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


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