Minneapolis Bound: February 2013

Next Saturday I fly from the cold state of Virginia to the freezing cold state of Minnesota.  With one friend going to Puerto Rico this month and another on a Caribbean Cruise, I can’t help but wonder if I have it backwards by heading north.  But this is what it’s come to — my airline ticket money is saved for home, and heading south while tempting, just wouldn’t feel right.

There isn’t a big To-Do list this time, my plan is to mostly chill and spend time with my family.

But if you read “Racing Alzheimer’s: Mom’s New Year Resolutions” recently, you know that there is a list — it’s just not my list.  I hope to knock some things off mom’s list by doing what we can that doesn’t require warmer weather.  I know require is a relative term, but this Minnesota girl has become a cold weather wuss since leaving over 20 years ago.  I mean, there’s really no reason to be outside when it’s below 40 degrees.

A warm coat, chap-stick, and mom’s list — let’s do this.

Hopefully I’ll be able to smell spring in the air when I return.

Bon Voyage!

~  Joanne

FUN FACT: It's so cold in Minneapolis, there's a Skyway System of enclosed pedestrian footbridges that connect buildings in Downtown Minneapolis enabling people to walk in a climate-controlled environment. The extensive Skyway system is renowned as the largest continuous system in the world. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minneapolis_Skyway_System

 

 

Racing Alzheimer’s: Mom’s New Year Resolutions

The funny thing is, it didn’t occur to me the Alzheimer’s I’d be racing, would be my mom’s.

New Year Resolutions are like a Bucket List, only with a deadline.  I’ve been writing down resolutions for years now, with some previous goals being to participate in Alzheimer’s research, learn how to meditate, lose 5lbs. (of course!), and last year to run a 10K.

As I thought about my Resolutions this year, I kept going back to my mom who didn’t have any.  I couldn’t help but wonder what her resolutions would be if she had the capacity to understand her short time left.  What would she put on her list?  What would she like to do just one more time?

Since mom couldn’t make New Year Resolutions, I made them for her.   Based on what I know about her, these are the things I think she would like to do this year — one more time.

Mom’s 2013 List:

  • Go to hometown of Wadena, MN to walk down main street and visit old friends
  • Eat buttered macaroni mixed with ketchup, and crumbled bacon
  • Go on a boat ride and fish for Walleye                                                     
  • Walk barefoot along a lake shore
  • Eat a BLT with a homegrown tomato
  • Visit the zoo
  • Drive downtown
  • Play with puppies
  • Watch a softball game at the park
  • Visit Minnehaha Falls
  • Watch the movie “Born Free”
  • Hold a baby
  • Listen to “Hallelujah Chorus” by the Mormom Tabernacle Choir
  • Lay in the grass and watch clouds overhead
  • Sing Christmas Carols

This list looks do-able, but it will take some planning to accomplish everything during the course of my visits home this year.   I may be delusional thinking this is even attainable — mom may not be up for a 3-hour road trip to Wadena, let alone a boat ride — but I’d like to find out.

Alright, let’s be honest.  This list is for me.  Mom would be fine without this list, sticking to her small existence of 3,000 square feet that includes oatmeal, the Price is Right, and a fenced in yard.

But let’s do it anyway!  Let me see the glimpses of joy these things might bring, knowing full well that *poof* they’ll be gone in minutes as if they never happened.  Let me live in the moment with her, and be fully present as she experiences these forgotten things that she loves so much.  Let me witness the little girl she’s become laugh and be carefree.

Let me watch as mom revisits herself and remembers she’s still here.

I’ll take pictures as we go through the list, then someday, if my children ever make such a list for me, I hope they include “Look at photos of Mom and I.”

Adding “Eat Buttered Popcorn” and “Dance to Play That Funky Music” would be appreciated too. : )

The Alzheimer’s Storm II: Caregiver Stress

An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.    ~  G. K. Chesterton

Mom folding laundry with one of her caregivers, and her housemates at the table in the background. There are 5 rotating caregivers for 9 people.

Parenting is one of the hardest jobs there is, and I’m pretty sure the fierce animal love we have for our children is what makes it possible to parent day after day without drowning ourselves in the bath water.

So it’s sort of a surprise to discover the feelings are pretty much the same when caring for an aging parent.  We’d do anything for them, many people do — and they pay for it with high stress, poor health, loss of income, and blinding exhaustion.

The Alzheimer’s Association says there are more than 15 million Americans providing unpaid care for persons with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.  That’s about the population of Virginia and Washington combined, which is a lot of bath water.

I’m a long distance caregiver for my mom.   While this brings it’s own set of challenges and a fair amount of guilt,  I am not in the trenches like so many are, and so I really have no right to talk about caregiver stress.  I get it.  But if my mom lived with me, here’s what I would do to try and avoid excess stress.  You can call this a “dream case scenario.”

  1. Join my mom in Alzheimer’s World
  2. Have a schedule
  3. Do what she loves
  4. Laugh & Find the funny
  5. Pick my battles
  6. Give positive energy
  7. Move her body
  8. Encourage & Compliment
  9. Get outside
  10. Give her “jobs”
  11. Take her to adult day care

For me personally?  I would try to:

  1. Eat healthy
  2. Exercise
  3. “Sleep when the baby sleeps”
  4. Pray, Meditate, Pray
  5. Ask for help
  6. Accept help
  7. Laugh
  8. Hug
  9. Love
  10. Scream when I’m alone in the car

Sometimes I imagine that my mother is living with me as I go about my day.  What would she be doing while I make dinner, take a shower, or right now — while I’m on the computer?  Having mom here would probably be like having a two-year-old again — she would be at my side, doing whatever I’m doing, but instead of asking curious sweet questions and me being an eager teacher, mom would be saying the same things over and over and over again and I would be counting my breaths.  I mean no disrespect

There is so much time in between those pie in the sky items listed above.   So.   Much.   Time.

Everything would shift.  Mom would move to the top.  Things wouldn’t get done.  Movies wouldn’t be watched.  Legs wouldn’t get shaved.  Vacations wouldn’t be had.  Stress would be hard to avoid.

I’m positive it would be the hardest thing I could ever do.  But I’d like to believe I’d be grateful for the time with my mom with an understanding that it won’t last forever.

I’d like to find out if I’m right.

Are YOU a caregiver?  What are thoughts on this?

 

Find “In The Alzheimer’s Storm” Part I HERE, and look for “The Alzheimer’s Storm:  Family Conflict” in a later post.

~  Joanne

Accepting the Flow and Letting Go

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”  ~ Anaïs Nin

A website I found called “Aging Abundantly” spoke to me one day saying:

Aging Abundantly is here for you ~ the woman who is in the midst of the greatest transformation of her life ~ you who are arising from the ashes of your life as maiden and mother and emerging to don the glorious crown of the wise woman and crone.

If you’ve been reading my writing, you know that I struggle with “the greatest transformation of my life” — letting go of my young adult children and my mother who has Alzheimer’s disease.  You’d think I could get on with it, but it’s a process; and writing helps with the process.

Click here to go to Aging Abundantly, and to read my latest reflections on letting go, called “Finding Courage.”

I’m getting there.

I’m further along than I was last summer when I wrote “Adjusting Under My Rock.”

Still, you’ll probably see more on this topic, because I have more to say about love, mid-life, and letting go.

With Much Love,

Joanne

Three Reasons I’m Struggling to Write

My intention for writing this blog is primarily to share what I’m learning and doing to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.  Health and wellness, both inside and out, is something I’m passionate about and could talk about all day long — which is why it’s disheartening that I’m struggling to write about it.

After a lot of reflection, I’ve come up with three main reasons I’m struggling to write:

First, I have so much to learn, how could I possibly pass along information that is new to me, that I am still trying to understand myself?  I’m reading science articles that are quite often over my head, so I’m skimming over why drinking coffee is good for you, for example, and jumping to just drink the darn coffee!  What I’m saying is, I am no authority. I know as much as you do, except I’m trying to write about it.

Second, this might sound strange, but I really don’t want this blog to be about me.  I’m reluctant to write a post about what I’m doing to stay healthy and out in front of Alzheimer’s because I don’t want it to come across as “Look at me! Look at what I’m doing!”  This couldn’t be further from my intention.  I don’t like the spotlight on me.  I just want to share my experience because I know I’m not the only person who is trying to prevent Alzheimer’s.  And I’m certainly not alone in experiencing a loved one going through this.

Finally,why would you care to read what I write?  If you’re like me, you’re being bombarded with social media from all angles.  I’m guessing you barely have time to read your own email, let alone someones elses blog.   I hate to add to your burden.

There you have it, a few of the biggies that have been rumbling around in my head.  I feel better already, but what am I going to do about it?

  1. It’s okay that I’m not an authority on Alzheimer’s disease, or health, nutrition or fitness — as long as you know I’m not an expert, then we’re okay.   Okay?
  2. There’s no way I can get around it — this blog is mostly about me.  I just need to get used to it.  I’ve tried writing in the 2nd and 3rd person and it just doesn’t work.  This is a personal blog.  While it’s about me and my experiences — it’s not all about me — it’s about you too. It’s about all of us because we’re in this together.  That’s how I see it.
  3. I will stop assuming you don’t have time to read this. I’ll write because I want to write.  And if you want to take the time to read what I write — then I thank you.  If not, that’s okay too.  Really.

Okay.  To recap, my writing will be more what than why, it will be about me and you and all of us, and you’ll read it if you want to.  Or not.  Deal?  Deal.

10 Ways To Keep Your Brain Sharp

When I read or hear news confirming the possibility of preventing or delaying Alzheimer’s I am renewed with hope!  The idea that my future can be influenced by the choices I make today is pretty powerful and it helps me stay the course of being an Alzheimer’s Warrior.

That’s why I love this recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune titled “10 Ways To Keep Your Brain Sharp.” It offers clear and simple ways to love your brain, with exercise being the top two.   GET MOVING is #1 and says, “If you do only one thing to keep your brain young, exercise.”  This is my motivation — nothing has given me a better reason to lace up and break a sweat.  PUMP IRON is #2 on the list.   I don’t pump iron.  Yet.

The bonus?   A healthy brain is just ONE of the benefits of following this list.

Go to “10 Ways To Keep Your Brain Sharp” to learn more.

What are you doing to keep YOUR brain healthy?

10 Reasons I’m Grateful for Alzheimer’s Disease

All that we behold is full of blessings.    ~  William Wordsworth

Yesterdays post about Alzheimer’s disease killing my mom was honest.  It wasn’t meant to be anything other than that.   I have experienced many emotions throughout the course of my mom’s disease.  I’ve been sad, frustrated, joyful, embarrassed, protective, impatient, scared and yes angry.  But I’ve also been grateful.  And of all the emotional ups and downs this disease brings — gratefulness is my gift and comfort to myself.

My mother is still on this earth, she is in good hands, and I get to tell her everything in my heart over and over again.

Yes, I am grateful for Alzheimer’s disease.

Because of Alzheimer’s . . . .

  1. My mom is free from the worries of the world and is generally happy.
  2. I am closer with my parents because I am more involved in their lives.
  3. I am also closer with my brother and sister who are my partners on this journey.
  4. I have a pretty good idea of how and when my mother will die — it’s a gift in disguise.
  5. I appreciate and treasure every moment I have with my mom, and those I love.
  6. I know how and why to strive for fitness and health — including brain health.
  7. I’m healthier than I’ve ever been.
  8. I see the fragility of life, and I try not to take things for granted.
  9. I’m trying to live with intention and mindfulness.
  10. I have a good reason to run!

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are
conscious of our treasures.
      ~  Thornton Wilder

Alzheimer’s — Not Afraid to Love

Mom, 1940, 3 yrs. old, Wadena, MN

I live far away from my parents and I’ll admit, I need to mentally prepare myself to be with them . . . especially my mom when I visit.  My mom is not my mom anymore. It’s like a stranger is inhabiting my mother’s body — except my mother’s body doesn’t look like mom anymore either. Alzheimer’s disease has changed my mom both inside and out. She used to care how she looks, and now she doesn’t have the capacity to care.  She used to be a familiar harbor, offering motherly comforts, and now she’s the one who needs comforting and reassurance.

But, I’ve been visiting my parents for almost a week now, and one thing is clear — my mom is full of Love.

Mom loves strangers.  She actually believes that everyone is an old friend.  She talks to most people, and she hugs them and tells them she loves them.  She kissed an elderly woman she didn’t know on the lips, and since the woman seemed to enjoy it, I’m pretty sure she had dementia too.  It’s interesting to watch.  This activity used to bother me, but I’ve learned to relax and I’ve noticed that most people don’t mind.  But sometimes I wish I had a card that said “Alzheimer’s — she’s harmless.”

Or, “Alzheimer’s — not afraid to love.”

Mom also loves children.  She gets down on their level and tries to make them feel special.  Children are usually more receptive to the joy my mom has to give, but the parents – not so much.  She high-fived a family of six the other day, and afterward she told me, “I like to do that so they know they have something here.”

My mom loves just about everyone and everything.  She loves raisins, the sunshine and the clouds in the sky. She loves animals, pine cones and waking up to a new day. Mom told me once, that when she wakes up in the morning and opens the blinds to let the sun in — she could just cry. She cries lately; but they seem to be tears of joy — like the innocent joy of a new day.

My mom is like a child — a happy child finally free from the worries of the world — who is not afraid to LOVE.

Ruth Joanne Hall, 1939, 2 yrs. old