortable shoes and used the umbrella I carried to shade me from the sun.

It was a week that took me back in time, but with changes. Okay, I’ll admit that I’m about a thousand times more indulgent with my grandkids than I was with my children. My XM radio station was on the Disney channel all week. My TV was tuned to cartoons and pre-teen shows. I went to the movies, twice. I drove by Kentucky Fried Chicken and ordered above the sound of the “La la la-la” Smurf happy song. The question of the day became, “Is a Smurf’s butt blue?”

Just like in my dream, the past week of a house filled with laughter, thumps, and bumps from morning to bedtime have come and gone. It took me by surprise how much I missed it the instant the house took on its usual quiet, peaceful atmosphere.

I decided to go work for a few hours to take my mind off it. I pulled my car out of the garage and the radio began to play “Chloe, You’re the One I Want.” I’d heard that song a dozen times in the past few days. I shook my head and twisted the dial pausing on Escape, Praise, 80’s on 8, and finally rested the dial on 60’s on 6. It was obvious that those days had come and gone. I punched the button my granddaughter had set and listened to some here and now music to appreciate the blessing of today and the tomorrows that are mine to enjoy.

Copyright (c) August 2013 by L.S. Fisher

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Update: Hellen Cook's Family Mourns

Sunday, August 11, Hellen Cook's family received word that human remains were discovered near the search area where her scarf and shoes had been found in July.  Pending DNA identification, her family has identified jewelry as belonging to the seventy-two-year-old woman who had Alzheimer's disease. Her husband of fifty years expressed his fear that she had been calling out for him and he couldn't find her. Please remember this family in your prayers.

Wandering is a serious issue. Sixty percent of people with dementia will wander and if not found within twenty-four hours half of them will suffer serious injury or death.

From the Alzheimers Association at The Alzheimer’s Association encourages individuals and families coping with wandering to enroll in MedicAlert + Alzheimer's Association Safe Return®, a nationwide identification program designed to assist in the return of those who wander and become lost.

Families seeking a more technologically advanced and robust program may consider the new Alzheimer’s Association Comfort Zone program. Family members can have knowledge of a person’s location, while individuals with Alzheimer’s can enjoy the emotional security of familiar routines and surroundings.

For more information about Comfort Zone, Medic Alert + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return or additional tips on coping with wandering and other safety issues related to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, visit or call the Association’s 24/7 Helpline at 1.800.272.3900.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Stress and Memory

While browsing through my old health news letters prior to pitching them, I came across an interesting article on stress and memory. The study involved rats and cats. The rats learned their way through a water maze and were doing quite well until they were placed in cages next to cats. Then, the rats forgot everything they had learned about the maze.

Don’t you feel just like a rat trapped in a cage next to your worst enemy some days? If you have the big bad world nipping at your heels, it’s no wonder that your memory might fail you at the most crucial times.

When you consider the strain of being an Alzheimer’s caregiver, it is no wonder that memory is not just a concern for the person with the disease. Each stage of caregiving involves both emotional and physical stressors according to the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2013 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures (p.33). Research shows that caregiver’s who are responsible for a person with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia report higher stress levels than caregivers of older adults with other diseases.

In the United States, 15.4 million family or unpaid caregivers provide $17.5 billion worth of care to their loved ones with dementia. Family caregivers provide an average of nine hours care per day.
Sixty-one percent rated emotional stress as very high and another thirty-nine percent rated the level as somewhat high. When the stress levels are broken down further, fifty-six percent report “a good amount” of strain due to financial issues and another fifty-three percent cite family relationships.

The role of the primary caregiver intensifies as the disease progresses and creates health issues for the caregiver. Stress suppresses the immune system leaving caregivers vulnerable to physical problems. Caregivers who feel they obligated to take on the role of caregiver report the highest levels of stress.

In addition to the stress and strain of being a dementia caregiver, you may have a little niggling thought that perhaps your memory isn’t what it should be. You know firsthand what a devastating disease Alzheimer’s is and with your responsibilities, you can’t possibly give up or give in to the doubts plaguing you about your own memory problems.

I think the only thing that really kept me from believing I was developing dementia on my own was the knowledge that dementia affects so much more than memory. It chips away at long-term skills, not just those recently learned. Yes, short term memory is the first symptom, but when you consider the effect stress has on memory, stress is a more likely scenario than dementia.

An important characteristic for a caregiver is optimism. With Alzheimer’s, your positive hopes for a cure are dashed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do countless acts that will increase the quality of life for your loved one. Continue to do as much as you can together for as long as possible. Those days spent on drives, picnics in the park, walking hand-in-hand on a nice spring day will not only relieve the stress of caregiving, but also will remain in your heart. 

Perhaps, like me, you have already noticed stress affects your ability to recall information. Before you get too stressed out about your memory, think about rats and cats. The best antidote for stress is relaxation. Anything you can do to help lower your stress levels will improve your memory. Quiet time is so important and time away, respite, can be a lifesaver for a caregiver. You are not being selfish by needing that time. When you improve your physical or emotional health, you become a better caregiver. Your own health is one of the best gifts you can give your loved one.

Copyright (c) August 2013 by L.S. Fisher

Monday, August 5, 2013

Healthy You--Healthy Me

I recently read a featured article in our local paper about people who had joined a program called Healthy U. Candidates are selected for the program and they learn life-changing strategies to help them lose weight and then maintain that weight loss. One woman said her only hesitation was that her “before” weight would be published in the paper.
Now, we all know women when it comes to weight. You can’t shave a few pounds off the total when you have a public weigh-in. And you don’t have that advantage of weighing in the privacy of your home when you first wake up—before coffee, breakfast, and anything else that seems to make you weigh an extra five pounds. Who ever thought clothing could be so darned heavy!
The Healthy U candidate I admired the most was the lady that hadn’t lost any weight at all. In fact, she had gained a few pounds. She had the courage to see the positives in the program. She was healthier and had much more stamina. She looked beyond the tattle-tale scale and saw that she had “gained” health, not weight.
When we think about the things in life that are really important, good health will top that list almost every time. What would it matter if you had accumulated wealth, power, fortune, or fame but did not have good health? We all know people who deal with chronic illness on a daily basis. Then, we have all seen courage and faith improve quality of life for our loved ones who have terminal illnesses.
Anyone that struggles with a health problem that can be controlled through health and exercise knows that true lifestyle changes require more than good intensions. It requires persistence, diligence, and a serious commitment. I should know. After all I’m the queen of failed diets and abandoned exercise plans.
I’ve always been blessed with good health. At least that’s how I think of my health since I’m seldom sick. As I’ve gotten older, I started to find out about all those hidden health markers that undermine my complacency about health. It’s not just the number on the scales that keeps creeping upward—it’s those pesky lipid panel numbers. Just about the time I think I have one of them licked, a different one sets off the “High” alarm.
Now, I’m working with my new best friend, the dietician. I have a time limit to get the numbers under control or I have to add a new medication to my pill organizer.
I have to admit that it feels good to lose a few pounds, and I don’t consider this new approach a diet. It’s more of a challenge to make smarter choices. I looked through the list of foods I have to choose from and a funny thing happened. I never saw a single cake, cookie, pie, or donut on there. So, at the dinner meeting last week, dinner was healthy—tilapia—but dessert was cobbler and ice cream. At my request, they served me fresh strawberries and cantaloupe. Since I love both, I enjoyed my dessert.
One of the things I really like about this approach is the dietician asked me what foods I really liked, and she made suggestions for snacks that fell into my favorite foods. When I told her about my weakness for miniature chocolate bars, she said I could have two of them for a snack occasionally.
I’m sure I’ll fall off the wagon and have a dessert once in a while, but this is really important to me. As I gear up for retirement, good health is at the top of the list. If it takes a little behavior modification on my part, the rewards far outweigh the sacrifices.
Copyright © August 2013 by L.S. Fisher