Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Go Red and Purple for Women

Several years ago, my sister and I went to the War Eagle Mill Craft Fair and kept seeing different versions of “When My Sister and I Are Old, We Shall Wear Purple.” Of course, it goes on to say “with a red hat which doesn’t go.” Well, I guess that time has come. She is a member of the Red Hats.

I haven’t joined that organization, but when I wore red to Go Red for Women, I carried the purple purse I bought for the Alzheimer’s Forum. Yes, it was a little too much trouble to switch everything for one day, and no, I don’t care one whit that purple doesn’t go with red.

The combination of colors though, got me to thinking—both colors are symbols of diseases that affect women differently than men. One thing I’ve learned from the Go Red events is that women sometimes don’t recognize the symptoms of a heart attack. A woman can have a silent heart attack and not even know it. She may think she has indigestion, the flu, or that she’s strained a muscle. Instead of her chest hurting, she may have jaw pain or pain in the upper back or arms. She may just feel tired all the time.

Alzheimer’s affects women differently too. More women are caregivers for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s and suffer from depression more than male caregivers. Female caregivers who work are more likely to have problems with absenteeism and are more likely to quit their job completely. I was fortunate to have flexible hours and understanding managers and co-workers.

Red meets purple at the junction of the heart/brain connection. Researchers believe that what is good for the heart is good for the brain. A heart healthy diet may not only keep your heart in better shape, but could also reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

Your mother was trying to get you off on the path to health when she insisted that you eat your vegetables. Nuts, berries, fish high in omega-3, beans, tomatoes, and a small glass of red wine, and can help you eat your way to a healthier heart and brain.

When I wear my red and purple, I won’t think about being old enough to throw those odd colors together. Instead I’ll  think about how I can use the combined wisdom of the American Heart Association and the Alzheimer’s Association to be a healthier person for the rest of my life.

As far as my personal health goes, I can’t think of any two body parts more important to me than my heart and my brain.  

A glass of red wine and dark chocolate go a long way toward making life more enjoyable. If it improves our overall health, well, I’ll raise my glass in a toast to healthier, happier women.

Copyright © March 2016 by L.S. Fisher

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Memory Day 2016

Jessica Snell, Rep. Dohrman, Linda Fisher
Advocates from the three Missouri Alzheimer’s Association Chapters annually converge on our State Capital to take action against the Alzheimer’s epidemic. We come with facts in hand: Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death; 110,000 Missourians have Alzheimer’s; 70 percent live at home; 312,000 unpaid caregivers; and the value of unpaid care in Missouri is estimated to be $4.3 billion.

Each year we visit with our legislators about Alzheimer’s Grants for Respite. This year we were asking for $450,000 to be placed in the budget for the Department of Health and Senior Services. We had sample stories to share about the need for respite, but I shared my own story.

I was working when Jim developed dementia at 49. Since I wanted to keep him at home as long as possible, I looked into assistance that might be available. It so happened that since Jim was so young, he did not qualify for the programs in place for seniors. I turned to the Alzheimer’s Association, and they gave me the only help I was able to find—respite funds.

Did these funds cover all the costs? Not by a long shot. As a fulltime employee, my needs were above and beyond what this kind of program would cover. The real beauty of respite is that a caregiver can have some time to him- or herself.

It is common for a caregiver to burn out. Some of the common side effects of caring for a loved one with dementia include depression, stress, lack of sleep, health problems, and a sense of being overwhelmed. A primary caregiver has been thrust into a situation beyond the imaginable.

Stacy Tew-Lovasz, president of the St. Louis Chapter, pointed out during the Memory Day Ceremony that women are greatly affected by Alzheimer’s. Women make up more than 60% of the caregivers. More than two-thirds of those affected with Alzheimer’s are women.

I can tell you by experience that after being a primary caregiver, you have a great dread of developing Alzheimer’s. How sad is it that a woman would spend a decade or more being a caregiver and then develop the disease?  

When Jessica Snell and I visited with our representatives on Memory Day, we pointed out that the $450,000 could save Missouri taxpayers $2 million. I know that may seem unlikely to some people, but here is how we arrive at that savings: 800 respite families X $152 average nursing home cost per day X 30 days delay in Nursing Home placement X 60% of Nursing Home residents on Medicare = $2 million savings in Medicaid Nursing Home Care.

Honestly, I think the estimate is on the low side. Surveys show that 99% of respite recipients said they were able to keep their loved one at home longer. In-home care allowed me to keep Jim at home for about an additional six months. No, respite did not pay for all that, but respite reimbursement helped me manage the expense.

Memory Day is a special day for Alzheimer’s advocates to share our message with our Missouri representatives and senators. They need to hear from us so that our respite funds don’t get put on the back burner.

One thing you learn in advocacy training is to make the “ask.” We were heartened to learn that we had their full support with the magic word, “Yes.”

Copyright © March 2016 by L.S. Fisher

Thursday, March 10, 2016


Last week, the downtown location of our church burned to the ground. The church was built in 1888. It must have been an exciting day when the cornerstone was laid, most likely with great ceremony.

People mourned the loss of the building that hosted weddings, funerals, baptisms, community gatherings, Christmas programs, and Easter services. Older members would remember more formal times when Sunday school classes were filled with little girls in frilly dresses and little boys with their hair slicked down wearing uncomfortable shoes.

We are fortunate that First United Methodist Church has a south campus—the Celebration Center, where I go to early church. Sunday morning, a third service has been added to accommodate the parishioners of the downtown church.

We all know that church is not a building, it is the congregation. Yet, to see the rubble where a magnificent house of worship once stood brings a special type of sadness. The cornerstone was one of the few artifacts salvaged from the site.

Besides a physical stone, a cornerstone can be a person of prime importance. Many families have a cornerstone. Sometimes they don’t even realize who that cornerstone is until something happens to them. I’ve seen families fall into disarray when the cornerstone of their family develops Alzheimer’s.   
Jim was the cornerstone of our family, but we couldn’t allow ourselves to collapse when he started to change. Once we realized Jim’s dementia wasn’t going to get better, I expected to mourn the big changes. Over time, I realized the nuances of his personality changes were equally heartbreaking.

I think what I missed the most was our daily routine. I missed our conversations over morning coffee. Dozens of little moments throughout the day were out of kilter. He no longer dropped by work with a single red rose or took my car to the station to put gas in it. Day’s end was different. For two decades we went to bed early and both of us read our books.

New routines replaced the old. Conversations became one-sided monologs. Sometimes, I read to him. I learned to put gas in my car. I placed a single red rose next to his urn before they sealed the niche at the Veteran’s Cemetery.

Life goes on. It really is true that you don’t know how strong you can be until it’s your only choice.

The cornerstone in a building is a prominent, special stone at the intersection of two walls. The cornerstone from the downtown church was saved and placed in front of the Celebration Center where we placed small stones of remembrance on it.

In a family, the cornerstone is the pivotal person at the heart of the family. Once that special person is gone, we cherish our memories and  honor our loved one by living life to the fullest.   

Copyright © March 2016 by L.S. Fisher