Mom: A Brief Biography

Mom, 3 yrs. old, 1940

My mother, Ruth Joanne Hall was born 1937 in Wadena, Minnesota. She was the oldest of three children born into a middle-class family. She had in many ways an idyllic childhood — along with a successful father and nurturing mother, she was a Girl Scout, had a paper route, sang in the church choir and yes, she even wore bobby socks and poodle skirts as a teenager. Mom graduated from high school in 1955.

Mom in 1959, age 21. On the back of this photo, in my dad's handwriting, it says: "She's Wonderful!"

After graduation, Mom completed secretary courses at the Minnesota School of Business, where she learned shorthand, dictation and other “cutting edge” office duties. Mom went on to work at IBM for five years where she was like a “Mad Men” secretary with cat eye glasses.  She loved her job.  She met my father during this time, they married in 1960 and my older sister soon came along in 1962. Mom stayed home after that, but her secretary training would prove beneficial throughout her life as she ran our household like a business. She had impressive organizational skills and balanced the checkbook down to the penny every month. (My dad benefited from this arrangement until it all came crashing down with my mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis.)

My parents, 1959 -- channeling Ralph Lauren.

My parents had three children under four years old in 1966. It was only after having children of my own that I appreciated how difficult this must have been for my mom. Especially in those days without the modern conveniences we have now. I have vivid memories of my mom rinsing out cloth diapers, washing them in an old fashioned tub, running them through a “ringer,” and then hanging them on the line.

Marilyn, Joanne, and John -- 1968 I think.

When the three of us were grown and mostly out of the house, my mom began working part-time as an office assistant at a nearby company. She loved it and I’m sure she felt like she got part of her life back. She had about 20 years or so to rediscover herself, travel and spend time with her grandchildren before her Alzheimer’s diagnosis came in 2005 when she was 68.

The long and slow descent into the fog of Alzheimer’s is her journey now. Click Here to see what Stage she is in today. Her family is on that journey with her and as many of you know, it’s a long and challenging road.  It’s been called “The Long Goodbye” — I can’t think of a more perfect description for Alzheimer’s disease.

My parents, 2010

 

 

Minneapolis Bound: May 2012

I am overwhelmed by your response and support of my blog launch one week ago, and I want to say a heartfelt — THANK YOU.

Now that the 10K is behind me, I look forward to writing about things like how eating less sugar, drinking more coffee and being conscientious can lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

But first, I’m off to Minneapolis today to visit my parents for a week, and I hope to share from there if time allows.

My 78 year old father is having ankle surgery and I’m going to help care for him and my mom while he’s recovering.  My mom is still at home, and my dad is her sole caregiver.  It’s difficult being far away.  It never occurred to me when I left 25 years ago that my parents would need my help someday.  It just wasn’t on my radar.  Now it’s frustrating that I’m not able to help with the little things that would make their lives easier.

I’m part of what’s called the “sandwich generation”, which means I’m helping to take care of my aging parents while still supporting my children.

Wikipedia says,

“According to the Pew Research Center, just over 1 of every 8 Americans aged 40 to 60 is both raising a child and caring for a parent, in addition, between 7 to 10 million adults are caring for their aging parents from a long distance.”

I do what I can when I visit.  And as my parents age, it’s clear that I’ll be visiting more.

More later from the Land of 10,000 Lakes!

Minneapolis Lake with skyline in the background
I'm hoping I can find some time to run around one of the lakes while I'm there. I have 3 Mpls. lakes on my Bucket List -- one is done, so two more to go.

The Stages of Alzheimer’s and My Mom

Narrated by David Hyde Pierce from Frasier, the clear and concise video below has helped me understand the approximate stage of Alzheimer’s my mom is in.   The brain function descriptions without all the medical gobbly goop is as refreshing as it is educational.

It’s obvious that my mom’s Alzheimer’s is progressing along the described path.   According to this video, there are 7 steps in the progression of the disease, and I would say that my mother is in Stage 4, moving into Stage 5.  This is how the video description is playing out in my mom’s life:

1.  Mom has zero short term memory.  She doesn’t remember what she did yesterday, 2 hours ago, or 2 minutes ago.  She repeats herself quite a bit.

2.  Mom’s words are disappearing.   She has great difficulty forming coherent sentences and uses “filler” words and phrases to help with communication.  Quite often, the end of her sentences have nothing to do with the beginning.

3.  Mom can no longer solve problems, grasp concepts and make plans .  She can’t be left alone because her lack of judgement and problem solving makes her a risk to herself.  She is not able to accomplish a task without one on one guidance.

4.  Mom has become more emotional and I hear that she has her moods, but unfortunately, I haven’t been with her enough lately to witness her mood swings.

The remaining stages are approaching quickly, as there’s already been incidence of hallucinations. The average Alzheimer’s course is 8 to 10 years, and my mom is in her 7th.

Click on the video below to see how Alzheimer’s disease moves through the brain.

What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

What’s Alzheimer’s?  It had to happen sooner or later, so it may as well be now.  This is dry stuff, but it’s short and to the point. Stick with me.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Derived from Latin, dementia literally means “without mind”. There are static forms of dementia caused by a single event such as a traumatic brain injury, and there are progressive forms caused by disease that result in a slow deterioration of the brain. Alzheimer’s is the latter and accounts for roughly 60 – 80 percent of all dementia cases.

Alzheimer’s disease is named after Aloysius Alzheimer, a German neuropathologist who is credited with publishing the first case of “presenile dementia” in 1906. Since then, scientists have learned that Alzheimer’s is characterized by two unusual types of neuron damage in the brain: Plaques and Tangles. While there is not a consensus on plaques and tangles being the cause or the result of Alzheimer’s, they are described the following way.

Plaques are a sticky protein fragments called beta-amyloid that builds up in between nerve cells.

Tangles are tangled fibers of a protein called tau (as in “wow”) that build up inside cells.

Most people develop some form of plaques and tangles as they age, but people with Alzheimer’s tend to develop far more and at a faster rate. Plaques and tangles can form throughout the brain as part of the normal aging process, but the part of the brain important to memory is the initial target in people with Alzheimer’s before spreading to other regions.

So far, scientists do not know the exact role the plaques and tangles play in Alzheimer’s disease. But most experts believe they play a crucial role in blocking communication among neurons and disrupting critical processes that are responsible for cell survival.

It’s the destruction and death of these nerve cells, believed to be caused by plaques and tangles, that results in memory failure, personality changes, and difficulties carrying out activities of daily living that is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.

And now you know! Thank you for reading to the end. : )

For more information, go to Alzheimer’s Disease Research.

Run a 10K . . . CHECK!

The 10K almost took me out this morning, but I persevered and came down the stretch under my goal time with a 1:08:45 finish. I have never been more grateful for a finish line. Things were humming along pretty smoothly until I hit mile 5 and the thought of walking started creeping in on me. But I decided before I started, that stopping was NOT an option. So I hung on, and even managed to pick up my pace on the last mile when I saw how close I was getting to my 1:10 goal.

Here are some photos of our morning from my generous and beautiful friend Laurie Orr who graciously agreed to get up early on a Saturday morning to capture this event.  Thank you!

I was a little nervous and accidentally put my number on upside down.
The Leonardis Girls have arrived and have made their first appearance at the Apple Blossom 10K! WooHoo!
My awesome brother-in-law Tony, me, my amazing daughter Jordan, and my always supportive husband Vince.
I love this picture! Family is everything. I am mentally inserting my son Jake into this picture. He couldn't join us, but he was still with us.
Right before mile 3.
The last brutal push to the finish.
Done. Finished. Check.
HAPPY!!!

Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival 10K
May 5th, 2012 Winchester, VA
Time:  1:08:45
Pace:  11:04

Dear 10K Course,

I’ll admit it.  You intimidated me after my practice run and I was a little nervous when I arrived at your gates this morning.  But I tried to keep calm by reminding myself that I was in charge, not you.  I had my run in my head, and I wasn’t going to falter.  Oh sure, I know things got a little shaky around mile 5 — but you never had the upper hand.  Because what you don’t know is the level of determination that resides in this 49 year old body — and I was determined that you would not win this one.  So thank you 10K Course, you did your best today, but you helped me learn that I can do anything I set my mind to.

Sincerely,

The One In Purple, Racing Alzheimer’s

PS.  My brain thanks you too!

On your mark, get set . . . . .

GO!  The Shenandoah Apple Blossom 10K is less than 24 hours away!  I know I’m going on about this.  Forgive me.  I can’t help myself.  It’s just that I’m obsessed with running right now, and to me, this little 10K may as well be the Boston Marathon.  I never thought I’d be able to run 3 miles let alone 6.2 miles.  Okay.  I’ll stop.  Please don’t roll your eyes.

Here are a couple 10K photos from a few years ago.

Jake and Uncle Tony 2006
The Leonardis Clan 2008

The girls are missing from these photos, but they’ll be in ’em tomorrow!

 

10K Preview – A Lesson In Humility

Soccer player down on field and in agony
This is exactly how I felt during my practice run.

I’ve been training for a 10K. I’m going into my 7th week of serious training which includes running 3 days a week and strength training on the off days. I’ve been gradually working up my distance and can run 5 miles fairly well even though it’s still pretty tough.

So I figure how much harder can one more mile be? I even started saying things like, “I’ll finish the 10K, it’s just a matter of what my time will be.” I started fantasizing about finishing under an hour or at least 65 minutes. No problem.

Well, I ran the actual 10K course in a practice run today — 2 weeks out — just to see what I’m up against.

I am up against a BEAST.

It’s hard. VERY HARD. It chewed me up and spit me out.

I stopped.
I felt like puking.
I didn’t finish.

It could have been the mostly up hill first mile or the many brutal hills that followed. Or it could have been that I ate almost nothing the day before and then had a big bowl of popcorn before bed. Maybe it was my previous days workout which included a lot of leg work — I did wake up a tad sore. Or maybe it was my over zealous first two miles that I ran waaay tooo fast.

Whatever the reason, (all of which WILL be addressed for the official run), I now bow to the course.

Dear 10K course,

I bow to you. I no longer have a time in mind for finishing. My new goal is to just FINISH. And, I will be ecstatic if I can finish you without stopping. I will take it easy and honor your many deceitful ascents knowing that if I barrel up them, I will die later. I will honor your distance — I swear you are longer than 6.2 miles. But know this, I will be prepared and I will be ready. I will be stronger and healthier when we meet again. I bow to you 10K course, but prepare to be trampled!

Sincerely,

The One In Purple, Racing Alzheimer’s

*Note — this post was written 2 weeks ago while my website was under construction.  The 10K is on May 5th, 2 days away from this posting!  Yeah, I’m ready.  BRING IT!!!

Also, check out the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival!  It features the longest parade east of the MississippiFour. Hours. Long.

“Someday” At My Door!

Joanne stretching her quads while leaning on a treeI’ve done the impossible by running (and finishing without puking) my first 5K in August 2011. I’ve run a handful of organized 5Ks since then and a “5 miler” in January. But I’ll be honest, I’ve been running just enough to keep my momentum, but not enough to improve. Until lately.

I’m training for a 10K in May!

Running the annual 10K where I live has been a whisper of an idea for about 10 years. I’ve watched family and friends run it while having that “someday” mentality for myself.

Well darlin’ — (knock knock) SOMEDAY IS HERE!

Hello SOMEDAY. Say hello to my little friend, Hal Higdon.

For those of you who don’t know, Hal Higdon is the go-to guy when training for your run. My son turned me on to him a few months ago and Hal has been with me everyday since I’ve been training. I selected the 10K Training Guide – Novice Program since I’m clearly not ready for the Intermediate Program and the Advanced training looks like it’s meant for someone who wants to win the darn thing.

The Novice Program is six days a week of cardio and strength training for 8-weeks. I’m in my 6th week, and at 49, I have never worked out this hard or often in my life. I finally understand what a runners high is as well as needing to get my workout in and I FEEL GREAT!

Thank you Hal Higdon.

Hello SOMEDAY!

*Note — this post was written 2 weeks ago while my website was under construction.  The 10K is on May 5th, 3 days away from this posting!