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Archive for the ‘dementia’ Category

Remember that leap your heart made when a friend knocked on your door and asked your mom if you could play?
Please oh please oh please say yes, mom, say yes…
You bolted out that door and ran from all the adults as fast as your Keds would carry you.
Those words, “Come play,” still makes my heart leap.

I’ve decided not to age. Technically, we age from the moment we’re born. Technically, parts of our body peak at 30. But I’m not talking technically. I just don’t identify with this whole aging thing. It’s like death. Who gets death? Technically we die. Our pets, our loved ones, apple trees and hummingbirds, right whales and honeybees. We die. But do we? We fight death literally and metaphorically. Our brains, our hearts don’t know how to reconcile with this concept. It never feels right, does it?

My thought is because we don’t die. We transcend.
Various religions have given names to this basic belief. Eternity. Heaven. Hell. Reincarnation. Even if you say you don’t believe anything about the afterlife. Even if you say we become dirt or stardust which is still a form of transcendence we believe that something of our souls, for lack of a better word, lives on.

With that thought I whip back around to the title. If we have such a hard time with death then doesn’t it make sense that aging, just foreplay to death, doesn’t sit well either?

I know, I know. Aging isn’t all bad you say. You are rocking your new shock of white hair. You kind of like stepping out of the sexy game and wearing comfortable clothes and not worrying about the priss and preen that goes with attracting a mate. You love being retired and not feeling the pressure of getting out there every day. You argue that these are the perks of aging that come with the not so great perks of bad knees, high cholesterol and actually contemplating dentures.

Before I sound uncompassionate let me say that I know too well what it’s like to be a caregiver, to grieve, to take a sharp blow so hard that no breath comes, to be so relieved that a year that held so much pain is over even though I don’t even know or care what comes next. Life can be too full of all things shitty. That’s why I’ve decided to live with gusto whenever I can. Not because I’m oblivious to sorrow but because I am acutely aware.

Now that I’ve posted my disclaimer let’s get back to the fun stuff.
So instead of aging this is what I plan on doing for the next, oh, 30-50 years:

Play.
Be downright silly.
Laugh until I snort.
Goof off and waste loads of time navel gazing or the equivalent.
Nap.
Flirt.
Create.
Lighten my load–physically and emotionally grow lighter.

How?
By playing first of all.
By choosing to strip my backpack of hurts I’ve been nursing like sucking like crazy to get one more drop out of a dried up teat. By saying lots of nos and no thank yous–not for me, by saying big, crazy risk-taking yeses, by not doing a damn thing I don’t want to do and realizing it’s damn near impossible to do anything I don’t want to do. That means owning some scary shit. Then laughing at my own hand-made messes.

By standing in my own life and getting out of everyone else’s. Boy is this one tough. It’s a lot like hide-and-seek and running back to home base again and again.

By not taking myself, my darkness, my ugliness, my blinding ambitions, my tail-chasing avoidance laden quests, too serious.

Serious is too f*ing serious. (I love to curse folks, so I just might have to let loose and be my true self a little more often.

I just don’t give a shit about all the rest.
Arguing exhausts me.
I don’t give a rip about religion or politics or whatever else folks post on the almighty Facebook just to get a rouse out of everybody else. Vote. Sign a petition. Serve soup at a shelter. DO something with those beliefs and respect everyone else’s rights to think for themselves.

I’m going to have to feel my way through this growing younger thing.
Today, I’m going to doodle.
Swing so high my feet go over the lake behind my house.
Pull weeds.
Go to the beach and the pool with my granddaughter.
Make love to my husband (check on that one–accomplished that by 7am!….sorry if that’s a TMI but let’s get real!)
Eat watermelon.
Do some damn good writing (which I hope I am accomplishing right now.
Nap. It’s summertime people. Naps are mandatory.
Make up stories about fairies.
Eat food grown in dirt. If I’m going to eventually get back to motha-earth I might as well eat the rainbow and swallow a few dirt-crumbs along the way.
Then I’m going to the gym tonight and kill it on some weights. Sweat like crazy. Listen to some Kanye–nothing like gritty music to get you pumped.
Then I’m going to play with glow in the dark bubbles as the stars come out and at last fall into my hubby’s arms.

Good life.
Today is a play day.
I hope (and plan) to play my way through this life.
I will be the silly, goofy, crazy hat dancing in the streets 90 year old–and every day until I get there.

I have one question for you…Wanna play?

Wanna play?

Wanna play?

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Let’s face it, most days a caregiver’s positive outlook sags a bit. Monotony, worry, and sleep deprivation doesn’t exactly add up to being “Miss Perky.”  One thing I can say for my mother is that she had a healthy dose of self-esteem, and that has a way of rubbing off on folks, me included. She even had a theme song-“I love me, I love me, I’m wild about myself…”

She sang those lines to me all my life, and she’d always smile at her own cuteness after. I kinda figured she made up those lines, seems like something she’d do, but come to find out–she didn’t. It’s a real song. I can’t quite figure out who wrote it–the internet trail is hard to follow. I think Tiny Tim sang it in the 60s, but the recording I found is from the 40s. That’s probably when my mother heard it–and even after dementia took most of her memories, this little song stayed put.  And even though she eventually forgot how to sing I now carry this tune forward. My children know it well and now I have a whole new generation to sing it to–three granddaughters who will, if I have anything to contribute, have rock solid great self-esteems.

See, my mother had a whole life way before I ever got there. Most children, even adult children forget that. She was 54 when she adopted me. She had grown up, fallen in love, got married, had her first (secretary), second (executive secretary) and third job (minister), and she had survived the  depression, World War II, health scares,and  her mother’s death–all before 1965, when she became my mama.

So, I find out that this little ditty was recorded in 1940 by , and it regales to love of self. Apparently  this isn’t a new concept, but it’s an important one. My mother had lots of faults (don’t we all?) but being negative, depressed, or ever being called shy or quiet wouldn’t make her list. She was tall and loud, opinionated, and funny. Thank goodness for funny, because funny kept me from losing it on her more than once!

So if you’re caregiving a bigger than life character, sit back and enjoy this song–and if you just need a pick-me-up and good dose of self-love, you’re in for treat.

“I LOVE ME”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DsSQFVRrTc

I’ve posted the words, which are beyond adorable. It’ll perk up what sags:)

When people write their songs of love they write of one another
It’s always sis, or ma, or pa, or sweetheart, wife, or brother
But love songs that they’ve aimed at me have all gone on the shelf
I don’t think that it’s fair, so now I’ll write one for myself.

I love me, I love me, I love myself to death
I love me, I love me, till I’m all out of breath
I stop at every slot machine that I should chance to pass
And give myself a hug and squeeze as I look in the glass!
Oh, I love me, I love me, I’m wild about sweet me
I love me, only me, so I’m content you see,
I like myself with such delight
I take me right straight home each night
And sleep with me till broad day light
I’m wild about myself.
I love me, I love me, my birthday’s once a year
I love me, Only me, and when my birthday’s near
I go with me and buy myself some gifts to put away
Then I surprise myself with them when I wakes up that day!
I love me, I love me, I’ll marry me some day
Right away, Saturday, I’ll give me all my pay
With me I like to make a date
To meet myself at half-past eight
If I’m not there I never wait
I’m wild about myself.

I know a girl who has the boys proposing by the dozen
Among her lists are rich and poor and even one lone cousin
But when she speaks of love to me I treat her with disdain
I loudly shout, “There’s someone else!”
And then this wild refrain:

Oh I love me, I love me, and every place I go
I love me, I love me, and at the movie show
I take myself right by the arm and push me through the crowd
And listen to myself repeat the titles right out loud.
I love me, I love me, I love to squeeze my hand
I love me, I love me, It always feels so grand
With me I get right in my tub
I let myself give me a rub
Oh how I love to feel me scrub
I’m wild about myself.

I love me, I love me, I’m wild about myself
I love me, I love me, my picture’s on my shelf.
You may not think I look so good, but me thinks I’m divine
It’s grand when I look in my eyes and know I’m mine, all mine!
I love me, I love me, and my love doesn’t bore
Day by day in every way I love me more and more.
I take me to a quiet place
I put my arm around my waist…
If me gets fresh I slap my face!
I’m wild about myself.

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Caregivers need to talk to other caregivers because no one else can truly understand what they face day in and day out. I recently spoke to a group of caregivers at Christ Episcopal University and every one of them needed to be there–for different reasons. Some needed to vent. Others had questions about Alzheimer’s behavior, about forgiving the past, about grief. Some just needed to be in a safe place where they felt accepted, understood, and didn’t have to hide just had  crazy/bad/bleak/or weird their lives had become. No one but another caregiver knows about caregiver stress and how it can build and build. Not their doctor, their less involved siblings, not even their pastor or their therapist–unless they happen to be caregiving, too.

Sadly, our friendships oftentimes suffer in our caregiving years. We’re not exactly great company–sleep deprived, fussy (I was, I can’t speak for you), and a little self-absorbed (in other words, we need to do a lot of venting). It’s important to preserve those long-term friendships and one of the best ways to do that is by not exploding/emoting all over non-caregivers–at least not at volcanic/molten lava proportions. Other caregivers will get when you’re having a “crap day,” I used to call them, and be more patient and relating to your tears, screams and whines.

It’s easier now than ever for caregivers to connect. In the past five years there’s been a boom of care related online forums. What’s great about these is that they’re 24/7.  Caregivers need that. Not only are they up at the most ungodly of hours, that’s usually when they’re the most ticked off, stressed out, and pushed beyond all human endurance. That’s when they need the anonymity and immediacy a forum provides.

Today, I’ll be sharing with caregivers over at Caring.com. I’ve written their Family Advisor column for years and now I am a contributing editor to their home-care newsletters. We’ll be talking about caring for our parents, and since it’s close to Mother’s Day, I’m sure the conversations will gravitate toward our mothers, their care, and our complex and so important relationships with them.

Feel free to join us if you are happening to read this:

It runs May 11th, 2012 from 1-3 Pacific Time under the Caring for a Parent forum, and will also be on Facebook:

http://www.facebook.com/events/342572865796240/

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Mike Wallace died April 7, 2012. His last few years were spent in the confusing and tangled maze of dementia. He was 93 and  was a newscaster most known for anchoring 60 Minutes and in the media for over six decades. He’s a prime example that if you live long enough, you just might get dementia or Alzheimer’s (Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia). Your odds increase exponentially with age. According to the Alzheimer’s Association your chances of developing Alzheimer’s doubles about every five years after age 65. After age 85, the risk reaches nearly 50 percent.

So our first challenge is to survive (or hopefully skip over) heart disease and cancer.

The major causes of death (in order) are: heart disease, cancer–both of these way out in the lead–lower respiratory infections, stroke, accidents, Alzheimer’s diabetes, flu and pneumonia, and self-harm (suicide).

As scary as Alzheimer’s is, heart disease and cancer take far more lives.

But Mike struggled with other demons–several years ago he shared that he struggled with depression and even attempted suicide. His honesty helped to shed light on depression, something millions face in silent shame. His life, like most of us, was a mixture of great highs and devastating lows. He was by all means a success, but he also lived through the death of his son (he had a falling accident in Greece when he was just 19), divorce and death of his wife, and several physical and mental challenges.

He was known as a fierce interviewer and was often referred to as an interrogator. He interviewed many of the world’s top and toughest leaders–and he never flinched.

I heard one of his colleagues say that he recently visited Mike and that he didn’t remember anything about 60 Minutes or what he had achieved as a broadcaster. In some ways, that’s sad, but I take it as a cautionary tale. Appreciate life now. Honor your journey. Celebrate it now. None of knows what tomorrow brings. While that sounds ominous, I don’t mean it to be, just that there aren’t any guarantees.

Life is today. What will you remember of your life? Who knows. The point is what you’re doing right now. Live it. Celebrate it.

Mike, tonight we celebrate you.

~Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available of Amazon 

Carol D. O’Dell’s Mothering Mother is a frank, unflinching true story of a daughter coping with the role reversal when her sick and aging mother moves in. Carol holds back nothing, offering up hilarious moments alongside the poingnant and the heartbreaking.
More than a memoir, Mothering Mother will inspire, entertain and hearten anyone facing the challenges of caregiving. Through it all she must find the time to escape and nurture her own body and soul while caring for her children, her mother, and her marriage.
Written with wit and sensitivity, Mothering Mother will help others survive–and thrive family life, including the caregiving experience. Mothering Mother was originally written from Carol’s daily journals and captures the reality of everything from driving issues, jealousy, doctor and medical care concerns,, hospice, grief, family dynamics and the joys and challenges found along the way. Mothering Mother is perfect for the sandwich generation, multi-generational households, and for those who care for loved ones and want to face each day with purpose, joy, and hope.

Resources:

http://www.cbsnews.com/8334-504803_162-57411009-10391709/a-look-back-at-some-memorable-mike-wallace-reports/?tag=cbsnewsMainColumnArea.1

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jadeEUfpe-0vNVtCIM-ETbcl9o-w?docId=123741572d8e44cbb208611f8e3c6e06

http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_causes_risk_factors.asp

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/lcod.htm

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Being a home caregiver can get a bit claustrophobic. I cared for my mom in our home (she had Parkinson’s, heart disease and Alzheimer’s) the last two-plus years of her life. We had some home health aides but most of it was on me–24/7. I didn’t have the luxury of picking up my keys and purse and walking out of the house any time I felt like it, or even when I needed to. I grew jealous of my husband who got to leave for work and my kids who took off for school, dates, or part-time jobs. Jealousy is a nasty habit.

I used to sarcastically gripe that I was doing time in Sing-Sing and planning a prison escape (the humor aspect gave me some relief but it also allowed me to hear myself out loud). Some days everything in me wanted to run–and yet I had chosen to care for my mom. Why was this so horrible? She needed me and I was the only one.

Her insurance had said that Alzheimer’s didn’t require “skilled nursing care,” therefore didn’t cover it. I cried that day. I felt I had no way out. I didn’t want to take my mom to just any home and leave her there–I had to know she was cared for, and it seemed like I was the only one. What got to me was my lack of choice–which started with me.

And then I saw this beautiful photograph of a cloister. I’m not Catholic, but I’ve long admired a monk’s or nun’s dedication to live in a serene, dedicated environment. Cloisters are peaceful, safe, a haven in the midst of a chaotic world. It’s not that a monk or nun can’t leave–but most stay–the ones who chose this life of their own accord.

That’s when I decided to stop thinking of my life as serving a prison term. I have a good home, a lush yard, and I’m doing something I believe in. I looked around–at the books, the unfinished art projects, the exercise ball and treadmill, the stocked pantry–this isn’t a shabby place to be!

Just that shift re-centered me. I pulled books off the shelf I’ve owned for years but hadn’t got to read. I pulled out a painting I hadn’t finished and started following a couple of Food Channel chefs and gaining some culinary skills. I got out the binoculars and mom and I started watching a pair of cardinals raise their babies in a nearby nest (I’d have to hold the binoculars for her, but she caught a few glimpses).

This one shift–from prison to cloister–gave me a small measure of peace and a grateful heart (but I still snuck a spoon from the kitchen utensil drawer–in case I need to dig a tunnel).

~Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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Last week I was asked as a Caring.com senior expert to speak on NBC Miami Live show and talk to folks in South Florida about how to choose a senior care facility for your aging loved one. Sometimes no matter how much we want to keep our loved one in their own home, or with us, it’s jut not possible. Working caregivers, frequent falls, severe dementia or other round the clock care needs can make it impossible for your loved one to remain with family. If, or when that time comes, it helps to have a plan and to already know your area and what it has to offer for families.

Here is a link to Caring.com’s YouTube channel to view the NBC Miami Live interview:

http://www.youtube.com/user/caringcom#p/u/0/u_8LHy-Cjto

It’s such a big decision and you want to make sure your loved one adjusts and is safe and well cared for. Are there specific points to help guide you through the search? It’s so overwhelming I thought I’d just bring up three key points to help guide you.

3 Tips to Consider When Searching for a Senior Care Facility:

  • Look past the fancy “storefront” and notice how folks are being treated. More and more facilities are beginning to look like country clubs, and that’s great but real care is what you’re after. Look past the golf carts that whiz you in and out, look past the luscious garden-like entrance, past the swanky lobby and even ask to see something other than the staged guest room all decked out with new pictures on the wall and a great view of the courtyard. Ask to have lunch with the residents. Stroll to the community center or gathering room. See if you can go down the hall where your loved one might be placed and see who their neighbors will be.
  • Don’t just take the tour–branch off–ask the residents (and their family members) who live there. Ask the residents if they like the food, if they get their medications on time. Ask their family members if they’ve ever had a bed sore or have problems with any of the staff or other residents. Even if they say the right words, notice how they hesitate, get antsy, or look around as if they’ll be heard. If your loved one has dementia ask to see that ward. Make sure there are safety measures for them not wandering away, and also make sure they are spoken to in a firm but kind manner. Look in their faces and see if they have that hazy drug look. Notice if they’re dressed, if their rooms are tidy, and if there’s a smell of urine in the air.
  • Ask how concerns will be handled, and what you can do if you need to change care facilities. Face it, you’re going to have certain questions and concerns. You’re going to have to ask them if they’ll change something to accommodate your loved one’s needs–that’s just normal adjustments. Find out how that’s handled up front. Talk to not only the day staff, but the night and weekend staff. Ask how they do their background checks and if they’re updated. Ask how you handle serious issues and what happens if you choose to move your loved one to a different facility.

Don’t think that once you move them in that your job as a caregiver is over. It’s not. You’re their care advocate. Visit often and not at the same time. Be cordial with the staff, get to know them and genuinely care about them. Bring in a treat or send them a thank you card if they’ve done something thoughtful or helpful. People respond to positive reenforcement and caring for a (sometimes) cantankerous, sick person who isn’t always jolly is more than a job, it’s a calling. It’s to your benefit to reach out. People who are visited often receive better care, and besides, it’s just the right thing to do.

There’s so much more I could talk about, but this is enough for now. In the end, follow your gut instinct. Stay involved and do all you can to surround your aging loved one with good care–no matter where that might be.

~Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

Got a caregiving question: Send it to me, Carol O’Dell, Caring.com’s Family Advisor at Carol@caring.com

(NBC Miami Live interview is now on Caring.com’s YouTube channel (click on link below):

http://www.youtube.com/user/caringcom#p/u/0/u_8LHy-Cjto

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It’s not that most caregiving families want to, but there may come a time when your spouse’s or elder-parent’s care becomes more than you can physically or emotionally manage at home. Caregivers need to look past the initial bells and whistles of a care facility to make sure that your loved one is receiving the very best care at all hours of the day and night.

How to Choose a Care  Facility For a Loved One:

  • Plan early—don’t wait until it’s an emergency. The highest rated
    care homes usually have a waiting list.
  • Don’t pay for more than you need. Know that cost rises with care needs, so don’t pay for services your loved one doesn’t need–yet. Ask if they have a graduated care situation or whether your loved one will have to find another home if their care needs increase.
  • Consider smaller care facilities or even a group home. Bigger isn’t always better.
  • Don’t get razzle-dazzled by fancy entrances/amenities. Look past all that and notice how the staff interacts with their residents–are they caring, engaged, friendly, and prompt?
  • Visit several times/and several shifts before making your
    decision–and eat the food for yourself–and if you can, talk to a resident or family member of someone who’s already living there
  • Consider visiting with a friend or someone who is impartial and can notice things you don’t want to–or can’t see.
  • Ask other caregivers if they know about this facility and
    “what’s the word on the street?” Check out a care home rating site such as the ones listed at: http://www.consumerhealthratings.com/index.php?action=showSubCats&cat_id=268
  • Check online for more facility information and reviews–Caring.com lists care homes, facilities and hospices in your area–along with helpful checklists and other info to assist you http://www.caring.com/local
  • Does the facility offer family support services, such as caregiver support
    groups and family event days?
  • Discuss how client and family concerns are handled, what is the
    protocol for disputes? Also find out the procedure for how to move your loved one to another facility if that becomes a necessity.
  • Ask about turnover rate of employees and residents. If people are happy–they stay.
  •  Ask how they screen their employees and how often this is
    updated (know that some care facilities allow employees to have misdemeanors, etc. on their record)
  • Ask to view the ACA survey. It will list the facility’s records on everything from safety records, employee issues, MRSA and other infections, bed sores, accident/fall rates.
  • How is orientation handled and what efforts are made to
    integrate your loved one with the staff and other clients?
  • Find out if your spouse/parent’s doctors/hospital serve this
    care facility or if you will have to find all new doctors. (Many physicians or their assistants visit care homes, which can make it easier than your family member having to make a trip into the doctor’s office.
  • Consider location and how often you–and others–can visit.
  • Consider other location factors–should your loved one stay in their own community where they have friends, doctors, and religious support?
  • Never forget that you are your loved one’s care advocate. Stay involved, hang out, and continue to be aware of their physical, financial, and emotional needs.
  • Visit often and make sure it’s not a “to do” session. Caregiving can strip you of your most important role–to be the spouse, partner, daughter or son. Once your loved one settles in, then it’s time to make an effort to be their emotional support–brighten their day by wearing a smile, bringing small presents, taking them outside (if possible) or bringing them home for a few days around the holidays.

~Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

Other great care facility information can be found at:

http://www.caring.com/articles/caring-checklist-evaluating-an-assisted-living-facility

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Being a full-time caregiver for several years and going the “last mile”has taught me a thing or two. I allowed (not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually) my mom to pass in our home and that has changed me. At the time, when I was in the thick of caregiving 24/7 and having to get up and play “prison guard” to my mom who had Parkinson’s (thank God because it slowed her down) and Alzheimer’s (which revved her up) and heart disease (just to throw another kink in the game plan), I spent most nights hitting my bed only occasionally as if it were a trampoline. In those grueling, full of worry, can’t make it better no matter what I do, nights and days I wondered at times if I would survive. I did, and I’m profoundly grateful for this life-changing, push me to the bitter edge experience. This gal learned a thing or two.

  • I learned not to be afraid of disease. Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s I’ve seen what they can dish out, and it’s not pretty. They’re bad, don’t get me wrong, but I know the terrain and I find we’re most afraid of the unknown. I hope to figure out how to deal with whatever grenades life throws me.
  • I want to grab life with gusto. No guarantees in this world. So spend your money, take the trips, laugh with friends. Love big and hard and take risks–the good kind. Do it now. Arbor day, Chinese New Year’s–life’s for celebrating in big and little ways.
  • Stand up for myself–and for those I love. Caregiving comes with a zilliion big and little decisions. It’s easy to be bullied by the medical community, by other family members, by the “shoulds” in your head. I learned to stand up and stand behind my own decisions. It’s easier to blame others, and it takes a big girl (or a big guy) to have the guts to stick to my own convictions.
  • Love what is.Pain comes from the fight to make things a certain way, when we can’t let go of what was and walk across the bridge to what is. I thought my mom was back in my life in such a big way so we could “fix’ our relationship–work through our hurts and misplaced expectations. Wrong. I learned to love her, to love me, to love us–as is.
  • Laugh–or scream–but do something to release those runaway rollercoaster emotions. It’s time to stop holding it all in. Sorrow, guilt, frustration, resentment–it’s all there for a reason. They’re clues to help us know what’s going on in our heads and our hearts. But they’re toxic if they’re stuffed down and not allowed to breathe.
  • Do something I’m proud of. It’s time to leave the world a better place than I found it. I want to be known for something. For making a difference. I want some small sliver of the world changed for the better–because of me. I’ll let you know what sliver grabs my heartstrings next.
  • To stop caring what others think. Get a nose piercing, cut my hair down to the nubs, paint my front door purple and my mailbox lime green, dance under the stars, speak up and speak out when I see an injustice–that’s how I want to live now. That’s how I want to be remembered. Conformity sucks. In the words of Nelson Mandela (I believe he quoted it from Marianne Williamson), “Why are you trying to fit in–when you born to stand out?”
  • Nature heals. Nothing brought me more comfort than the sparkle of light on water, a bird’s wings whirring overhead, a breeze lifting my hair and reminding me to stop for a moment and take it all in. When sorrow slams into my chest I hope to remember to fall into the earth and ask it to take from me what I cannot bear alone.
  • To tell our stories. I wrote every day I cared for my mom. I wrote to stay alive. I wrote to figure out life. I wrote to remember our journey. Those journals became my book, Mothering Mother, but I wasn’t writing to get a book deal. I was writing to capture moments, to pick them up like a prism and look at each facet.
  • When death comes, I hope to dance my way to the next realm, not fight it. I hope I’ll have a bit of a heads up and let go of this world with a dash of grace. I hope I’ll take Chief  Sitting Bull’s words and shout to the universe, “It’s a good day to die!”

That’s what I’ve learned. Oh, I can still be shallow, petty, and mean-spirited at times. I still lose my way–but not for long. Caregiving has changed me. For the better.

~Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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All of us worry about aging. Perhaps we should worry less–and learn from a pro. So, who’s the oldest person who ever lived?

The oldest woman (that can be documented) is Jeanne Louise Calment. She lived to the age of 122.

Born in Arles, France, February 21, 1875, and left this earth on August 4, 1997. Now, that’s impressive–but what’ more impressive is her mindset, her ability to embrace challenges and change. If anything is the key to longevity–with quality–it’s embracing challenges and changes with a measure of wit and grace.

What attributes do you need to live a long, healthy, and meaningful life? Living past 100 isn’t just about longevity–it’s about quality. Being a caregiver, I got to see “old age” close up. My mom lived to the age of 92 and it was only the last two years that were extremely difficult. ( My mom had Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and heart disease). There isn’t always rhyme or reason why one person makes it well past 100 with a sharp mind and a spry body while another person seems to hit one health problem after another.

Many centenarians have eaten what they wanted, smoked, drank (usually in moderation)–while someone else who tries to follow all the rules finds a not so pleasant diagnosis. Life isn’t fair. That’s a mantra we must embrace–and not in a negative way–but by choosing to love what is kind of way, and knowing the only thing we can change is our attitude.  Life’s a crap shoot, so let’s play some craps.

Highlights of Jeanne’s Louise Calment’s Amazing Life:

  •  Born the year Tolstoy published Anna Karennina
  • Born one year after Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.
  • She met Vincent Van Gogh in Arles, her home town, when she was just 14. She wasn’t impressed.
  • In the end Calment was blind and almost deaf, but she kept her spunk and sharp wit to the end.
  • At age 121, she released her two CDs, one in French and another in English titled, Maitresse du Temps (Time’s Mistress). the CD features a rap and other songs. She wrote or contributed to five books.
  • Her husband died of a dessert tainted with spoiled cherries–she was a widow for more than half a century.
  • She outlived her only daughter who died of pneumonia at the age of 36. She raised her grandson who became a medical doctor and  lived him as well (he died in a car accident in 1963).
  • Calment took up fencing at the age of 80, and rode her bike until 100.
  • Calment enjoyed port wine and a diet rich in olive oil–and chocolate–two pounds a day.
  • At the age of 119 she finally agreed to give up sweets and smoking–because she could no longer see to light up.
  • Calment enjoyed a life of relative ease–from a bourgeois family, she always had enough money–not wealthy mind you, but enough.
  • She was active–and enjoyed tennis, bicycling, swimming, roller skating, piano and even opera. In her later years she sold some of her real estate and lived comfortably in a nursing home in Arles until her passing. She was affectionately known in France as “Jeanne D’Arles.”

Calment’s attitude and longevity s attributed to her decision not to worry: “She never did anything special to stay in good health,” said French researcher Jean-Marie Robine.  She once said “ If  you can’t do anything about it, don’t worry about it.”
Calment recommended laughter as a recipe for longevity and jokes that “God must have forgotten about me.” ( L’Oubliee de Dieu?) as her reason for her long life.

For skin care, she recommended olive oil and a dab of make-up.  “All my life I’ve put olive oil on my skin and then just a puff of powder.  I could never wear mascara, I cried too often when I laughed.”

Calment’s Quotes:

“I’ve waited 110 years to be famous, I count on taking advantage of it,” she quipped at her 120th birthday party.

Also on her 120th  birthday, when asked what kind of  future did she expect, she replied “A very short one.”

Getting used to growing media attention with every year that passes, she quips:  “I wait for death… and journalists.”

“When you’re 117, you see if you remember everything!”   She rebuked an interviewer once.

On her 120th birthday, a man in town said, “Until next year, perhaps.”

“I don’t see why not,” she replied. ” You don’t look so bad to me.”

Clement’s Best Quote:

“I’ve never had but one wrinkle, and I’m sitting on it.”

I don’t know about you, but aging like this doesn’t sound too bad. It sounds like a good life.

Enjoy life, learn to let go–even of those you love, crack a good joke, eat what you love, and don’t worry about the rest.

***

Mothering Mother is now available as an e-book! (click here to order for your Kindle)

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CNN reported this week on people with Alzheimer’s who develop violent tendencies. This is the silent story that many families don’t want to talk about.  Family members (aka caregivers) don’t want to expose their loved ones. These respected family members were once doctors, lawyers or indian chiefs, as the saying goes–Alzheimer’s is the great equalizer and doesn’t care who you are, and pays no attention to your socio-economic status

We don’t talk about it. We deny and cover up, and stop inviting friends and extended family over. Spouses lie, make up excuses about the bruises. We’re afraid. We don’t know what comes next–where will they go, what care will they receive, can we even afford this care–and what if they get so bad that even the care facilities don’t want to deal with them?

How long can–or should a family, a spouse, an adult child manage the care of a person with Alzheimer’s, and particularly one who is dangerous?

As I read the article (link below) I saw correlations to my mother.

I remember the day she dug her nails into my arms and screamed for a good five minutes her nose practically mine. She knocked me out of the way to go and catch her imaginary taxi. Her eyes were wild. I knew we were in deep trouble. I knew that as a mother to teenagers who lived in the same house that I could not subject them to this. We had hit our wall.

My mother had Parkinson’s for years. The Alzheimer’s bloomed after she moved in with my family and me. Or perhaps it was there and she hid it–and I played along. I had noticed “signs” of paranoia and anger early on, but I chalked this up to her rather expressive personality.

As the disease took hold, she lost the ability to reason. I couldn’t convince her that my children weren’t stealing the crocheted doll that covered the toilet paper roll on the back of her toilet. I couldn’t convince her those were only squirrels running on her roof, not thieves breaking in night after night. I couldn’t reason with her that no, she couldn’t just wander off and catch a taxi to “go home” in our Florida suburban neighborhood. It always baffled me that long after our names and other useful information left her mind that the word, “taxi” stayed. Mother grew up in Georgia, not New York. I think she maybe rode a taxi twice in her entire life.

I stopped talking about it. People would say, “Just put her in a home.”

Like it’s just that easy. Money concerns–memory disorder units and other types of Alzheimer’s facilities that take this kind of patient cost upwards of $5,000 a month and are not fully covered by Medicare or insurance. Not to mention the emotional hurdles of all the times she begged me to never put her in a home, the worry of who would care for her, see past this, and how in the world do I even find a place and people I can trust?

So I stopped inviting people into our home. I stopped taking her places where she tended to act out. It was random enough that i wasn’t dealing with on a daily basis, but the inability to sit still, to pace, to worry, to fixate on me or on something bizarre–all that was there pretty much of the time. She trashed her room with the veracity of whole fraternity who had chugged a couple of keggers. I felt as if I were living in a lockdown facility and I was the unarmed warden.

My concern was that I’d lose it–my cool, my temper, my ability to control the situation. I could forgive her. She had a disease, that’s all. I had to rise above it. I was the one responsible for my actions. I didn’t want to do something I’d regret. I didn’t want to mis-handle my mother or this situation–or cause harm to my children, my marriage, my life. That tightrope was beyond exhausting.

My mother’s violent stage didn’t last too long. She was spiraling fast. Soon, within a few months, she went from violent to forgetting how to swallow. At that point I chose not to use a feeding tube. I had gone from one impossible decision to even a worse one. The thing about having your loved one at home and not in a care home is that you are 100% responsible for these decisions–and you have to follow them through. You witness the consequences of your decisions. You stand there every day and question yourself a million times. You don’t get to get in your car and leave. You stay.

How bad can it get?

Well, I’m here to tell you that Alzheimer’s can give them super strength and amazing endurance.

What’s the percentage of people with Alzheimer’s who are violent? The stats say 5-10% (National Health Monitor).

It’s a lot like schizophrenia in that most people who suffer with this terrible mental illness are not violent, but those that are get a lot of press, and can indeed, hurt people. It may be small percentage, but it still raises alarms.

Some Behaviors That Accompany Alzheimer’s Are:

  • Pacing,
  • Repeated mumbling words or repeated sounds
  • Ticks, cursing, “ugly” (berated, accusatory, or sexual) talk
  • Delusions (visual or auditory hallucinations)
  •  Pounding on a table or hitting their head, hand or object repeatedly
  • Fixation on some thing or someone (paranoia, anxiety)
  • Biting, pinching, hitting, kicking
  • Crying, moodiness, and other outbursts
How to Handle a Person with Alzheimer’s Who Turns Violent:  (Based on the CNN article)

1. Back down.

Most of the time, the incident escalates when the patient does not want to do tasks such as undress, brush teeth or bathe. Don’t physically force the person to do anything, she warned. This could worsen the situation and possibly injure all parties involved.

2. When the patient is upset, apologize — even when it’s not your fault.

Using this strategy will buy you time and good will. Don’t argue with an Alzheimer’s patient, because you can’t win.

3. When the patient becomes agitated, change the topic. (Redirect)

Change the subject. Move to another location. Distract them by something fresh–the birds outside, pretend a friend has called (make the phone ring) play a song they like. “If you can stay calm, you can mirror that calmness back to them,” Kallmyer of the Alzheimer’s Association advised.

4. Keep in mind that the world is distorted for an Alzheimer’s patient.

Know your loved one. Do noises startle them? Are they more upset around a certain person or time of day? Do you know what calms them? Do you have them on a schedule that works well for both of you? Are they sensitive to sugar, caffeine, or even experiencing pain (toothaches, broken ribs, urinary tract infections, and other chronic pains oftentimes goes undiagnosed and can add to their agitation).

5. Call for help.

When in doubt, ask for help. Call the Alzheimer’s Association Helpline. 24/7 for confidential help.

1.800.272.3900         1.800.272.3900.

No one is going to blame you or take them from you–if you ask for help before something horrible happens. No one can judge what you’re going through, and no one can understand what you’re going through. Be confident and don’t be shamed by this. Get the help you need. Call 911. Don’t wait for a tragedy. Get the guns out of the house–now. Hide the knives. You can live with a butter knife until you figure this out. You’re more than just a caregiver. You’re family. As much as you want to give up–you can’t. But don’t go it alone. Don’t isolate yourself. Reach out–get help–share your story. We’ve all been shamed for far too long.

CNN article link:

http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/03/30/alzheimers.violence.caregiving/index.html?hpt=C1

Great resource: Elder Rage, by Jaquelline Marcell

Carol O’Dell’s book, Mothering Mother is now available for your e-reader! Kindle version availble here.

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