Thursday, June 13, 2024

Never too Old



In 2017, I bought a cheap ukulele and watched YouTube videos to learn a few chords. At first, I thought I might be too old to learn to play an instrument.

I started practicing with the family band, which increased my learning curve. Before long, my new skill led to playing and singing with them in local nursing homes and a retirement community.

I’ve found that I’m not too old to learn new songs. We practice our material before we play in public. It’s always fun to learn new material. Some songs are easy to learn, but others are a challenge. The thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes the more challenging songs become embedded in my memory. Singing is fun and learning new tunes is good mental exercise.

Playing music for appreciative audiences is good for the soul—theirs and mine. Music can be a  connection to the past, and I’m always gratified when I see faces light up as they sing along. A song they haven’t heard before can also make a connection. I’m sure most of the residents had never heard “Ozark Mountain Lullaby” but after I sang it a few times, many of them sang along with the la-la-la part. A visitor at one of the homes last month held a baby in her arms, and she was singing that part to her baby. Be still my heart!

A few weeks ago, I brought my mom’s guitar home with me and thought that since I had it, I might as well see if I could play it. The chords seemed awkward at first, and I was beginning to wonder whether I would ever get my fingers in the correct positions. After a few days, I realized that I had learned several basic chords. Now, I just have to develop the muscle memory to be able to change swiftly from one chord to another.

As I sat practicing G and C chords, Harold said, “That guitar sounds really good.”

“Imagine how good it would sound if I knew what I was doing.”

I have firmly convinced myself that I’m not too old to learn something new. It takes practice, practice, and more practice. It takes perseverance with a healthy amount of stubbornness.

Learning new skills is good brain exercise, and without a doubt, my brain needs all the exercise it can get!

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve slowed down with age. With another birthday looming over me, I want to focus on what I can do rather than what I can’t do.

You are never too old to laugh. I still have a good sense of humor and I find humor in everyday life. I’m nearly deaf in one ear and my husband is nearly deaf in both ears. A few days ago, I was getting ready to leave for my mom’s house, and I told Harold that I was taking some “hens and chickens” to my mom. Okay, I should have said “hens and chicks” because that’s what the succulent plant is called. What I said and what he heard were two different statements. He asked, “Why are you taking candy kisses to your mom?”

I’ve never been mechanically inclined so I had the guy that mows our lawn check the oil in my mower. He flipped the seat forward and checked the oil. Several days later, I decided to use the mower to move some wood chips from the pile. The mower started fine, but when I released the brake, the mower died. After about four trys, I realized something was wrong. I thought about the kill switch that stops the mower if you fall off. I flipped the seat forward and sure enough, all I had to do was connect the two ends. So, I guess you’re never too old to do it yourself.

You are never too old to say no, even if you’ve spent a lifetime saying yes. If the covid shutdown taught me one thing, it was that one of the blessings of life is to do nothing at all from time to time. I’ve spent the last two decades of my life going in so many directions that at times I’ve lost my way. The pressure of trying to make all the meetings, appointments, and make headway on all the ongoing projects left my head spinning. Literally!

I believe that keeping busy is good for the body and brain, but we all know what happens when we overload a circuit. My goal for the upcoming months is to focus on the activities that bring joy into my life. I want to decompress, de-stress, and embrace each day as a gift of abundant living.  

 

Copyright © June 2024 by L.S. Fisher

http://earlyonset.blogspot.com

#ENDALZ

Friday, May 31, 2024

The Voice of Experience

A story in our local newspaper highlighted the experiences of a man who had spent nearly thirteen years in state and federal prison. William had returned to his former high school to talk to the students about how his life went wrong. He talked about the dangers of prison and how he had struggled for survival while he was incarcerated. William is a messenger with a purpose of helping young people to avoid the pitfalls of drugs. If William’s story changes the trajectory of one person’s life, he has provided a powerful community service.

After reading the article, I thought about how the voices of experience helped me throughout my life. When Jim and I began our journey through the land of dementia, I needed help to understand how to cope with the challenges of being a caregiver.

I learned the basics of Alzheimer’s from books and browsing the web, but my true guidance came from the voices of experience.

1.   Support Group. My first experience with support group was not a positive one, but I’m glad that I didn’t give up. When I found an active support group with knowledgeable leaders and members who were facing the same challenges I was, it was life changing. We helped each other by being supportive, listening to each person, and sharing our own experiences.

2.   Alzheimer’s Chapter Staff. I contacted the staff at my local Alzheimer’s Association Chapter before Jim had a diagnosis. I participated in caregiver training to help me become a better caregiver. Through the programs and services of the Alzheimer’s Association, I gained confidence as a caregiver. The harsh realities of the disease seemed less intimidating as I concentrated on making the most of a bad situation. I firmly believe that knowledge is power.

3.   Advocacy. I became a state and national advocate for legislation to help caregivers and persons with dementia. Jim’s voice was stilled by aphasia, and I felt it was important for me to be his voice. Alzheimer’s advocates are armed with facts, figures, and supporting documentation, but the most important tool in the advocate’s toolbox, is his or her personal story. Personal experience as a caregiver or a person with dementia is the most memorable part of the meeting.

4.  Alzheimer’s Association Helpline. The Alzheimer’s Association has a 24/7 Helpline. By calling 800-272-3900, you will be connected to specialists and clinicians who offer confidential support and information.

Alzheimer’s can be a lonely disease, but when you find a group that supports you and cares about your well-being, it changes your perspective. I always thought of caregiving as on the job training. Caregivers make mistakes and if you can learn from the mistakes of others, it helps you to avoid making the same ones they did.

Being a caregiver is challenging, but it is the ultimate act of love. The disease can cause distressing changes in your loved one. I learned to love Jim “as is.” I tried not to dwell on the man he had been before dementia, or think about what the future was going to bring.

After Jim passed away, I finally was able to watch some of our old videos. When I saw Jim laughing, singing, or telling corny jokes, I found peace and a sense of joy to hear his voice again. Life had moved full circle, and I thought about all the life experiences Jim and I shared. His was the voice of experience that taught me that love, family, and faith are the cornerstones of life.

 

Copyright © May 2024 by L.S. Fisher

http://earlyonset.blogspot.com

#ENDALZ

Monday, May 27, 2024

Memorial Day: Remembering Jim



Memorial Weekend has become a time for sales, barbeques, beaches, picnics, and vacation time. Others decorate graves, attend Memorial Day services at cemeteries, or attend a parade. However Americans choose to observe the three-day weekend, they may pause to give credit for their freedom to members of the armed forces of the past, present, and future.

The tradition of placing flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers was first observed nationally three years after the Civil War in 1868. Major General John A. Logan chose May 30 as Decoration Day because flowers would be blooming then. The first large observance took place at Arlington National Cemetery where flowers were strewn on both Union and Confederate graves.

The first time Jim and I visited Arlington in the 1980s, we were awestruck by the size! We thought we could just walk around and find graves of famous people, but since the cemetery was spread over 657 acres, we chose to do what most reasonable tourists do and bought tickets for the tour bus.

Since we caught the last tour of the day, we had to quickly visit each site and board the same bus. The bus stopped for the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Everyone hustled past the Memorial Amphitheatre except Jim. I hung back to see why he wasn’t joining the crowd.

“We are going to miss the changing of the guard,” I said.

Jim stood in front of Audie Murphy’s grave marker videotaping. “This is what I wanted to see more than anything,” he said. I understood why Jim was so entranced with the gravesite. Jim had already worn out several videotapes of To Hell and Back, the movie about the true story of Audie Murphy starring Murphy as himself.

This incident is etched into my memory as an example of Jim’s unique view of life. He was more intrigued by a simple grave marker of a man he admired than by a ceremony.

After several minutes, we walked toward the crowd and saw part of the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

As we walked back to the bus, Jim said, “I want to be buried here.”

“That’s not a good idea,” I argued, “because I wouldn’t be able to visit your grave.”

He smiled and put his arm around me. It was just a passing thought and not something he dwelled on.

Later, he chose a place in Colorado where he wanted his ashes spread. Maybe he remembered my remarks about Arlington, because he said, “It might be nice to have some place that family could visit too. Maybe a marker somewhere.” When Jim passed away, his body was cremated and we honored his wishes to spread half of his ashes in the designated place.

I knew I’d found the perfect place for Jim’s marker when I saw the Missouri Veterans Cemetery at Higginsville, which has the beauty and grace of Arlington on a much smaller scale. I knew Jim well enough to know that had he seen the Missouri Veterans Cemetery, he would have preferred it to Arlington. After military honors, the remainder of Jim’s ashes were place in a niche in a columbarium that overlooks a small lake.

Annually, on Memorial Day, a crowd gathers for a ceremony to honor the veterans buried on the site. I can’t help but imagine that, in spirit, Jim will be fishing in the lake, ignoring the ceremony, being his own person, doing his own thing.

Copyright © May 2024 by L.S. Fisher

http://earlyonset.blogspot.com

#ENDALZ

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Old Friends

I recently watched two movies on the same day about female friendship. The first movie I watched was Patsy and Loretta. The two country singers Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn had a friendship forged in mutual respect, similar life styles, and honesty. Their story begins when Patsy Cline was injured in a car accident and ends when she dies in a plane crash.

The other movie I watched, strangely for the first time, was Thelma and Louise. The adventures of the friends quickly turn into misadventures. Louise threatened to shoot a man who was attempting to rape Thelma. He made the mistake of yelling at her that he should have continued, so Louise shot and killed him. Later, after a hitchhiker stole their money, Thelma robbed a liquor store. As an armada of police cars chases the two fugitives, they opt to kiss, grab hands and “keep going” and fly their Thunderbird into a canyon. Friends to the end.

Friends that earn our undying love are few and far between, but that does not devalue friends who celebrate our successes and support us when we fail. We gain friends throughout life who share common goals.

Our first friends are family. Our cousins and immediate family members share life experiences with us. When we begin school, we gain other friends. Several of the women in my high school graduating class meet monthly for lunch. Our friendship is stronger now than it was when we saw each other on a daily basis.

As we grow older, our in-laws become part of our family. Jim and I both came from large families and I gained a multitude of in-laws throughout my lifetime. His family became my family.

Thelma and Louise became friends at work. Considering how many hours a person spends at their job throughout their lifetime, it is not surprising that some of our co-workers become our closest friends and confidants.

In 1998, after Jim showed obvious signs of dementia, I began volunteering for the Alzheimer’s Association. I opened up my heart to persons with dementia, other volunteers, and staff at our local Alzheimer’s Association Chapter. My world expanded to annual advocacy trips to Washington, DC, where I forged additional friendships. Distance and time do not diminish the special bond that I have with my fellow Alzheimer’s advocates.

When I joined BPW (now, Sedalia Business Women) in 2006, I had no clue as to how many new friends I would make. Now, many of them are old friends, and as our club grows, I make new friends on an ongoing basis. Like Patsy and Loretta, we don’t always agree on everything, but the friendship doesn’t waver.

Later in life, I gained friendships through church, line dancing, and music. During the past trying years, I’ve mostly watch services on my cell phone and arthritis ended line dancing but I still hold these friends in my heart. Music has taken a larger part in my life after I learned to play the ukulele and joined the family band. This has been a two- or three-fold advantage. I see much more of my family, renew old ties with friends who are in nursing homes, meet new friends, and learn to know other musicians.

A song says “you can’t make old friends” but I don’t believe that. Sometimes you meet someone who seems like an old soul. It’s hard to explain an immediate strong connection and it almost feels as if the person is not merely an “old” friend, but an ancient friend. That was how my friendship and love for Jim felt. Almost from the beginning, Jim said he would lay down his life for me. I never once doubted that he meant it. After I met Jim, my life began the destiny that made me the person I am today.

Jim’s endless love gave me the courage to live life and love fearlessly. Yes, I open myself up to grief and loss, but it is well worth it.     

 

Copyright © May 2024 by L.S. Fisher

http://earlyonset.blogspot.com

#ENDALZ

Friday, May 3, 2024

The Bigger They Are



We’ve often heard the expression that the bigger they are, the harder they fall. I was reminded of that idiom after the recent series of storms where mighty trees crashed to the ground.

The phrase is believed to have originated from the sport of boxing and is sometimes attributed to Robert Fitzsimmons prior to a fight. As with the tree, the boxer was referring to a physical fall, but the expression means much more that physical falls.

The actual meaning is that the more powerful or important a person is, they suffer more when they fail. We’ve seen this play out many times in politics, with celebrities, and influential people in our communities. Some people relish the fall of the mighty, while others may be dumbfounded or shocked that a person they admired could be guilty of a heinous act.

At one time, only famous people had to worry about their ill-advised faux pas being disclosed to the public. Now, for better or worse, we have social media to point fingers, criticize,  or play judge, jury, and recommenders of punitive punishment for our neighbors, random strangers, or Facebook friends of friends.

In the real world, as we age, we find out that physical falls are a much greater threat than a mean Facebook post. The hardest fall I ever had was on ice. My feet went out from under me and I fell flat on my back and hit my head on rock-solid ice. For a flash second, I thought the fall would kill me, but once I felt the excruciating pain in my head, I thought I had broken my head. There are serious advantages of having a hard head.

Each year during my Medicare physical, the nurse asks if I’ve had any falls within the last year. Since I can be clumsy and suffer intermittent vertigo, I usually answer in the affirmative. Fortunately, I only have a few bruises to show.

Jim always had amazing balance. He used to throw a ladder on the stairs to the basement to change out a stairwell light bulb on the ceiling. I couldn’t stand to watch while the ladder teetered, but he was unconcerned.

After Jim developed dementia, he began to have problems with mobility. He would lose his balance and fall. One of the reasons people with dementia fall is that they have trouble finding their way around and pay no attention to hazards. They also tend to walk faster than they should, which can throw them off balance. Our family doctor took Jim off blood thinners because of the fall risk. Jim had several falls while he was in long-term care, and had to have stitches from time to time, but fortunately, he never broke any bones.

  Although we can’t eliminate all falls, we can certainly limit our fall risk with some home modifications:

 Rocking the Walker: My husband and I both have mobility problems. My orthopedic doctor recommended that I use a walker at night when I get out of bed. I’ve discovered over the years, that with my arthritis, I use the walker early in the mornings. Depending on the kind of day I’m having, I may need the walker throughout the day and take it outside to walk the dog. Other times, I don’t need any aides to walk, or a cane will provide all the support I need.

Avoiding Stairs and Carrying Heavy Items. Stairs can be a tripping hazard for a person with balance issues. We installed a chairlift to the basement. We had stairs leading down to our garage and we replaced them with a wheelchair lift. Both items were expensive, but they sure have made life easier. An inexpensive wheeled cart streamlines bringing in groceries. I load the cart from our vehicle, roll it across the garage floor, and onto the lift and into the house.

Proper Lighting and Avoid Tripping Hazards: We are fortunate to have a well-lit house. Even so, we leave lights on at night in the areas where we need them and have nightlights throughout the house. We’ve removed throw rugs, and switched out carpet for solid flooring. We make sure that all floors remain uncluttered. We both keep water at our bedside to avoid getting up for drinks in the night.

 It may be that the bigger they are, the harder they fall, but small people with fragile bones must be extra careful about falling. A fracture can be the difference between living in your home and a long rehabilitation recovery at a facility.  

The best fall prevention is risk assessment. Once your environment is as safe as possible, use every precaution to navigate safely through your home.

 Copyright © April 2024 by L.S. Fisher

http://earlyonset.blogspot.com

#ENDALZ

Monday, April 29, 2024

Like Sand through the Hourglass

When I was a teenager, I watched the soap opera “Days of Our Lives.” Before each episode, MacDonald Carey would solemnly say, “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the Days of our Lives.”

Today, as I was pondering the passage of time, the hourglass came to mind, as well as, the profound saying that introduced a sappy soap opera. I think the image of the hourglass dwelled within my subconscious mind choosing today to come to the surface.

In my younger years, I imagined that the days of my life were so numerous that time seemed to pass slowly. I’ve noticed that the older, I get, the days, months, and years speed by without ever tapping the brakes.

As we age, we begin to realize that life is fragile and can be finished without warning. With each passing year, our bodies, our priorities, and the texture of our lives change. Friends, acquaintances, and family members move in and out of our lives. Some people may never cross our minds again, while others leave an indelible mark on our hearts.

The most difficult part of life is death of loved ones. Only time and determination can help heal a grief-stricken heart. I believe that as long as someone lives in my memories, they are with me.

The Past: The saddest part of Alzheimer’s disease is that as the memory fades, so does the history that makes each of us a unique person. We embody the history of all our yesterdays, good or bad. Our personality is built around our history. I think that all of us have faced adversity during our lifetime—some more than others. If we overcome adversity and learn from our mistakes, we develop character. Sometimes that character will shine through during the darkest days of dementia. 

 The Present: For a caregiver, quality of life is determined by how we embrace each day. I often found that taking each day a moment at a time, one problem at a time, helped me through the difficult days. A trip to town for ice cream or a walk in the park were good ways to spend some relaxing time with Jim. I also carved out some time for myself—to pursue activities that brought joy into my life whether it was lunch with friends or family, a movie, or a day trip. I lived in the present and tried not to dwell on how the future was going to impact Jim’s health.

The Future: Jim’s dementia relentlessly progressed and the future was bleak. Although, today’s medicine has the potential to slow the progression of the disease, we still await a cure. It is important for a caregiver to continue to live her life to the fullest. We need to plan for self-sufficiency and face the future with courage. Our happiness depends on how much hope and joy we feel as we think about our tomorrows.

As the sands slip through the hourglass, we need to treasure the days we have been given. Sometimes, we have life within life: reinvention, rejuvenation, revival of spirit, and determination to become our best selves moving forward. Is it possible that before the sand runs completely through, we can flip the hourglass over and move forward with more and better days ahead?

 Copyright © April 2024 by L.S. Fisher

http://earlyonset.blogspot.com

#ENDALZ

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Partial Eclipse of the Brain

Our town was in the path of totality for the 2017 eclipse, and we hosted an eclipse party for family who were outside the path. In our area, the eclipse of 2024 was only a partial eclipse and knowing I had two obligations for the day, I never purchased eclipse glasses.

When I realized the eclipse was taking place in the time after the Alzheimer’s Walk committee meeting and before playing music at Primrose, I texted the committee to see if anyone had a spare pair of eclipse glasses. I was in luck when Monica brought glasses to the meeting.

After the meeting adjourned, I drove to a nearby parking lot and parked in the shade. I stepped out of my car and looked skyward through the glasses. The eclipse had just begun with only a small semicircle shadow encroaching on one side of the sun. I stood outside my car occasionally monitoring the progress of the eclipse.

A young man approached me and asked if the eclipse had started and if I had an extra pair of glasses. I answered him in the positive and negative. “I just got these glasses from a friend,” I said. “Would you like to look?” I handed him the glasses, he looked, thanked me, and handed the glasses back.

Over the next hour or so, I watched the shadow of the moon block out the sun, and it made me think of how Alzheimer’s eclipses the brain. At first, the shadow only blocked a small part of the sun, and had we not known about the eclipse, we wouldn’t have noticed anything out of the ordinary.

In the early stages of dementia, most of the brain is still functioning and some people go on with their normal life without noticing any significant changes. As we get older, we don’t expect to be as sharp as we were decades before. It’s easy to push aside any concerns about not remembering every little detail. We are busy, after all. Who hasn’t lost their car in a Walmart or a Mall parking lot? When we pay bills online and with paperless statements, it’s not beyond the realm of possibilities that we forget to pay the occasional bill or can’t quite finish QuickBooks in a timely manner. Not to mention, my daily tasks includes finding all the objects that I’ve put in the wrong places…and occasionally they are far from where they are normally kept. Another subtle sign of early stage dementia is taking longer to finish tasks. It does take longer now that I’ve lost my ability to multitask.

During the middle stages of dementia, more of the brain is damaged, just as the shadow from the moon covers more of the sun mid eclipse. Memory loss and confusion increase and chunks of personal history and events can disappear like vapor. A person in the middle stage of dementia can forget how to complete common tasks they had previously mastered. At one time, Jim was mechanically inclined, and could fix any appliance. After his dementia progressed, he could take things apart, but wasn’t able to put them back together. Jim used to sleep during the day and pace or wander at night. The biggest danger was that when he wandered, he continued in the same direction. Jim became compulsive about folding paper towels and stuffing his shirt pockets with them. I had to lay out his clothes and help him dress, and sometimes re-dress. Jim became silent as aphasia took away his ability to speak and sing. At one time Jim could play any instrument with strings, but gradually lost the ability to play his guitar.

In the late stages of dementia, the partial eclipse of the brain leaves only a sliver of light shining through. A person in the late stages requires care 24/7. If a loved one is living at home, the days seem as if they are much longer for the care partner. Physical symptoms develop and the caregiver’s responsibly increases exponentially. Careful evaluation is needed to determine at what point professional care is necessary for the person with dementia. Placing a loved one in hospice or long-term care is a gut-wrenching decision. Too often, the decision is made only after the health of the primary caregiver is irreparably impacted.

During a partial eclipse, the shadow accentuates the brilliance of the remaining light. When a loved one has dementia, they still have the part of their being that shines through. I could see it in Jim’s eyes at times, or the way he raised his eyebrows, the warmth of his hand, the laughter, and tears. My most precious memory happened one night when I was preparing to leave the nursing home. I kissed him goodbye and said, “I love you.” From that sliver of light, he found the words to reply, “I love you too,” and I knew he meant it.

 

Copyright © April 2024 by L.S. Fisher

http://earlyonset.blogspot.com

#ENDALZ

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Hope, Renewal, and New Life


This has been a busy week with quality family time. Between the early Easter celebration last Sunday, and lunch with my son and grandson, I was able to connect with most of my sons’ families. I saw three of my four grandchildren and both great-grandsons.

On Good Friday, we decided to have a music practice at my brother’s house. I picked up Mom to take her to practice. We worked on some new songs and set up a date to work on our final program for April.

After practice, Mom and I drove the winding, crooked road. A car popped over the hill, and I  was startled when a pickup flew past my car. He came dangerously close to hitting the oncoming car head on, and swerved back into our lane, missing the front of my car by inches.

It happened so fast that I didn’t have time to be afraid, but I was plenty angry that someone was so stupid as to pass on a double yellow line. I call him an “idiot” with a colorful adjective preceding it.

It was a reminder of how fragile life is. I told my mom, “Since we cheated death, today is the first day of the rest of our lives.”

After a stop at McDonald’s, we were walking up to her door. Mom said, “It would have been awful if someone would have had to call Harold and tell him you’d been killed in a car accident. I just don’t know what he would do without you.” Okay, I couldn’t stop laughing about her thinking it would be more of a tragedy for Harold to be left to fend for himself than for me to die in a wreck.

A near miss is a wakeup call that we need to seize each precious moment we have with our loved ones. No life is without adversity, and the older we get the more problems we face. Life can throw down a virtual gauntlet of challenges.

The biggest challenge of my life was Jim’s dementia. Throughout the ten-year span of his decline, each day had the potential of producing an unexpected crisis. Still, we had a lot of good, happy days. At first, we still took our trips to Colorado, and later spent time in Branson. Jim loved to travel, and at times life progressed on a semi-normal pace. As his abilities declined, we settled for ice cream at Dairy Queen and a walk in the park. Other times, we would drive through the countryside. This was full circle since when were first married, going for drives was our favorite cheap entertainment. Life is good if you want it to be.

Of course, we know how our story ended, and that brought another challenge to my life. Although the disease had taken Jim away from me a piece at a time, I had to adjust to the absence of his physical presence.

Jim always said that death was closing one door and opening another. Easter is a time that reminds us that death is trading our mortality for immortality. Our hearts are filled with hope and a renewal of our spirituality. 

Springtime is the time of new life. Trees bud out and blooms from flowering bushes release their fragrance on the breeze. Dormant plants spring forth from the earth, flower gardens, meadows, and road ditches and form a rainbow of vibrant color. Viviparous mammals begin to give birth to young ones. Birds and reptiles lay eggs and incubate them so they become live animals. When the conditions are perfect, morel mushrooms pop up and the hunt begins.

My mom has learned an abundance of wisdom in her 97 years of life. After giving her observation about my hypothetical death, I realize she made a valid observation. Yes, the sting of death falls heavily upon the loved ones left behind.

The best way to honor the loss of a loved one is to go on living a full, productive life. Cherish your memories, and find comfort in the love you gave and received. Face the future with faith, hope, and abundant love.

Copyright © March 2024 by L.S. Fisher

http://earlyonset.blogspot.com

#ENDALZ

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Irish for the Day

As I drove to the post office Saturday morning, I noticed a lot of commotion around Ohio Street. It took a minute for my mind to click in and realized the St. Patrick’s Day Parade was about to begin. My biggest concern was whether I could get out of town without backtracking.

I didn’t stay for the parade because I had a busy day ahead of me. As I drove out of town, I ruminated about St. Patrick’s Days of the past.

At one time, our Alzheimer’s Walk Committee participated in the St. Patrick's Day parade. One year, we were brave enough to sign up for the bed races. We didn't have to build a bed since another group had loaned us their bed from the previous year. We put the smallest kid in our group in the driver’s seat and our fastest people to push. As our group huffed and puffed their way down Ohio Street, Ginger lost her shoe. The good news was that we won Second Place…the bad news was only two beds were in the competition that year.

During the parade, the announcers promoted our dance and auction coming up in the evening. As soon as the parade finished, we rushed to set up the silent auction and arrange the items chosen for the live auction. Our celebrity auctioneer, country music singer Leroy Van Dyke, always drew a crowd. Leroy jokingly said that it was amazing how much work a person could do when they volunteered.

In keeping with the holiday theme, gooseberry pie was always a premium auction item. Ted Distler, the Jefferson City Alzheimer’s Walk chair, and I, the Sedalia Walk chair, were always the final two bidders for the pie. Once our friendly competition ended with a successful bid, the winner sliced the pie and shared with the other. 

On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is Irish. Now the big event of the day and evening is the Pub Crawl. Yes, Irish and drinking do tend to go together. My favorite alcoholic beverage is Irish coffee.

My thoughts turned to the tour of Ireland that my sister and I took in 2005. Going to Ireland had always been on my bucket list, and I was not disappointed! I loved the old castles, the Irish people, and the green, green grass. Throughout our travels in the Emerald Isle, I had many moments of déjà vu. The landscape, castle ruins, Cliffs of Moher, and ancient cemeteries with their scenic arches tugged at my heartstrings. I kissed the blarney stone, as if I needed a better gift of gab than I already have.

Our tour guide regaled us with stories about leprechauns and how these magical, wee creatures hold the key to the “luck of the Irish.” Leprechauns are tricksters, and the reason we wear green is to keep them from pinching us. Personally, I’ve only been pinched by people, with nary a leprechaun to be seen.

Yes, everyone wants to be Irish for a day—St. Patrick’s Day. I would rather be magically transported to Ireland for a day. 

As this St. Patrick’s Day comes to a close, I hope you’ve had a day filled with luck as abundant as the shamrocks in Ireland. Until next year, “May the road rise to meet you and the wind be always at your back.”

 

Copyright © March 2024 by L.S. Fisher

http://earlyonset.blogspot.com

#ENDALZ

Friday, March 15, 2024

Turn a Deaf Ear

 

Several years ago, I went to see my family physician for an earache. He told me I had an ear infection and sent some medicated drops home with me. The throbbing in my ear stopped when blood trickled down my neck. I called the doctor and told him about the new development. He assured me that I wasn’t going to bleed to death from my ear. (Guess he never saw the same westerns I had!) My eardrum had ruptured, and he said it would most likely heal on its own.

Once the incessant buzzing stopped, I figured I was good to go. I never noticed a problem until I took a hearing test as part of a workplace health fair. “You have a slight loss of hearing in your right ear,” the technician told me.

Eventually, I noticed that if someone spoke softly in my right ear it was the “wah wah wah” sound much like Charlie Brown’s teacher. It finally occurred to me that I was unintentionally turning a deaf ear.

 It’s annoying to have hearing loss in one ear, but it does make me stop to consider that at times turning a deaf ear is advantageous. “Turning a deaf ear” is an idiom for ignoring what another person says. When I was a caregiver for Jim, I learned to turn a deaf ear at times. 

·     Turn a Deaf Ear to Negativity: A caregiver has enough challenges without outsiders heaping negativity on them. Negative people sap precious energy that you will need to make all the decisions necessary to provide the daily care your loved one needs. There’s no better way to ruin a day than to listen to someone who finds fault with how you are handling the difficult choices you need to make.

·       Turn a Deaf Ear to Criticism:  There’s a lot of truth to the old saying that everyone is a critic. I’ve known a few people in my life that think criticizing others makes them look better. When a caregiver is doing her best, no one else has the right to criticize. If the job of caregiving is overwhelming and the best solution is to seek professional care, it becomes a family matter. When I made that difficult long-term care decision for Jim, I only cared what my kids and his mom had to say. Once we were in agreement, I turned a deaf ear to everyone else.

·       Turn a Deaf Ear to Self Doubt: As a caregiver, you need to learn to ignore that nagging voice in your head that constantly runs through the “should have—could haves.” Once you’ve made a caregiving decision, you need to stop doubting yourself. Self doubt is fraught with negative emotions: anxiety, indecision, depression, and guilt. I’ve known caregivers that had to seek psychological and pharmaceutical help. There’s no shame in taking care of your healthcare needs with professional guidance.

·       Turn a Deaf Ear to Gossip: When you are doing what is best for you and your loved one, don’t give credence to the opinion of someone who has not walked in your shoes. Here’s a helpful hint—no one has ever walked in your shoes but you! 

The good thing about turning a deaf ear is that you don’t actually have to be deaf in one ear. All it takes is a positive mindset to turn a deaf ear when necessary, but listen with both ears to trusted advice on best practices for caring for your loved one with dementia.

When you type alz.org into your browser, you will find answers to almost all the questions that you have about the disease, caregiving, or how to get involved in the fight to end Alzheimer’s. The 24/7 Helpline 800-272-3900 is prominently displayed at the top of the home screen.

When Jim was first diagnosed, I knew nothing about Alzheimer’s or dementia. Throughout my caregiving journey, I trusted the Alzheimer’s Association to steer me in the right direction, and they did.

Copyright © March 2024 by L.S. Fisher

http://earlyonset.blogspot.com

#ENDALZ

Thursday, February 29, 2024

This Old Car

 

When I was a kid, we lived in the Ozarks and the only music we ever heard on the radio was country music. I remember a song called “This Old House.” After I’d heard the song several times, I realized that the song wasn’t about a house at all, but about a human body.

Back in the day, you just figured things out on your own, but now we have the internet, and I was curious about the song. I found a treasure! Stuart Hamblen, the man who wrote the song told the story of finding a dilapidated log house while he was on a hunting trip in the Sierra Mountain range. The old house was falling down and when a dog came out of the house, Stuart went inside and found a man who had passed away. He wrote the song while outside the house, and many people thought the song was only about the old house, but Stuart says the song is about two houses. “…the other house, the mortal house that the maker of man has loaned to the man for such a short, short time.”**

Why did such a thought cross my mind? I was thinking about my old car, a 2010 Chevy Malibu. I bought the car new as my “retirement” car, and I’m still driving it 110,000 miles later. After all the nasty weather a few weeks ago, and after a drive down a country road, my car looked pathetic. It was making a loud noise, which I hoped was from the tires.

This car and I have traveled a lot of miles and been through a lot in the past thirteen years. I couldn’t help but compare myself to the car, which is definitely an upgrade from “This Old House.” We’ve both suffered some bumps and dings over the years. Fortunately, neither one of us have had any accidents. We have to recharge our batteries and change the oil regularly. We’ve had a few flat tires, and scraped up our fancy wheels. We are both a little worse for the wear, but I think we’re in pretty good shape for the shape we’re in.

Still, in my mind, I was a little worried about the noise…and I went online car shopping. I couldn’t find anything that really caught my eye. The prices on new vehicles are shocking, so I thought it might be much more feasible to give my car some TLC. My Malibu has been a dependable low-maintenance car and I couldn’t see taking a chance on finding another great vehicle.

During one of the recent warm days, I took my car through the carwash and saw the beauty of the red jewel color sparkle. It reminded me of the time I’d just washed my car and went to the Post Office. As I pulled in, this old gentleman told me, “That is the most beautiful car I’ve ever seen.” Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I like the looks of the car too.

I made an appointment to have an oil change and have the sound investigated. Yes, it was the tires. With an oil change and new front tires, we’re back in business.

If there’s a point to this story, it would be that for a car (or a body) to last, we need checkups and regular maintenance. Sometimes the noise (or pain) isn’t anything to worry about, but better safe than sorry. Here’s to hoping that my car’s engine (and my brain) keeps on clicking on all cylinders for many years to come.


**Find “This ‘Ole House – Story Behind the Song Told by Stuart Hamblen” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNzcGxl5nk8

Copyright © Feb 2024 by L.S. Fisher

http://earlyonset.blogspot.com

#ENDALZ

Healthy Habits are Good for your Brain

 


During the past twenty years, I’ve followed Alzheimer’s research, and have had a front seat to many disappointments. Currently, I’m pleased that significant progress has been made and promising new treatments can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Many years ago when I served on the Alzheimer’s Chapter Board of Directors, I learned that a healthy lifestyle was the most effective way to delay the onset of age-related dementia.

Most of us blissfully move through life with confidence that our brains are clicking along like a well-oiled machine. Sure, we may not be able to multi-task as well as we could in our younger years. We also learn that stress can cause us to fumble around, make miscues, and have occasional mental glitches. Although these age-related changes can be concerning, as long as they don’t interfere with our daily life, we haven’t developed dementia.

Lifestyle changes are good for our bodies, our hearts, and our brains. The possibilities are endless, but I’ve listed seven changes that are within reach for most people.      

1.    Enough Sleep: I might as well start with the one that is my biggest challenge. I’ve become a night owl, but wake up around five or five-thirty in the morning. If I go to bed early, I toss and turn and stay awake later than if I just go to bed around midnight as usual. When I go to bed late, I can read for ten minutes and go to sleep. A short nap during the day helps me feel rested.

2.    Healthy eating habits: We all have our downfalls when it comes to eating. I’ve found through the years, that I can add fruit and vegetables to my diet on a regular basis and maintain a healthy weight. I’ve found that crash diets, are more like crash and burn diets. Yo-yo dieting is harder on your health than carrying a few extra pounds.

3.    Social Interaction: I think we all learned the lesson of the importance of social interaction during the pandemic lockdowns. We realized we needed to spend time with friends and family, and some of us need to feel that we are helping make the world better in our own small way. Volunteer work increases social interaction, provides learning opportunities, and helps us feel useful. 

4.    Stress Management: Most of us find a way to manage stress. Physical activity is often a good stress reliever. Hobbies are a great way to relax. Reading a good book can make your troubles seem small in comparison to the protagonist! My favorite stress reliever is playing my ukulele and singing.

5.    Stay Active: Physical activity improves memory and brain health while it strengthens bones and muscles. With a stronger body, you increase your capabilities of being able to perform daily activities. Other benefits of staying active include reducing anxiety and depression while improving your quality of sleep.

6. The New Math: Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia and vascular dementia is the second most common type. Health conditions that contribute to vascular dementia are atherosclerosis (a buildup of plaque inside arteries), heart disease, and stroke. Along with a healthy diet, exercise, not smoking, and limiting alcohol, you need to watch your “numbers.” If lifestyle changes alone cannot improve your numbers, you may need to take medication to treat high blood pressure, lower cholesterol, or prevent blood clots.

7. Stimulate Your Brain: The phrase, “use it or lose it” comes to mind. I recently read an article that said lifelong learning is one of the secrets to a healthy lifestyle. Learning stimulates cognitive ability. Other ways to stimulate your brain are reading, working daily puzzles or crosswords, playing games that stretch your mind, or taking up a new hobby.

As we grow older, we have more health challenges. I like to think that no matter what ailments I have, I am luckier than many others I know.

Age is the number one risk factor for dementia. I have seven decades of information and trivia stored in my brain, and retrieving a pertinent piece of information might take a bit longer than it did when I was younger. Sure, I’ve slowed down, but I’m still moving forward.

Of all the healthy habits we can implement to improve our health, it is important to have a positive outlook on life. I like to focus on the activities I can do instead of the ones that I can’t. Although I’m older today than I was yesterday, I’m younger than I will be tomorrow.

 

Copyright © Feb 2024 by L.S. Fisher

http://earlyonset.blogspot.com

#ENDALZ

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Getting Affairs in Order

At forty-nine, Jim exhibited troubling symptoms, but the first MRI came back “normal.” About a year later, we visited a neurologist who ran a SPECT (single-photon emission computed tomography) scan. The SPECT scan was abnormal and the doctor believed damage could have been from a stroke.

I wrote about trying to find a definitive diagnosis in Indelible, an unpublished memoir:

 Jim began to have difficulty writing. He would write letters but they wouldn’t make words. Most of the time, the combination was close enough that I knew what he meant.

I wanted him to feel useful and to “exercise his brain.” One morning, I was washing the breakfast dishes, and Jim was sitting at the table. “Honey, would you make a grocery list for me?” I nodded toward the pad and pen I’d placed on the table. “We need paper towels,” I said.

He picked up the pen and wrote on the notepad. “We need milk,” I said.

Jim set the pen down. “I don’t want to.” He walked out of the room, and I sat down to finish the list. On the paper, he had printed, “taper powels.”

Later he picked up the list and studied it carefully. “I wonder why I spelled ‘paper towels’ that way,” he said.

Little things began to add up. When we played cards, his mom had to help him pick out the suit. Sometimes he didn’t know which cards were hearts, diamonds, spades, or clubs.

Jim couldn’t dial a telephone number. He couldn’t count his money and had trouble using the ATM. He stopped pumping gas because the pumps had too many options that had to be selected. He couldn’t change the tire on my car, although at one time he could change a tire faster than anyone else I knew. 

Jim did most things slowly and sometimes forgot a step or did something that didn’t make sense. When he intended to make a glass of instant tea, sometimes he would put in sugar and water, but forget the tea. When he fixed a bowl of cereal, he would put milk and sweetener in the bowl but forget the cereal.

Ryan’s was one of Jim’s favorite places to eat. As soon as I paid, Jim would go to the buffet and pick up a serving spoon. He would look around because he knew something was missing.

“Here’s a plate,” I said.

Jim took the plate and scooped up a spoonful of gravy. He backtracked and put mashed potatoes on top. Next, he placed spaghetti sauce on his plate and topped it with a generous helping of spaghetti. He set his plate on a nearby table and wandered back to the buffet line.

Jim was eyeing the soup. “If you’ll bring me a bowl, I’ll get you some soup,” I said. He brought me a plate and I swapped it for a bowl. We found a table and sat down to eat.

“What day is it?” he asked. He had already asked that question four or five times already. 

 “What time is it?” I asked him since he had a watch and I wasn’t wearing mine. He opened his pocket watch and studied the dial. He closed it. “Well?” I asked.

“I have no idea,” he replied.

With the possibility of stroke damage, we set up an appointment with a cardiologist who sent us back to the neurologist for a second MRI. As we waited for the doctor to tell us the test results, we sat in side-by-side chairs in an examining room. We were both scared. I knew I looked as worried, or more so, than Jim did.

The neurologist breezed into the room. “Now, we know why you are having trouble with thinking. Your MRI shows brain atrophy.”

The tears began to flow. “Why so sad?” he asked. “Other people have similar problems and go on with their lives.”

He talked with us for a while explaining the changes in Jim’s brain. “Do you have your legal affairs in order?” he asked.

“No,” I admitted, thinking that question had an ominous sound to it.

He looked at Jim and said, “Jim, if you are not able to make your own decisions, who do you want making them for you—your wife, or some stranger?”

“Her,” Jim said pointing at me.

 We made an appointment with an attorney and he stepped us through our wills, advance directives, health and financial power of attorney documents. Before long, we had our affairs in order. I had no idea how important it was to have those documents until Jim could no longer sign his name or make financial decisions.

Now, all these years later, I’m getting my affairs in order—again. I’ve been meaning to update my documents for several years, but it was easier to put it off than it was to make the appointment and the effort.

What I really should do is pare down my inventory. I need to get more than affairs in order—I need to get closets, cabinets, dresser drawers, and a basement in order.

The ultimate goal is to get my life in order. I want to let go of the time wasters that no longer enrich my life, and to make time for the activities that make life more enjoyable. I want to spend more time with people I love. I want to wake up excited for the day ahead.

Jim used to say that he needed something to look forward to—and for him that was usually a trip to Branson or across country. He was right about that. If you lose focus on the joy of living, life loses its joy.

Getting affairs in order is a reminder that life on this earth doesn’t go on forever. It means getting in touch with your mortality and planning your exit strategy.   

 Copyright © Feb 2024 by L.S. Fisher

http://earlyonset.blogspot.com

#ENDALZ

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Transparency

 

Before the holidays, I bought myself a Christmas present. I happen to like Bailey’s in my coffee, and I found the perfect gift set. One gift set combined a bottle of Bailey’s with a clear coffee cup.

The clear coffee cup reminded me of a business trip Jim and I took to San Antonio, Texas. We stayed at a swanky hotel that served their delicious coffee in clear cups. Jim and I both enjoyed spending time in the lobby drinking cups of coffee to relax. It’s a good memory from one of our adventures.

Anyone who knows me well is aware that the only way I ever start my day is with a good cup of coffee. My pot is on an automatic timer so that I don’t have to do anything but pour the coffee in the cup. On my best days, I get to drink my first cup of coffee in complete silence.

Last week, I rolled out of bed one morning, grabbed my clear cup, put in creamer, and poured a cup of coffee. As I headed to the couch in the kitchen, I lifted the coffee to my lips and before I took my first drink, I realized I had the measuring cup instead of my Bailey’s cup. One good thing about the measuring cup—it has a spout so it was easy to transfer one transparent cup to the other.

The advantage of a transparent cup is that you can see the goodness of the coffee within. Another observation is that I could also clearly see the coffee in the measuring cup, but it didn’t meet my expectations.

People aren’t usually very transparent. Wouldn’t it be awful if your thoughts appeared in bubbles over your head for others to see? So many hurtful things are better left unspoken.

Dementia can erase a person’s filter, and they may say exactly what they think. After Jim quit smoking, he would tell complete strangers, “You better quit smoking those damned cigarettes!” It was what he thought, and it came out of his mouth. I’m sure he was trying to help, but he forgot how huffy he would have been if someone had said such a thing to him when he was still smoking.

Transparency in a relationship means that you can trust your partner, spouse, or friend to be honest with you. You know what to expect and you aren’t trying to guess what another’s motives are. A transparent relationship has open communication and you are confident enough to share your honest feelings and opinions.

Some of us are lucky enough to find soul mates, soul sisters, or friends that can lift your spirits just to hear their voice on the phone. I feel fortunate to have increased my circle of loved ones over the years.

Too often older people can feel isolated and depressed because they suffer the loss of people they love. The most difficult challenge in life is to go on living after a devastating loss. You wake up feeling normal, and then like a lightning bolt your heart takes a direct hit when you remember that you will never see your loved one again. Love hurts, but love heals.

Transparency is an honorable way to live when tempered with love and kindness. Whether your truth is as beautiful as a crystal clear coffee mug or as practical as a transparent measuring cup, life is good when you are loved for being your own unique self.

      

Copyright © Jan 2024 by L.S. Fisher

http://earlyonset.blogspot.com

#ENDALZ

Clean Slate

 Although January is almost over, I couldn’t help but think about how nice it would be to start the New Year off with a clean slate. Some people attempt this by making resolutions and giving themselves mental pep talks to be a better person.

The hard part about starting with a clean slate is that we cannot let go of the baggage we drag along behind us. We can’t stop thinking about our mistakes, insecurities, and failures. We can’t forgive ourselves, much less others.

And what about that grudge? Who is it hurting?

A person with Alzheimer’s has a clean slate in some ways. The most recent memories are the first to go. A woman who was in our support group many years ago was disturbed because her husband didn’t recognize her and thought he was married to his first wife who had passed away. He would say, “Who are you and why are you in my house?” When she told him that she was his wife, he didn’t believe her. In his mind, the woman he had married wasn’t the stranger living in his house. Another man would wander away from his home and show up on his ex-wife’s doorstep. She would invite him in for coffee and call his current wife to come and get him.

These men did not remember why they were no longer married to the same woman they were married to in their younger years. The slate had been wiped clean of the problems that brought about the demise of their first marriage.

Jim and I married young and it was the first marriage for both of us. I never knew the consternation caused by being wiped from his memory. The flip side of the clean slate for recent events is that early memories can return with an unusual clarity. Jim’s PTSD worsened and Vietnam seemed to be in his recent past rather than the distant past where it belonged.

Babies begin life with a clean slate, but early in their development, their slates become intertwined with the world around them. A child’s impressionable mind and curiosity shapes the ideals, beliefs, biases, and personality traits that will last a lifetime. Some people who begin life with bad influences will later learn to reset and change their lives for the better. Genetics and environment muddy our slates.

Wouldn’t it be great to wake up in the morning and begin the day with a clean slate? If we could just mentally wipe away the wrongs we have done and the hurts that we carry in our hearts, we could begin life anew.

It is much easier for me to forgive others than it is to forgive myself. The saddest part of life is when you don’t get a chance to right a wrong. Some people are fragile and it doesn’t take a lot to break them. I will admit that I don’t have a lot of patience with people who habitually look for the negative or are offended when no offense was intended.

I don’t get my feelings hurt easily. I’ve always said that if someone really wants to insult me, they better be blunt and bold; otherwise, I’ll assume they accidently misspoke. That’s about as close as I get to a clean slate.

I don’t mentally rehash insults or snubs, and they fade into the recesses of my mind to be forever banished. I’ve had people apologize to me for some minor incident that I had not only forgave and forgot, but also forgot that I forgave.

Life is much more enjoyable without drama. The best way to stop drama is to wipe the slate clean and start over.  


Copyright © Jan 2024 by L.S. Fisher

http://earlyonset.blogspot.com

#ENDALZ

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Baby, It's Cold Outside

 

Maybe the cold arctic blast shouldn’t be a surprise since I have always lived in the psychotic state of Missouri, nicknamed Misery at times. We are enduring the days of wind chills, snow, ice, cancellations, and danger of frostbite.

I am thankful that I no longer have to drive to work in this kind of miserable weather. I’m a competent bad weather driver, but other drivers make me nervous. I only drive in bad weather when it is necessary.

Jim, on the other hand, loved to drive in bad weather. He liked to “break” the roads, and if we got stuck, he knew someone would come along with a tractor and pull us out. It suited me to have Jim chauffeur me when our roads were drifted or icy.

I was never as confident as Jim when it came to driving on slick roads. When he was in the early stages of dementia, I had him drive me to work a few times.

As Jim’s dementia progressed, so did my worry that he would wander off in inclement weather and die from exposure. As we struggled with the nursing home question, Jim’s wandering was a big consideration. “If he wanders off in the wintertime,” I told my sons, “we may not get to make the nursing home decision.”

Wandering is common among persons with dementia. Among the top dangers is that a person who wanders may die from harsh weather exposure. Caregivers should be vigilant, especially during extreme weather conditions. A precaution that can be taken for those who wander would be to invest in a device that provides a location for the individual. For example, a caregiver or family member could invest in a wristwatch with GPS tracking for their loved one.

Falls are another danger associated with wintertime. I was  Miss Slippy-Slidey but Jim was  sure footed. He was always good to hang on to me to keep me from falling. After Jim passed away, I was walking across the yard and slipped and fell on the ice. My feet flew out from under me and I landed flat on my back, slamming my head down on the ice. I told my sister-in-law that I “broke my head” and I didn’t feel like it was an exaggeration.    

Now, my biggest issue with the weather is taking the dog out. When I took her out this morning in -20 wind chills, I layered layers on my layers. My dog has a thick fur coat and looks at snow as entertainment. She roams around sniffing at the snow, running though a snowdrift, or catching the scent of some animal under the hedges. She sets the tone for our outings and never seems to be in a hurry.

Last night, I took the dog out after dark, and as we wandered through the freshly fallen snow, I realized that I had forgotten my phone. I knew Harold was asleep on the couch and that if I fell…Well, let’s just say that I was extra, extra careful.

Caution is good this time of year, but you can’t afford to lose your momentum. Jim used to tackle the hills near our house by “taking a run at it.” He said, “If you keep steady momentum, you don’t spin your tires.”

Think about it: building momentum and getting good traction could be a life lesson.

 

Copyright © Jan 2024 by L.S. Fisher

http://earlyonset.blogspot.com

#ENDALZ