Monday, May 19, 2014

DEMENTIA CARE - Taking Proactive Steps








You’ve lost your phone……AGAIN!  You shout to your husband, “Have you seen my phone?  I swear this is the third time this week I’ve lost it.  I think I must have Alzheimer’s.”  Thankfully, you find it (it was in your purse!).  All is well! 

Until my life was touched by families that are dealing with dementia a statement like this never even phased me. NOW?  It makes a difference.

Stay with me folks for just a few statistics.  Today over 5 Million Americans are living with dementia, and in 2050, it could be as many as 16 Million.  In 2012, 15.4 Million family and friends provided over 17 Billion hours of unpaid care to those with Alzheimer’s and other dementia – care valued at more than $216 Billion.

Recently I was at a meeting and met a young woman who was more than a statistic.  She was dealing with the heartbreak of how Alzheimer’s disease was effecting her own family.  Her Father had Alzheimer’s disease and her Mom had been caring for him for a few years.  Recently his symptoms and behaviors had gotten more complex.  Mom was no longer able to leave him home alone, he had also become more aggressive.  Mom was caring for him primarily alone and had little support. They both had become more and more housebound because of his illness and now HER health had also started to suffer.  Friends had been much less available of late and church family had also not stepped up.

This daughter was visibly distraught. “I don’t know what we are going to do.  I am so worried about my Mom.  I help as much as I can but Dad is becoming more and more difficult.  We think it’s Alzheimer’s, at least that’s what we were told but we’re not completely sure. Do you have any advice? We really need some help.”  I could hear the frustration, and fear in her voice and my heart went out to her and her family.
 
Unfortunately this scenario is all too common.  Families are often reticent to share their situation with others either because of embarrassment or not wanting to burden anyone.  This is a mistake.  Dementia is something that needs to be diagnosed and treated early.  So what is a family to do? 

Here we are at a crossroads where we once again have to “Read the Signs”.  There are some Proactive Steps that you can take:

          SEEK PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL HELP – There needs to be a proper diagnosis from a medical professional (preferable someone who deals in dementia care).  First see your family Doctor for a complete physical and rule out any other possible causes for confusion.  Next seek out a Neurologist (you can ask your primary Doctor for a referral)– this person will be up to date on research, medical therapies and other things you can do to assist your family member.  You want to make sure that you know exactly what you are dealing with.  There are many different types of dementia and you want to have the appropriate diagnosis and treatment.
*At the Neurologist visit bring a complete medical history regarding your family member including medications they are taking.  If possible compile a diary of your family member’s behaviors (eating habits, waking and sleep habits, times of day when they seem to be more active or agitated, possible triggers to specific behaviors).  All of these things will help your Doctor get a more precise picture of what you are dealing with. Most important- be honest and forthcoming with what is happening – this is not the time to keep things under wraps.

        FIND SUPPORT – Caring for a loved one with dementia is emotionally and physically draining.  No one can do this alone – and a primary care giver will need support.  Have a family meeting.  Be open and honest about the need to share responsibilities, the need for caregiver respite and the possible need for financial assistance. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family and/or friends.  Contact and attend a local support group.  Sometimes just talking with someone who has experienced these same things can be a comfort and an inspiration.  You can find a local support group in your area by contacting the Alzheimer’s Association at www.alz.org.

         PAPERWORK –Many families wait much too late to get their legal house in order. Don’t let that be you. If you or your family member are in the early stages of dementia you will want to make sure that the proper legal forms are in order to assist in executing your wishes. Here are the documents you will need to have:  
a.      Living Will
b.      Healthcare Power of Attorney
c.       Financial Power of Attorney
d.      Last Will and Testament
e.      DNR ( do not resuscitate document if desired)
To find out more about legal documentation go to:
        HOMEWORK and RESEARCH– We don’t know what the future holds- but Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease and you will need to have plans in place for potential care.  We all would love to stay home of course but we do need to consider that we may need in home care or possibly a care community.  Alzheimer’s disease effects not only memory but also functionality of the body.  We need to be prepared.  Knowledge is power. Knowing what type of care is available, the costs, and possible assistance that could be available to you can be life changing.  Do not wait until the need is at critical mass. NOTE* -Medicare does NOT pay for long term care for patients with dementia.

Nothing can prepare us for dealing with dementia or having a family member who is facing these challenges.  What we CAN do is be proactive.  Taking an active role in the decision making can help us deal with the fear and frustration that we will face.  Asking for help is a sign of strength.  “Reading the Signs” can be the a first right step.

Best to you,

Cyndi

P.S.  As always I welcome your comments and stories as we help each other.






Monday, May 12, 2014

MY PINK LIPSTICK



Think back to when you were 8 years old , sweet 16, a new Mom of 29, or just last week.  Do you remember that person? Don’t look in the mirror – look inside your heart.  Aren’t you that person?    I know that for me it’s absolutely true.  Yes, I AM the SAME person I was at 8, 16 and 29! In my head and in my heart I'm the same.  It’s just ME IN HERE!

I remember how the hyacinth smelled in my parent’s front yard on Easter morning when I was 8 and I still can feel how tight my patent leathers were.  My stomach still gets in knots when I think about getting ready for prom.  There is not a question in my mind that I can feel the butterflies of when I held my baby daughter for the first time.

Today I was with my mother in law and she said these words to me, “I am totally out of pink lipstick.  As a matter of fact I don’t have any makeup.  I don’t know what happened to those things when I moved here (to the Assisted Living community).  The first thought that ran through my head was, “for heaven’s sake she is 90 years old, why is she even worried about that.”  Then I had a realization. 

She is the same person she has always been.

She still gets excited about a new outfit.  She loves her Braves baseball.  She can't wait each week to get her hair done.  All of these things are normal.  I should respect that!

Recently my Dad and I were talking about his life and what he has been facing with growing old.  He said in a very matter of fact way, “You know, never in my wildest dreams did I think things would be like this, or that I’d be living like this. You know in my mind I’m still the same.” 

Wow, another wakeup call!  I get the distinct feeling that these two very important people in my life are trying to TEACH ME something.   Just because we grow older, and ultimately grow old it doesn’t change the fact that we ARE STILL the same person. There is a tendency to view seniors as needy shells and not as real people. The fact of the matter is - it’s just not true.

Even when we have family or friends with dementia.  If they loved music, warm baths, or hugs they will probably still find those things comforting even if they can’t express their wishes fully.

Next time you are with someone older ask them about a relevant episode in their life and watch their entire body language change.  Their eyes become brighter, their voice becomes stronger, their mood will most certainly lighten- and WHY? I can tell you why.  It’s because inside they are the same person that they have always been.  

So what can we do to help our aging seniors maintain that sense of self that is so important to each of us?  

Here are three tips that will help:
1.  Do your best to keep your loved one connected to family and friends through visits, phone calls, outings, and even the computer if they are still able to utilize the technology.
2.  Be a good listener.  Sometimes offering a listening ear is the best gift you can give.
3.  Think!  What did Mom or Dad always love?  What always makes them smile?  (a new shirt for Dad for the family reunion? A weekly appointment at the beauty salon for Mom? A visit from a special friend in their life?) Make it happen if you can.

In many cases we must make changes to make sure Mom is safe, and Dad is healthy but that doesn't mean that we can't indulge them a little and make life sweeter.   Sometimes it's the simplest thing that lifts the spirit. 

Tomorrow I'll be makeup shopping for my sweet mother in law. 

First item on the list…..PINK LIPSTICK!

Best,

Cyndi

PS  As always I invite your comments and ask you to share your own stories.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Goldilocks Zone

All of us remember the story of Goldilocks and The Three Bears.  Goldilocks sees a house, checks it out and everything seems JUST RIGHT.  So JUST RIGHT in fact that she decides to have a quick lunch, snuggle into a comfy chair and ultimately take a nap.  After all it looked like a regular house.  Everything seemed to be in order.   The only problem -- while Goldilocks was sound asleep the Three Bears arrived. Okay, let’s not blame Goldilocks.  After all this place seemed safe, familiar, in fact just like home.  So what changed?

HOME - after all this is where Mom and Dad feel most comfortable, right?   As families we don’t realize or don’t want to accept that there may come a time when “Bears move in.”  I call it The Goldilocks Zone.  So how do we know when your parents have gone from living fine at home to living in the Goldilocks zone? Here are THE THREE BEARS you need to look for:


  1. Nutrition – Mom and or Dad are not eating regularly?  Their fridge is packed with food but some of it is out of date or improperly contained, or their fridge is painfully empty.  There may be multiple items of the same thing (15 cans of tomato sauce?)  Mom used to enjoy cooking but now seems to have soup and microwave dinners more often than not.  Dad lives alone – but ventures out to get fast food for dinner because he never learned to cook. 
  2. Medication – Mom takes quite a few medications.  You’re not even sure exactly what she takes.  When quizzed she is adamant that she knows how to take her own medications – but pills seem in disarray, some are out of date.  Dad has multiple Doctors for several medical issues – you’re not sure and neither is he whether each Doctor is aware of what the other physician has prescribed.  You bought Mom a pill box to help her keep her medicine organized.  You’re even going over once a week to fill it – but you notice that when you went on Sunday to fill it for the week that some of the days still had the PM medication in the box.  Dad is supposed to take his medications at morning and night – but yesterday he got up at 10:30AM and took his medication and then he ate dinner at 4:00PM and took it again.  (morning and night yes – but not the correct interval) 
  3. Socialization & Habit Changes - Mom, Dad aren’t going to their usual social engagements.  They may explain that it was cancelled or they “just didn’t feel up to it”.  Mom doesn’t want to attend family outings. Dad or Mom is no longer able to drive or shouldn’t be driving anymore causing them to be isolated and housebound. Usual routines are falling by the wayside. Mom was always fastidious in her dress but no longer seems as interested in her hygiene.  Dad always paid the bills and was conscientious about finances but lately his desk is a mess and papers are piling up everywhere.  Mom kept a clean house – but the house seems left unkempt.  Clothing is soiled.

If you are recognizing some of these behaviors in your Mom or Dad then it may be that they have entered the Goldilocks Zone.  Don’t panic. There are lots of things you can do.  The most important thing is to “read the signs”.  These issues need to be addressed.  Left unhandled they can evolve into much more serious issues.  Remember the progression of aging doesn’t happen overnight. Thankfully we often have time to address things together as a family one step at a time.

Check back in for more information on steps you can take to address THE BEARS that your parents may be facing.

Monday, May 5, 2014

PUHLEEEEEEZE ....... HAND ME THE KEYS


 

I still remember it like it was yesterday.  The family is on vacation – Dad in the driver’s seat, Mom riding shotgun, and all of us in the back whining “when are we going to get there!”  Or in another flash of memory,  Dad picking me up from college, throwing my stuff in the trunk and sipping on a milkshake the whole time. (Dad loves milkshakes)   In my wildest dreams I never conceived of a day when my sisters and I would be contemplating “TAKING THE KEYS!”  
I ask you to stop for a moment and think about what your own car keys mean to you.  (Of course nowadays we’re talking KEY FOB) but at any rate the concept is the same.  To me they mean- FREEDOM!  Let’s face it – with a turn of a key I can go just about ANYWHERE – and even though my stomping ground consists of primarily a 15 mile radius – the thought that if I wanted to I COULD is intoxicating.

This key decision has been weighing heavily on our minds for at least two years now.  It comes at different ages for different seniors depending on health and cognitive ability of course. There is no rule of thumb as to when the “metal toothed key monster” will present itself.  In some cases in may be a moot point and Mom just realizes on her own that it’s probably best that she have a “chauffer” from now on.  In other cases (like my own) it’s been agonizing.
Initially you want to laugh at some of the circumstances……… “Uh, Daddy- how did that big dent get in the garage door?”   or your Mother telling you, “I think the neighbor moved her mailbox further out in her yard because it wasn’t in that spot last week and that’s how that dent got in the car.”

Possibly you make the decision together that Mom will only drive in the daytime, or Dad will only drive to church and the grocery but eventually a decision must be made.   That time came for our family over a period of a year and a half.  NO ONE wanted to approach Dad about those KEYS .  Even the son in laws opted out saying, “well he’s YOUR DAD”.   I think we woke up when Dad  tried to drive the car through two parking posts at the Doctor’s office,  or when we found out he headed to the gas station to get gas and didn’t have his wallet.  Ultimately ALL FOUR CORNERS of his car had scrapes and scratches, and the back quarter panel a large dent.  Remember how we’ve talked about the signs? 
I remember when I talked to Dad about the car scrapes I said, “You know that all four corners of your car have been scraped or hit don’t you?”   He quickly quipped back, “Well, somebody has hit me on all four corners! …….. Not the same person at the same time of course.”   To which I replied, “Actually Daddy I think it was the same person, and that person was YOU.”
So much to my Dad’s consternation – the decision was made to confiscate the keys.  WOW – this was a hard one – and the backlash has not been easy.  To hear him tell it, “You’ve put me in prison,”   “The DMV gave me my license you have no right to take it – do you think you know more than the state of North Carolina?”  “I’ve been driving a car since I was 16 and I’m 92 - you do the math, how many years is that?” 
We’ve tried to explain to him our reasoning.  “Daddy, when you insist on doing something that might cause you to get hurt (a la “not use your cane”) then I guess we can’t stop you.  However, when you are doing something that could possibly hurt someone else, then we have to step in – it’s not just about YOU anymore, how would you feel if you hurt someone?”

This is an emotional battle that no one is going to win but as painful as it might be for both parties there will come a time when this decision must be made.  The consequences of NOT reading the signs, and NOT making this decision could be devastating.  At the core of his existence I honestly think that my Father knows that we love him and that is why this decision has been made.  We did make an appointment with his physician and she reinforced our decision based on some physical and mental testing. She delicately shared with him the limitations that aging can take on senior reflex ability, and senior vision.   It’s important to note however that this is NOT the Doctor’s responsibility and many are reluctant to intervene because of the relationship they want to maintain with their patient. 
Do I wish my Dad could still drive?  You better believe it!  I wish he was still in the driver’s seat and I was in the back whining, “When are we going to get there?”  But this I know….. MY JOB ….YOUR JOB ……is to make RIGHT DECISIONS.  Some will be painful but necessary.  As always I say, read  the signs.

We, together with our loved ones are taking this journey. 

As always I invite you to share your experiences and stories.

All The Best,

Cyndi


MOM WAS A LIGHT




Mom has always been a light.  She was the foundation of our family.  Dad was bigger than life, gregarious, outgoing.  Together they were a force of nature.  They loved their lives, and after retirement had enjoyed a full, fulfilling life blessed with family, and friends, faith and fellowship. 

I can’t really say that I woke up one day and my parents were old.  It doesn’t happen that way.  You’re busy with your life, raising your kids, going about your work, checking in from time to time.  Your parents?  Well they’re busy too.  My Mom was always so busy you almost had to make an appointment to get on her schedule.  My Dad was a community activist and on the golf course most days.

It was almost imperceptible at first, their aging.  Nothing you can put your finger on.  I think initially I noticed a lot of bickering back and forth between Mom and Dad.   She complained about him, he complained about her – but the fact of the matter is that things about their lives were changing.  They were the first to feel it.

As most of us know the situations that we deal with every day as children of aging parents almost always have a progression. I was blind until I was forced to face the issues of aging in my own family.    It seems like we are always presented with an EVENT - some type of medical issue, a fall, an illness before we wake up and realize – “hey these people, these parents who have always taken care of us are not invincible.”   We’re challenged as a family to have the vision to even conceive of what may be coming down the road.

You’re traveling down this road with your loved ones.   At first the road is paved and it’s smooth sailing.  Then you’ll see a road sign, “BUMPS AHEAD!” You think to yourself, “Bumps?  I can handle bumps.” You handle the bumps and for a time things are fine.  Then you see another sign, “LOOSE GRAVEL”, this is a little more concerning but you plow forward because you think the road may become smooth again, but it doesn’t.  The signs just keep coming, more rapid in succession.  “DANGEROUS CURVES!”, “FALLING ROCKS!”, and finally “DROPOFF!”

Herein lies the problem, the unwillingness to read the signs and then act accordingly.  Even with all my training I ignored many of the signs with my own Mom because I wanted to hope for the best.  Mom wasn’t taking care of herself, she began having falls, the road signs were coming at us fast and furious.  The next 8 months were a blur.  Like most families we tried to make the best of an undesirable situation.

It wasn’t until I went through this experience in my own family that I realized the magnitude of what we as families, children, and our seniors themselves are facing every day.  It was at this point that I realized I have a passion for helping others who are walking down this road.  I hope I can be a source of information, but also a source of strength, counsel, and compassion.  Everyone needs that listening ear that without judgment can shine a light to show the way. 

Together we can shine that light for each other.  
 
I invite you to share your thoughts and experiences.
 
All the Best,
 
Cyndi

WELCOME TO SENIORSOUNDINGBOARD.COM





Welcome to seniorsoundingboard.com a blog devoted to seniors and their families who are traveling the path of aging.  I hope to share some of my experience walking the path of aging with my own parents and also what I have learned from working with others who are also traveling this way. 

As a CERTIFIED SENIOR ADVISOR * I am on a mission to advise seniors and their family members on viable options and considerations in senior care decisions, dementia care where appropriate, and just the day to day process of what I like to call "reading the signs."

I invite you to also include your stories.  Sometimes just knowing that others are also facing the same life experiences can be comforting and educational.  For today I'll just leave you with one of my favorite quotes.... it's an Old Irish Proverb that states:

                               "Do not resent growing old, as many are denied the privilege"

                                                                                                            Irish Proverb

Best to you,

Cyndi