Why I Walk to End Alzheimer’s

My grandmother holding my mom in 1937

My grandmother visited me for a week in 1996 when she had moderate dementia.  To ease the burden of having one caregiver, my grandma traveled between her three children’s homes and would stay for up to four months at a time at each place.  My home was a stop-over one year as she went from my uncle’s home to my mother’s.  I was glad to have her with me, and in my hurried life with little ones, it was nice to slow down and be with grandma in her world for just a bit.

I adored my grandmother who died in 1999 with advanced dementia.  But do you know what I remember the most from her visit?  I remember her asking the same questions over and over, and me repeating the same answers over and over.  I wasn’t prepared.  She didn’t know where she was or who I was.  And whoever I was, I had some of her things that I needed to give back to her!  Talk about a crash course in dementia.  To go from the grandma who used to love on me and call me her “little dumpling” to not knowing me at all was tough — shocking even.

I didn’t know at the time that my dear grandmother would be practice for what lay ahead.

Mom and I in 2010 enjoying a day at a park, right around the time her disease went from bad to worse. This would be her last visit to my home.

Fast forward to 2005.  I am with my mother in the kitchen and she doesn’t know what to do or how to help.  She is lost and seems to find comfort staying at the sink and washing dishes.  She is clearly overwhelmed, and this is the moment when I knew.  She is 68 and slipping away so incrementally it’s almost impossible to see — but I see it here in her face, at the sink in the kitchen.

In 2008 mom can no longer pay bills or make a phone call, and caring for her home has slipped through her fingers like the hair she no longer combs.  Eventually, the names of mom’s friends, children, grandchildren, and even her own name, are gone.  Mom could hardly communicate at the end, long after she lost the ability to do most everything else.

Mom died this year at the age of 75.  Her Death Certificate lists “Alzheimer’s Dementia” as her cause of death, which I’m grateful for in this under-reported disease.

I walk for those who are already gone.  I walk for the more than 5 million Americans who don’t know who they are or who you are, and for their families who love them.  I walk for the 15 million caregivers in this country who are too overwhelmed and exhausted to walk.  I walk for the billions of dollars needed to make the National Alzheimer’s Plan an ACTION plan.  I walk for my children, and my future grandchildren.  I walk for my grandmother, my mom, and for me.

I walk to be seen and heard and I walk because I HOPE.

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It’s not too late to register to walk or to donate.  Go to the Winchester – Shenandoah Valley Walk to End Alzheimer’s to join my team and/or make a donation.  Look for Racing Alzheimer’s.  Get more information HERE.

You can also go to alz.org to donate and/or find a walk near you.

So I’ve Been “Running”

When I began Racing Alzheimer’s, my intent was to share the latest research on how to be healthy so that you and I could hopefully avoid or delay dementia down the road.

I haven’t been very good at this.

With my mother moving into late stage dementia, this blog became more about racing her Alzheimer’s by helping her and being with her as much as I could.  Still, as I focused on my mom, I didn’t lose sight of the need to be healthy.  My “prevention intention” was never far away as I watched the progression of this disease in my mom.  Talk about motivation.

While there are no guarantees or proven ways to prevent dementia, there is nothing to lose and so much to gain for trying.  There are a number of ways to keep our brains healthy that are supported by solid research — and exercise is one.

So I’ve been “running.”

If you’ve followed my running posts you’ll know I am not a runner.  Uh, because running is hard?  Truth is, all exercise is hard for me — I just don’t like it.  But of everything I’ve tried, I enjoy running the most which is to say I hardly enjoy it at all.  It’s tolerable.  I’m not very good at it which is why I’ve been running so slowly it can hardly be called “running.”  Oxygen deprived lumbering is a better description.

So why do it?  Because study after study suggests exercise as an important way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.  One Mayo Clinic study found:

Older adults who regularly engaged in moderate exercise five or six times a week reduced their risk of mild cognitive impairment by 32 percent compared with more sedentary people. Those who began exercising at midlife saw a 39 percent reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment.

Mayo Clinic goes on to say, “It’s not clear how exercise protects the brain from Alzheimer’s, but research indicates several possibilities, including:”  1) increased brain volume, 2) improvement in brain connections, and 3) improved blood vessel health.   In addition, Harvard Professor John Ratey, M.D. says exercise is “Miracle-Gro for the brain” and the “single most powerful tool you have to optimize your brain function.”

It’s kind of hard to say no to that.

I’ve been lumbering and training for a 10 mile race in October.  The Twin Cities 10 Mile is something I’ve wanted to do since I started lumbering in 2011.  It’s by lottery and I wasn’t selected last year.  So you can imagine my surprise when, barely able to run 2 miles, I found out I got in this year!   Yay!!?   After I settled down and let go of my fear, determination set in — and I started training.

I’m up to 8 miles now and my knees would like me to stop.

As grueling as the training has been, I’m thrilled to be running this race in my hometown, in my 50th year — the year my mother succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease.  I’ll run for my mom, and for me and for all my aging brain cells.   My son will be running the Twin Cities Marathon at the same time — 16.2 miles farther than me, and I’d like to think I can finish before him.

I’ll share other ways I’m Racing Alzheimer’s down the road, but for now, it’s all about the lumbering, and my knees, and my brain cells, while b r e a t h i n g, and taking one step at a time.

With Abundant Gratitude,

     ~  Joanne

You Are Not Alone

There are more than 15 million dementia caregivers in this country and every single one can benefit from support of some kind.  Meals, errands, respite, support groups, and hugs to name a few.

Alzheimer’s support groups can help a person feel like they’re not alone.   When I was in a group and heard a participant share frustrations of caring for her loved one and her secret hope for a swift end, I knew I was in the right place.  I also knew that I’d one day want to give back by leading a group of my own — and that time has come.

But first, let me tell you what happened.

I began the application process last year with the local Alzheimer’s Chapter.  After many calls, a fair amount of paperwork, an interview and a background check, I was thrilled to be “hired” for this volunteer position!  And then it went nowhere.  I heard this chapter was “restructuring” which was fine.  I could wait.  But I imagined my eager and ready application languishing in a drawer and becoming a forgotten file.

Then a few months later out of the blue, a friend contacted me to ask if I was interested in taking over a local Alzheimer’s Support Group that was in need of a new facilitator.  This friend and I had not been in touch in awhile, she had no idea I was pursuing this, and said she just “thought of me” when the spot became available.

Amazing how things work out.  Of course I said yes.

I co-facilitated my first Group in June, my mother vanished on July 6th, and ten days later I was leading my second Group.  Reealy bad timing.  I had nothing to give, but what was I to do?  I committed and wanted to follow through.  So I went, and shared, and cried.  People cried with me, probably because they could see their lives in my story — they have lost or are losing their loved one with dementia too and it’s okay to be sad.  It’s okay to cry.

Support goes both ways.

My little group meets at the Winchester Medical Center, on the 3rd Tuesday of the month from 7:30 — 9:00pm.  We talk about everything related to having a loved one with dementia.  We laugh, we cry, we listen and support.  All are welcome.

Be a Alzheimer’s Support Group Facilitator — CHECK!

There is most likely some type of support for whatever you are going through.  Whether it be a group, a counselor, pastor, or a friend — I encourage you to reach out and find support.

CLICK HERE to locate an Alzheimer’s Support Group near you.  Or go to ElderCare.gov for additional resources and to find your local Area Agency on Aging which can direct you to a support group for your specific needs.

Together we are strong,

   ~ Joanne

An Invitation To Walk, Raise Money, and Help End Alzheimer’s

Racing Alzheimer’s has a Team and needs Team Members!
Save the date and join me for the
2013 Shenandoah Valley Walk to End Alzheimer’s!

 

Event Details

The Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s® is the nation’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research.

WHEN:  Saturday, September 28th (Rain or Shine)
Check-in 8:30 am     |     Program 9:30 am     |     Walk 10:00 am

WHERE:  The Willows at Meadow Branch
1881 Harvest Drive    |    Winchester, VA  22601

WHAT:  Choose between a 1 mile or a 3 mile walk option.  Start line will be at the facility and walking will be mainly on walking paths and sidewalks.  Walk routes to be determined.

HOW:  Click Here, go to Register, then Join A Team, find Racing Alzheimer’s.

This is the first time I’ve created a team like this and I’m very excited about it!  I have a very achievable goal of recruiting 10 walkers and raising $1,000.  This is a great way to raise funds and awareness while having fun.  And if you have personal experience with dementia, this is an opportunity to join together and DO SOMETHING!

Please let me know if you have any trouble registering or have questions about this Event.

I hope you can join us!

     ~  Joanne

Bird Watching and Dementia: A Beautiful Idea

Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar.  ~ Bradley Millar

My mother loves all animals.  As I watched my mother and father take in strays, rescue and care for injured or abandoned wildlife, and stop to assist various creatures off the roads, I saw kindness and compassion — this might be their greatest gift to me.

We once herded a mother duck and her ducklings, (to include stopping traffic),  three blocks to the nearby creek after she apparently lost her way.

Mom loves birds too, Robins especially.  There was a Robin who built a nest over the downspout on the house every year, and during the sweltering months of summer, mom would set out water for that “poor panting momma.”

Now my children are animal lovers.  They were raised to watch bugs and spiders rather than kill them, and to know they are the stewards of all creatures — especially when help is needed.

When I saw this video, I immediately thought of my mom and how much she would enjoy this bird program for people with dementia.

There’s a large bird feeder right outside the picture window where Mom spends a lot of her time.  Here she is filling the feeder with bird seed.

Finally, I couldn’t write about my mother’s love of animals and birds without including this heart-warming video of people coming together to make sure a mother duck and her ducklings made it safely to water.  Given the opportunity, my mother would no doubt be one of these helpers.

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”  ~  Anatole France

Namaste,

Joanne

Gratitude: A Prayer Meditation

I’m going home for a week on Saturday, and I’m preparing for my trip by selecting two pair of shoes that will go with six different outfits and plow through slush and snow.

I’m also mentally preparing for the changes in my mom that are sure to be evident, and for my ability to join her in “Alzheimer’s World” where nothing makes sense, but where I need to go to truly be with her.

I’m grateful for this time, and on Valentine’s Day, wanted to share a gratitude poem that I love.

Gratitude:  A Prayer Meditation

Source of All Blessings
I am Grateful
for My life
for the Blessings
of
My breath
the beating of My heart

Source of All Blessings
I am Grateful
for Beloved Ones who
share life with me
those in our world beside me
and those in worlds beyond my knowing

Source of All Blessings
I am Grateful
to share life with our Human Family
Jewish, Christian, Muslem, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh
May we walk gently upon our Earth

Source of All Blessings
I am Grateful
to be one with All Creation
the flight of birdwings
the swirling of blueshoals oceans deep
the runnings of wilderness creatures
the sway of forests green

Source of All Blessing
I am Grateful
to be part of the spiraling
of all space and time
beyond my imagination
Yes and again Yes I am grateful
to always be here
where else could I go?
For all this and more
I am Grateful

                                         ~   Rabbi Warren Stone

Keeping It Simple: An Alzheimer’s Prevention Diet

If ever there was a good excuse to eat unhealthy food, the Super Bowl would be it.  There were chicken wings, chili, cornbread muffins, and chips at my house.  Then my little Super Bowl party of two, (my husband and I), treated ourselves to a scoop of Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra around half-time.  Note: eating ice cream while watching Beyonce shake her post-baby, fit body takes some pleasure out of the ice cream eating.

Our game fare could have been better, but I’m not beating myself up too badly because healthy and whole food is the normal diet around my house these days, and we’re eating more fruits and veggies than ever in the form of a drink, thanks to our new Vitamix.

There’s being a lot written about nutrition for brain health lately, and I’ll admit it can be a tad complicated and overwhelming.  That’s why I like this recent blog post on Maria Shriver’s website who is an Alzheimer’s champion by the way.  The post is written by neurologist Dr. Richard Isaacson, one of the authors of “The Alzheimer’s Diet,” and what I like about it is he keeps it simple.  I like simple.  I’m guessing you do too, so I wanted to share.

Here’s what the good doctor says are three general recommendations for a healthy brain diet:

Maximize:

  • High-quality lean protein. The importance of protein for brain function cannot be overemphasized. Examples of recommended protein sources include fish high in DHA (e.g., wild salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, and albacore tuna); poultry (skinless white-meat chicken and turkey); lean meats (beef) that are hormone free; egg whites; and low- or no-fat dairy products.
  • Vegetables (especially dark-green leafy vegetables) and berries (especially strawberries and blueberries). Note that these healthy choices do contain low-glycemic (good) carbohydrates that should be tracked, as limiting one’s overall glycemic load has been found to be essential for long-term brain health. A good website for checking the glycemic load of specific foods is at http://www.mendosa.com/gilists.htm. The relationship between glycemic load and reduced memory function is complex and beyond the scope of this article.

Moderate:

  • Monounsaturated fats (e.g., extra-virgin olive oil, peanuts, avocadoes) and polyunsaturated fats (e.g., nuts and seeds).
  • Complex carbohydrates (e.g., whole grains, quinoa).

Minimize:

  • Simple (high-glycemic) carbohydrates (e.g., white bread, cane sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and corn syrup in general).
  • Saturated fats (eliminate all trans fats).
  • Fried foods and dried foods (potato chips, corn chips, crackers, and dried fruits with sugar).
  • Cakes and muffins.
  • Bacon and hot dogs.

Dr. Isaacson goes on to say, “other great brain foods include seeds and nuts (flaxseeds, walnuts, and pecans), legumes (small red beans, pinto beans, and black beans), unsweetened red or purple grape juice, curry and turmeric root, black or green tea, unsweetened dark cocoa powder, and dark-skinned fruits.”

As I mentioned in “Read Ingredients. Avoid Crap.”, ignore the food pyramid and try to keep it healthy, wholesome, and pure.  An easy way to do this is by eating foods with ONE ingredient like fish, chicken, spinach, kale, strawberries, almonds, etc.  And of course purchasing your food in the most organic and chemical free form possible.

It’s okay to eat unhealthy on occasion, we’re all human.  The important thing is to forgive yourself, and get right back on the health wagon.  Now what do I do with those Super Bowl leftovers?

6 Reasons I Joined A Gym

I joined a gym! 

My feelings about this are somewhere between excited and terrified, but I’m looking forward to getting started.  I never considered myself an “exerciser” until 2011 when I began running and working out on a somewhat regular basis.  I got into it pretty quickly and found myself exercising four to five days a week which was unheard of for me — I felt great, went down a pant size, was signing up for 5Ks and a 10K — and then  . . .  I  . . . gradually . . .  stopped.  Well, almost stopped.  I still ran a little here and there, did sporadic floor exercises, “push-ups” on the stairs, squats while blow drying my hair, but it was all going to hell and my motivation was waning.

So I decided to join a gym.  Here’s why:

1.  Motivation.  I need to be where other people are working out.  It’s tough to stay motivated when I’m doing it alone.

2.  Weights.  After receiving poor results on a recent bone density scan, I have no choice but to begin strength training.

3.  Classes.  Yoga, Zumba, Cycle, Pilates, Boot Camp!

4.  The big 5-0.  I’m turning 50 this year.  Aaaaagh!  When? How? Must turn back time!

5.  Cost.  It’s crazy inexpensive right now at Gold’s Gym.  Maybe they have good deals where you live?

6.  Alzheimer’s Prevention!  Exercise and pumping iron are two of the best things I can do for my brain.  It’s a no-brainer. ; )

Also, see me in that batting cage?  It was a lot of fun, and it brought back memories of my softball days, but that was on Dec. 26th, two weeks ago, and I am STILL in pain.  I am so dog-gone weak that I have virtually no upper body strength, and I’m still paying for my batting fun.

I am weak.  I want to get strong.  That’s why I joined a gym.