Sunday, August 31, 2008

Finding the Keepers: The Drive

This is the second part of Sue Monroe's series, Finding the Keepers. See Part 1 on the previous blog post dated August 31st.

Two weeks later, I asked Mom if she would like to go for a ride in my van. She had not been out since the previous July, because it was too difficult to get her in the van, and it seemed to upset her.

On this sunny April morning she hopped right in, buckled her own seat belt before Dad or I could help, then waited impatiently for poky me to get in and drive.

At the first stop sign we came to, I planned to turn right. A car was coming from my left, but far enough away, I probably could have made it. I waited because I needed to pick up enough speed to get up the hill on the interstate overpass, before the other car reached me. I had precious cargo.

From beside me I heard “GO, GO.”

Mom had leaned forward to see past me, judged the distance of the oncoming car, and decided I had plenty of time to pull out.

Good thing Dad had his seat belt on in the back seat. He would have fallen out, he was laughing so hard, because she was telling me how to drive.

It was the first time I had heard him laugh around her in the year she had been in the home. Of course, he told that story to everyone.

Mom “transferred up” (as the staff at the home called it) two months later.

I believe I have so many good memories from her last couple of years because I decided to look for them.

That is the first step in finding the keepers. Make up your mind to see things in a different way.

Instead of only seeing the bad things, look for something good in anything. For example, a little mannerism from the past that might trigger a good memory.

The more good you look for, the more good you will find. The stories I told in these posts were of Mom reacting to things she always loved – walking, bird watching, driving all over the countryside.

Seeing your loved one react to things they once loved can give you many new memories.

After Mom lost her drivers license, I drove one-handed most of the time. My other hand was tucked firmly in hers. I miss that more than I would have imagined.

Find something that touches you as much as it does them. You will have enough good memories to keep for a lifetime.

Sue Monroe, the author of the two part series, Finding the Keepers, was caregiver to her mother, Emily Monroe, for six years. After Emily's death in 2004, Sue continued to care for her father until I, her sister, took over his care in September 2006.

Sue now lives in Missouri and enjoys traveling. You can see Sue's work at Red Bubble.

Finding the Keepers: The Walk

By guest author, Sue Monroe. You can read her bio at the end of this post. This picture is of Emily, Christmas 2001.
Dementia is a long, slow process. As caregivers, we are deeply involved in day-to-day living. Later, it is difficult to remember the good times we enjoyed before the struggle became routine.

I have often heard “we see what we look for.” Now is the time to look for those little nuggets that will become keepers - the lasting good memories of your loved one.

After Mom moved into a nursing home, I most enjoyed our walks around the home on warm Sunday afternoons. She had always been a walker and, although it was a long walk, she loved it.

We were walking early one spring day when I heard her say “That’s pretty.” I knew it wasn't the view she found pretty, because we were facing the home’s maintenance yard.

It must have been the bird singing in the tree above us, so I said, “That does sound pretty. Do you know what kind of bird that is?”

She promptly informed me “No, I don’t know how to read yet. But I’m learning!”

It almost broke my heart because, as an elementary school teacher, she had taught kids to read for over 25 years.

But, I had to smile too. It was the first full sentence I had heard from her in more than two years. I still chuckle when I think of that walk. It is one of my favorite keepers.

What memories are you collecting about your parents? What treasure will you keep with you long after they are gone?

Sue Monroe, the author of the two part series, Finding the Keepers, was caregiver to her mother, Emily Monroe, for six years. After Emily's death in 2004, Sue continued to care for her father until I, her sister, took over his care in September 2006.

Sue now lives in Missouri and enjoys traveling. You can see Sue's work at Red

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Insulin Emergency 101

Emergencies are called emergencies for a reason. The Merriam-Webster's Collegiate definition is "an unforeseen combination of circumstances or the resulting state that calls for immediate action."

About 9:00 p.m. last night I discovered Dad's insulin injection pen lying on the kitchen table. Two things struck me as odd: first of all, he always keeps the pen in the refrigerator, and the color of the pen didn't jive with the time of night.

A little background...

Dad takes four insulin injections a day. The first three are just prior to each meal and are a fast-acting insulin (in the dark blue pen). The fourth is a slow-acting 24-hour insulin and the pen is light grey. Because Dad is color blind, the two different colors help him know which one to use.

He has been on the pen system since earlier this year and has not had any problem with picking up the wrong one. When I discovered the wrong pen lying on the table, I asked Dad about the insulin he was supposed to take around 7:30 p.m. As it turns out he took the wrong one.

The problem? He took four doses of the fast acting insulin, instead of three, and now needed to take the slow-acting so that he didn't run into problems during the night or the next day.

What to do? I ended up calling his diabetes education nurse at home, she walked us through what he should do which included taking a half dose of the slow acting, and eating a meal. He got to eat his favorite PB&J sandwich and drink a glass of milk. We were instructed to call her this morning with his blood sugar number and we would go from there.

As it turns out, his number this morning was good. We are to watch his test scores during the day for any high spikes, and just continue his normal routine.

I know with age all of us are distracted at times. Dad and I discussed what happened and he just doesn't know why he took the wrong insulin. We all have those "senior" moments, so it was understandable.

It also is a bit scary, because we don't know if this will happen again, or if it is just a negative blip on our radar.

What I do know, by definition, it was an emergency.

Have you had an emergency lately? How did you handle it? Did you have help?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Senior Center Follow-up!

Yesterday's lunch was interesting and much more fun than I expected. We sat with a former next door neighbor who is now 91-years-old and as sharp as can be. He still drives and lives alone in a house that was originally owned by his great-grandfather. He is a history buff and vividly recalls local events from decades ago.

Another former neighbor, whose son is a year younger than me, also shared our table. During lunch, I received updates on where everyone was living, who is working where, and who is now retired.

Back in the days of my childhood, we attended a one room country school until consolidation sent us into town. I am glad for the experience as we had the opportunity to bond within our community that we don't have today. Our community was made up of dairy farms, with fields of corn, wheat and other grains sweeping the landscape. Several of the farms are still going strong.

It was good to hear of men and women I grew up with, how they are doing, knowing that at least one of their parents has lived to the upper eighties and beyond.

It was good, also, to be reminded of the good old days; of a time when life seemed slower and the days longer, the friendships tighter, and the future wide open.

Have you recently been reminded of days gone by? How did you feel about the memories? What, if anything, do you long for from your past?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Lunch Day at the Senior Center

Okay, I said I wasn't going to do this, but...

For some odd reason, I decided yesterday that I was supposed to go to the Senior Center lunch today with Dad. Not sure why as I have never been interested before.

This should be interesting. As I may have mentioned, Dad comes home and tells me what he had for lunch. Sometimes he describes lunch as, "Well, it was about this size (showing with his fingers a rectangle smaller than a deck of cards), and I think it was some kind of meat, but I couldn't tell what it was."

A couple of months ago I was talking to several ladies who attend the lunches. I repeated what Dad said and they replied, "Oh, we don't go for the food." as they smiled a "secret" smile at one another. Obviously they knew what Dad meant with his description of lunch.

Now, what would cause me to want to go to lunch, especially since Dad has been trying to get me there for two years? Well, I don't really know. I suppose I will find out when the time comes.

Sometimes God moves in mysterious ways. This is something that I feel in my heart I am supposed to do. I've learned the hard way that when I get one of those "feelings" I better follow through.

Has there been a time when you "knew" you were supposed to do something? Did you do it? If so, how did it turn out?

If not, what happened? Share in the comment section and let us know how the situation turned out.

Take care!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Caregiver Forums

Last night I visited several caregiver forums to chat with others who are caring for their family members. Click on the title of this message and you will go to one of those sites, the National Family Caregivers Association.

What saddened me were the numerous posts related to the same topics. Here are the top five issues:

1. Depression

2. Exhaustion/burnout

3. Isolation

4. Lack of support from other family members

5. Parent experiencing the end of their life

In some cases money was a problem, but didn't seem to have as great a bearing as expected where most posts were concerned.

Money does affect what kind of care a parent receives, whether care is at home or in a nursing home, what other support is available, and whether hired help is an option.

But, the other five issues were of greater importance.

If you are reading this and you know a caregiver who is crying out for help, consider what you can do today to relieve their stress.

Remember the Golden Rule. What would you want others to do for you if you were in a similar situation?

Thank you!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sunday Morning Sage - Peace or Patience?

Many years ago, I learned of a portion of scripture (in the Bible) from Galatians 5:22-23 called the fruit of the spirit. These virtues are strengthened as our relationship with God develops.

The nine virtues are love, joy, peace, patience (longsuffering), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Actually, they are what all of us should aspire to in our daily lives. I planned to write a Sunday morning series over the next nine weeks beginning with love.

This morning, due to frustration, I decided to begin with patience instead, especially when that virtue was in short supply today.

Years ago, I attended 12-week class at a local church. The teaching session would end in a time of prayer for whatever the topic was that evening.

One night, as two women were praying for me at the altar, one of the women started to pray for me to have patience during a time that could take years before I received the answer. The other woman suddenly said, "Stop! Do not pray for patience."

We both looked at her in astonishment.

"Why not?"

"Because, if you pray for patience, God will make sure she develops patience. It's like a muscle that needs exercised over time. She will go through whatever it takes in order to develop patience."

Well, that didn't sound very promising as an answer to prayer, so they decided to change the wording to "peace." They prayed I would have peace in the situation.

That sounded much better to me after the explanation I received about patience.

This morning I remembered that time of prayer as I was dealing with a very slow computer. Now I know I need peace, not patience, whenever I am going through any kind of trial.

Over the years, staying in a peaceful state of mind has helped in many situations.

As a caregiver to an elderly father who is deaf, almost totally blind, and shows increasing signs of Alzheimer's, peace is just what I need.

Although I think God is working on the patience part at the same time.

What is He working on in your life? As a caregiver, do you even feel like He is present in your situation?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Re Elder Care Cafe Link

I forgot to tell you - If you click on the title of the Elder Care Cafe 2.0 post, you will go directly to the new Elder Care Cafe.

Please realize it is a work in progress, much like a construction site, so put on your hard hat and steel toed boots and have a look around. And then leave a message for me here, or there, and let me know what you think.

I know you will, so be honest. Thanks, and have a great weekend!

Elder Care Cafe 2.0

For the past several weeks I have been working on a new Elder Care Cafe website. My main problem (of several) rests on the fact that it is not as warm and fuzzy as this blog. It feels too sterile for some reason.

I'm taking a wonderful course from Yaro Starak, called Blog Mastermind, that has my blog learning curve heading straight up to the sky. I'm not sure the curve will ever turn down again in my lifetime.

Blogging is a blast no matter what the subject. In fact, I'm planning on several more blogs, but I don't know if I should try another bells and whistles blog site or not.

Years ago, when I was transferring to another department, my soon-to-be-former boss gave me a nifty book mark with the saying "no guts, no glory" and a picture of Garfield on the front. Handwritten on the back was the note, "Reach for the stars - they can be yours. Good luck in future endeavors."

As far as this present endeavor goes, the curve may be up to the stars before I reach the top. I don't think that's what she meant.

What are you reaching for? Are you stretching up to the stars or are you settling for second best?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Writers Capture Life Stories of the Terminally Ill

In recent years, writing memoirs and life stories has become quite popular. Numerous local and internet groups have formed providing a platform to share the hundreds of thousands of stories now in existence.

I conducted an internet search and found 96,000,000 sites by entering “life story writers.” Many were probably duplicates, but that was still quite a large number.

Opportunity to share life stories

Story circles abound giving people an opportunity to share their life with others if they choose, self-publish if they desire, and receive writing assistance when necessary. Using outlines and writing prompts help keep writers on track.

Some stories are told chronologically while others are an anthology of anecdotes. Many times photographs and personal recipes are included.

Terminally ill given final opportunity to share

Often people write their own stories, but a growing trend is to write life stories for those who are terminally ill.

A group in my area volunteer their services through local hospice centers or by word of mouth. They interview the person while taking notes and taping the conversation. They willingly spend hours writing a small book, which is bound and presented to the terminally ill person and his or her family.

The bound book can be soft or hard cover and the person interviewed controls the content. They see a final draft before the book is printed, and that allows them to edit whatever they may decide to leave out of the final copy.

It is their book, and the content and how the story is told is their choice.

Later, families of the deceased often describe the book as a gift given to them by their loved one. Life story books hold information only the storyteller could know and is told in their own voice.

That is a powerful legacy to leave their loved ones after they are gone.

Friday, August 8, 2008

An Acrostic Ode to My Siblings

Acrostic means “a composition usually in verse in which sets of letters taken in order form a word or phrase or a regular sequence of letters of the alphabet.”

Okay, that‘s the official Merriam-Webster definition. There are a number of different styles one can use to write an acrostic poem.

My friend, NJJ, who wrote the previous post, writes acrostic poetry in several styles. I am emulating one (I think) that uses a word (siblings), then uses the same letter twice in each of the first two words of each line.

Confused yet? Well, here is my offering, written on a whim today as I was thinking of my brother and sister.


Supportive sidekicks when we were young,
Intently interested in what we've become.

Blessedly blind to our numerous faults,
Lingering, laughing at our corny thoughts.

Instinctively intuitive to our present needs,
Notably nostalgic when we traverse past deeds.

Glaringly genuine when others aren't real,
Satisfyingly strong when we are ready to keel.

There you are – not my first, and hopefully not my worst, acrostic poem.

How does this tie into caregiving and elder care, you may wonder? Both of my siblings have provided much support the last two years. Thought I would thank them with the above poignant poem.

Let us know what you use to get through difficult times.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Staying Married May Reduce Chance of Alzheimer's

According to a recent study, married people have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's than singles or those not living with a significant other in midlife.

Additional research indicates people who repeatedly think about their problems may be less likely to develop Alzheimer's.

There are life style decisions we can make that may lower our risk of developing the disease. When people are married or in long term living arrangements, their regular social interactions can aid in maintaining brain health.

According to the study, people who were single all their lives had a 50% grater chance of having dementia later in life compared to those married or living with a partner.

The study reveals the benefits of a married life, consistent with the theory that intense forms of social and intellectual interaction may help protect against dementia.

You can read more about this study at Medical News Today.

My preferred lifestyle most of my life was "single living alone". Who would have thought that personal choice could increase the risks of a disease that already runs through our family. Ouch!

What are your thoughts? Do you believe social intensity in your living arrangement is good for your brain health?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Power of Online Forums

I belong to several online forums for caregivers. One forum participant currently has a survey thread and several people have responded so far. The main gist of the survey is why do people join forums and what does the participant like or dislike about forums.

The two reasons that struck me the most were the feelings of isolation and lack of freedom as a caregiver. Several people railed because of the lack of support and understanding of their siblings.

They joined the forums because it is difficult to leave the home to go to a support group. Their main support is through connecting with strangers online.

Online forums are easily accessible to those with computers and for those who do not want to or cannot leave their home. Also, if their loved one needs them, they are able to step away from the computer to attend to their needs.

As always, a main concern I hear about is fatigue. Rarely do caregivers get the rest they need, or the time to take any type of respite.

Many caregivers have given up years of their lives to care for aging family members. This is especially true due to the longer life spans now available to our parent’s generation and those following. As the life span continues to increase, we will see many more caregivers with parents and grandparents well into their nineties and over 100.

Recently I read a statement about how different caring for aging parents is today than how it was many years ago. I know the life span issue is one facet that makes a huge difference in the lives of caregivers today. As medical science continues to advance, this issue is not going to go away.

That brings up the question of who is going to care for those of the later age group? How are those in their late sixties, seventies, and possibily early eighties going to care for their parents?

Who is going to care for the caregivers?

What are your thoughts on longevity and the role it plays in the lives of family caregivers?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Caregiving and the Golden Rule

Two years ago, when family members heard I was moving in with my father so he could stay in his home, one said to another, “(She) won’t last a year.”

Actually, I agreed.

The very first day, as the movers were bringing in my furniture, Dad and I got into a nose-to-nose, toe-to-toe argument heard up and down the street. He was a lot stronger then and I was not going to allow him to control me as he had for many years.

Not a good start for a caregiver.

Six months later, Dad was rushed to the hospital in a diabetic coma. From that time on, his health steadily declined.

The biggest life lesson I brought with me as a caregiver was to treat him the way I would want others to treat me in similar circumstances.

Barring the need to set our respective boundaries and mark our territory for the first couple of months, we actually have gotten along quite well.

Whenever I feel frustrated, angry or impatient with him, I immediately think, “How would I want my daughters to treat me?” I mean, the thought is immediate.

I can only think it is God reminding me of His law of sowing and reaping.

In lay terms, it is similar to the golden rule: Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. Another way of saying it is, what comes around goes around, or you reap what you sow.

No matter how the golden rule or the law of sowing and reaping is expressed, beware of how you treat others, because eventually that behavior is going to come back at you.

If you hurt others, you are going to be hurt. If you are kind to others, chances are others will be kind to you when you need it most.

When I am old and decrepit, I know I want someone to be patient, kind, understanding, helpful, calm in the midst of emergency situations, a listening ear whether they feel like listening or not, tender, protective, and so many other attributes a good caregiver possesses.

It is difficult at times, but I am serious when I say every day there is a voice inside that reminds me how to treat my dad.

That voice carries a lot of weight. When He speaks, I listen.

Not because I want to receive anything, but because it is the right thing to do under the circumstances.