Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Alzheimer's Day at Walmart

Sunday, my sister-in-law Ginger and I spent a good part of the day at Walmart collecting for the Sedalia Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Our walk was in September, but since we fell short of our goal, we were trying to get a few more donations and “meet and greet” the shoppers.

We’ve set up outside Walmart several different times, but it’s usually during the heat of summer. In fact, we have a real talent for choosing the hottest day of the year. This was a first for me—I wore a sweater.

The weather was sixty-ish, but the wind was gusty at times and just a steady strong breeze at others. I lugged the table to the ideal spot and Ginger and I began our battle with the wind. We struggled with taping down the tablecloth. As soon as I set the collection jar on the table, the wind caught it and blew it down the sidewalk. Finally, we had everything taped or weighted down. We set out T-shirts, books, Dum-Dums for the kids, and informational brochures.

People couldn’t decide how to dress for the weather. We saw shorts, flip-flops, children with bare feet, sweaters, coats, dresses and high heels, boots, and a few who might have made the famous Walmart photo ops.

The time flew by as people stopped to donate and share their stories. Many of them have traveled the same journey as I have. 

A young woman told us, “My nana has it.” Others: “My dad” or “My mom.”  Another lady made a donation and said, “Thank God, no one in my family has Alzheimer’s, but we do have friends that have it.”

One man wheeling a full shopping cart almost passed us by, but he stopped. “Thank you for doing this,” he said. “I walked in Tennessee this year.”

I smiled. “Thank you!

One man came up to us. He reminded me of Jim because his hat was covered with colorful hatpins. He chatted for a while, and then he said. “I’ve been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.”

The T-shirts were popular items and I went back to my car several times to replenish the stock. Just as we were thinking about closing down, a man wearing a suit walked up to us. He made a donation, and we handed him a T-shirt. “My mother died from Alzheimer’s,” he said. He looked up at the sky and I saw the tears welling up in his eyes. He began to talk about her and her faith in a better world. The tears slipped down his face and he dried them with the T-shirt. He talked about his family dynamics and the guilt his brother felt for not being there for his mom. As he wiped tears, he said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bring you down.”

“Hey, we’ve all been there,” I said. “Let me give you a hug.”

We hugged in the way that those of us who have lost loved ones to Alzheimer’s hug to comfort each other. Then, he hugged Ginger.

As it usually happens when we fundraise for Alzheimer’s—we find others who know the pain of watching a loved one fade away with this formidable disease. As always, we share the hope that the end of Alzheimer’s is nigh.

Copyright © October 2018 by L.S. Fisher

Friday, October 26, 2018

Memory Dog

When we get ready to take our dog out in the mornings, she stops in the hallway if she hasn’t heard us turn off the burglar alarm. I always praise her for reminding me and avoiding  a call from the alarm service.

“I think she is a memory dog,” I told my husband.

“What has she reminded you of this time?” Harold asked.

“Well, I came in and forgot to shut the garage door. She just stood at the top of the steps and looked at me until I closed it.” I figure at our age, we need a good memory dog.

People have guide dogs, hearing dogs, autism service dogs, seizure response dogs, diabetic alert dogs, PTSD dogs, allergy detection dogs, and mobility assistance dogs.

I couldn’t help but consider how dogs could be used for persons with dementia. Some Alzheimer’s units have dogs and the residents can become quite attached to them. In fact, the scuffle that caused Jim to be kicked out of a nursing home was over the dog.

According to Psychology Today, in 2014 two groups—one in Scotland and one in Israel— trained dogs to assist persons with dementia. Dogs are on a six-foot leash so they can lead their owner in an appropriate direction. The dogs understand the command “home” to keep a person from being lost.

To assist caregivers, the dog’s collar has a GPS navigational device that can be activated remotely. The dog is trained to recognize the tone as a command to return home. If a person leaves home without the dog, the dog can track by scent to find the lost person.

The dementia assist dogs are trained to recognize different tones to help a person “remember” daily tasks. Different tones will instruct the dog to bring medicine in a bite proof bag with a note, lead the person to a cabinet to remind them to eat, drink water, or other personal care. The dog also knows how to trip an alarm in case the person falls, chokes, or needs intervention.

In the United States, 4 Paws in Zenia, Ohio, trains Alzheimer’s Assistance dogs. Training an Alzheimer’s Assistance dog costs between $40,000 - $60,000. The family receives assistance with the cost of training. Their website plainly states that if a person cannot be left alone, they should not be left alone with the dog. The purpose of these dogs is to help the quality of life for the caregivers and their loved ones with dementia. In addition to the assistance a dementia trained dog can provide, he is also a companion and walking the dog provides exercise.

Jim had several favorite dogs over the years, but I think Bubba had to be his all time favorite. Although Bubba wasn’t a trained dementia dog, he was a faithful companion. Before he went into the nursing home, Jim walked Bubba and my dog Sherry almost every day.

Many of us have fur babies that become an integral part of our family. Our pets help combat loneliness, but specially trained dogs have the potential to be lifesavers.  


Copyright © October 2018 by L.S. Fisher

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Memory Failed

It is hard for me to leave home with all my paraphernalia in tow when I have more than one event on my daily calendar. Last week, I had practice with the family band in a different county, immediately followed by watching my granddaughter perform with the high school band at a football game in yet another county.

I was gathering up my practice items (ukulele, Kindle, music stand, book with every possible chord, tuner, capo) and preparing for the football game (camera, jacket, bag to carry items). As I put everything together, I looked at the stack and thought, Oh, yeah, something’s missing. I’ll go to the closet and get it. Except, when I got to the closet, I couldn’t remember what I needed to get. “Sometimes my memory fails me,” I told my husband. “I can’t remember what I forgot.”

I looked at my watch and made a mad dash for the car. If I left immediately, I wouldn’t be pressed for time.

A couple of miles down the road, I called my mom to tell her I was on the way. “Now, I remember what I intended to bring!” I said. “I thought I would need a cap to keep the sun out of my eyes at the game.”

“I have one I’ll send with you,” she said.

“I’ll be there in plenty of time,” I said. Well, those were optimistic words. First delay was a wreck. The second and longer delay was road construction. I made it in the nick of time and my mom had figured out a strategy for me to make it to the game on time following practice. I left my car in a convenient place so that I wouldn’t have as far to drive to the game.

I met up with my daughter-in-law Stacey and rode to the game with her. At the game, Stacey was helping push equipment onto the field, and I thought I’d do a camera check before the band began their performance. I focused in on Stacey and the button wouldn’t push down. I tried several times, but nothing happened.

I looked at the screen and it said, “Memory card failed.” Well, that was a new one. The card I like to use was sometimes locked. Of course, I only had my camera—the extra battery and cards were in the car.

I took the card out, put it back in. Same message. Again, and again. Finally, success, and I snapped several good photos of my granddaughter dancing, twirling and tossing her flag.

Life certainly gets more complicated when memory fails—whether on my camera or in my brain.

Each of us counts on our memory to help us make it through the day. Dementia impairs memory enough that a person cannot complete daily tasks. Forgetting what I went to the closet to find caused an inconvenience, but it didn’t keep me from doing the things I wanted to do. I consider it a good sign that I eventually remembered my cap and found a substitute.

Without a resolution, my camera would have let me down at a time when I needed it. I’m glad that I resolved the camera issue and that the memory problem was a temporary thing. All it took was resetting the memory card. Now, if only, I can find a way to reset my brain when it lets me down.

Copyright © October 2018 by L.S. Fisher