Dodging the health crisis bullet … for now

Recently, I wrote about my mom experiencing a mysterious pain in the same general area of her colostomy surgery. She had a few other vague symptoms that warranted further testing. The oncologist ordered CT scans of the abdominal area and the chest.

Unfortunately I had to get back to work so Mom had to manage the scan prep on her own. Even though Mom certainly has her eccentric ways, it is such a blessing knowing that she is still fully capable of handling things outside of her routine, such as going for medical tests. Yes, it was stressful for her, but at 77, she managed quite well.


The tests were done right before my birthday, with the results coming back the next week. I admit I spent a pretty good chunk of my birthday weekend mulling “worst case scenarios.” The colon cancer was back. The cancer had spread to another region. What would I do this time? I cannot afford to quit my job again. How would I afford Mom’s care.

Mom had a followup appointment with the oncologist on Wednesday afternoon. I was both eager to hear the results and dreading them at the same time. Finally, Mom calls. For once, she didn’t beat around the bush. (If it had been bad news I had a feeling she would have delayed the announcement.)

All of the tests came back normal. No cancer was detected. Mom was given a clean bill of health. Now of course that doesn’t solve the mystery of Mom’s pain (she insists on calling it a “discomfort.”) But the pain has not increased in intensity so far and it doesn’t stop her from going about her life.

So a sigh of relief, for now. As caregivers we are always ready for the next health crisis. But we also learn to appreciate those good days a bit more.

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“I Can’t Do This!”

Joy Johnston:

No matter how tough you think you are, caregiver burnout is a real condition. Know the signs and don’t be afraid to ask for help!

Originally posted on Georgia Chapter Blog:

Caregiver Stress

Caregiver Stress

By Theresa Bayman, Program Director Coastal Region

Recently, a member of one of my support groups (with whom I have become very close),  reached her caregiver “breaking point.” Most, if not all caregivers, find themselves at this point at least once throughout their experience. This particular caregiver is a retired nurse – which you might think would give her a leg-up when it comes to care-giving for a loved one at home – but you’d be wrong about that.

When it comes to caring for someone we love, especially a parent or a spouse, the playing field is leveled.  Dementia care-giving is unlike most other care-giving experiences because of the ever-changing needs and limitations of the person receiving care.  With many illnesses, a caregiver can ask the patient “Are you in pain?; Are you hungry?; Would you like some company?”  With a dementia diagnosis, caregivers do not always have…

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Turning 40: My hopes for the next decade of my life

This Saturday, I turn 40. I’m not one to worry about wrinkles or grey hairs. My recent physical showed that I’m in good health for now.

But considering the health issues that have impacted my family over the last several years, I can’t help but worry.


It is somewhat ironic that if you had asked me before my parents became sick, I would have chosen Alzheimer’s and cancer as the diseases I dread most. Little did I know that I would have to face both diseases head-on, with dementia striking my dad and colon cancer striking my mom. I always figured Dad would get cancer, being a smoker since he was 16. Mom doesn’t smoke and eats a mainly vegetarian diet, and she gets colon cancer. Go figure.

With Mom’s health in the balance again, it’s not really feasible to make concrete plans for my 40th year, let alone the next decade of my life. But then again, if life has taught me anything over the last few years, it is to live in the here and now.

Still, there are a few wishes I have that I hope I can make come true over the next decade of my life.

  • I want to write a book. Whether it be memoir, fiction, or self-help, I’m not sure yet. Maybe one of each! I’ve lit my creative flame again over the last few years, but I know it will take hard work and focus to keep it glowing. And yes, I do want to publish the book, even if I have to go the self-publishing route. I plan on signing up for a writer’s workshop this fall.
  • I want to visit my father’s homeland, Ireland. I had planned on doing this in my 30s, or as a special gift on my 40th birthday, but alas, that is not going to happen. But I can still make it happen over the next few years. Making that family connection is important, and I think will hold greater meaning for me now than ever before.
  • I want to continue and expand my Alzheimer’s awareness work. In particular, I would like to do more hands-on advocacy work.

I’ve been through many life-changing events over the last decade, and I’m sure I will face more moments, both good and bad, over the next decade. My 40th birthday wish is that I approach these moments with a bit more wisdom, and much more compassion.


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10 Early Signs of Alzheimer’s

Joy Johnston:

It’s easy to slip into denial when Alzheimer’s enters your family’s life. The symptoms can be so subtle at first, but being aware of early warning signs can help you find treatment that may be effective in keeping the disease progression at bay for as long as possible. Please learn the signs and share with others.

Originally posted on Alzheimer's Dementia:

The Alzheimer’s Association suggests people experiencing any of the disease’s 10 early warning signs should see a doctor. (Learn the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease.


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Playing the symptoms game

Today is Mom’s 77th birthday. With all we’ve been through as a little family over the last several years, I now make it a point to visit her in person on each birthday. It sounds morbid but really, for any of us, we don’t know if this birthday will be the last.

Things have been going along pretty well over the last year, in regards to Mom’s health. Her colonoscopy at the end of 2013 brought good results — a couple of polyps removed, nothing otherwise suspicious spotted.

In March, her CEA level was up just the slightest bit. But with no other symptoms, the oncologist saw no reason for concern, saying it it continued to rise on the next visit in July, then he would order a scan.


Over the last couple of months, Mom’s had some issues with her GI system which had returned to a remarkable functioning state after her two surgeries in 2012. Most concerning is the tightness she feels in her abdominal area. She’s also had some dizzy spells and tends to get tired quicker. Her appetite is not quite as strong as it was either.

So I’ve been playing the symptoms game since that time, Googling her symptoms and various combinations of her symptoms. Her symptoms are similar to both the first time she got sick (colon cancer) and the second time (hernia). Obviously, we’d all take another hernia over another bout of cancer, but the symptoms game is long and drawn out.

It can throw you a loop and be something completely unexpected.

Her stomach looks a bit distended when she’s sitting or standing but not anywhere near the level it was when she was sick. I felt her stomach when she was stretched out on the bed and thankfully it felt pretty soft to me, so I don’t think she has another colon obstruction. Yet.

Her oncologist appointment is this Wednesday. Unless he can obviously feel a hernia, Mom will probably have to go for some sort of scan and then more waiting around for the results. So the symptoms game keeps going on …

I hate playing the symptoms game, but I hate even more when the symptoms game ends.

Then you are faced with the diagnosis.

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Bathing & Alzheimer’s

Joy Johnston:

Great tips on how to make the dreaded bath easier for you and your loved one with dementia.

Originally posted on Caregiver 2.0:


Bathing is a necessary aspect of life. However, when someone is caring for a loved one affected by a progressive dementia like Alzheimer’s, bathing can seem like an insurmountable challenge. Below are some reasons why difficulties may occur during the bathing task, and also some tips on how to overcome these challenges.

Reasons for resisting bathing:

  • May not know what bathing is for
  • May feel afraid or cold
  • May experience discomfort at the lack of modesty
  • May have had a traumatic experience related to water (e.g., drowning, burns from scalding water)

Tips to help with bathing:

  • Have toiletries, towels and washcloths available in advance to make the bathing process easier
  • Keep the room temperature warm and reduce bright lights
  • Make the person feel in-control — involve and coach through each step of the bathing process
  • Experiment to determine if the person prefers showers or tub baths and what time of…

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Guest post: Diagnosing Alzheimer’s Disease: How Can Loved Ones Help?

A new case of Alzheimer’s disease is developed every 67 seconds. Meanwhile, the number of Alzheimer’s patients is on the rise, with the numbers expected to double or even triple by the year 2030. This degenerative brain disease affects millions of people around the world…and has no known cure. Over time, it impacts your memory function, mood, and even your independence. With so many life-altering symptoms related to the disease, early detection is key. Unfortunately, obtaining an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be difficult.

Dr. David Tal of the Age Matters Clinic in Toronto.

Dr. David Tal of the Age Matters Clinic in Toronto.

Despite the fact that Alzheimer’s affects the lives of men and women across the country, diagnosis can take months or even years. Why is this the case? Early symptoms may appear to be signs of other diseases or may be dismissed as issues related to aging. This can prolong proper diagnosis, which in turn causes patients and loved ones to feel frustrated and powerless. Are you wondering what you can do to speed things up? Then you’ll need to understand how Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed – and what to be on the lookout for.

Early diagnosis is important. For starters, it allows families to look at treatment options for symptoms related to the disease, like depression. It also gives patients and their loved ones the opportunity to focus on a healthy diet and lifestyle. This has been found to slow down the progression of the disease. In addition, early diagnosis gives family members more time to find appropriate care plans for the patient as the disease progresses. However, the reality is that Alzheimer’s disease cannot be diagnosed completely accurately until after death. That is why a proper diagnosis can be drawn out. Doctors use a process of elimination that has an accuracy of about 90%.

It starts by finding out more about the patients’ medical history. This allows doctors to determine whether there are other medical issues at play and how to come up with the best treatment plan for their needs. Some of the questions your loved one will be asked include: Are you taking any medications? Do you have a family history of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease? Are you dealing with any current illnesses? What type of issues or symptoms have you been experiencing? and so on. The answers to these questions will help the medical professional get a better understanding of the situation.

From there, the doctor will give a mental state exam to test the patients ability to problem solve, their memory skills, and attention span. This can reveal whether or not there has been a decrease in memory function. Next is the physical exam. This will let the doctor know more about their overall health and physical condition. It can also signal whether the patient has another medical problems that has similar symptoms to Alzheimer’s disease. X-Rays, blood tests, and brain imaging will likely be done as well to rule out any other potential health problems. The results of the questions, exams, and tests will help to pin point a diagnosis.

So, what can you do to help during this process? Show your support, take note of any changes in memory, mood, or behaviour, and ensure your loved one gets the proper medical attention they need. It is important to act quickly. The sooner your loved one is diagnosed, the better. If you feel unsure or overwhelmed, seek the help or advice of a professional.

Have you noticed a friend or family member showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease? Then help them take that first step towards diagnosis. It may seem scary at first – but receiving a medical assessment will lead to a plan of action. Whatever the outcome, remember: your love and support can make all the difference.

About the author: Dr. David Tal has more than twenty years of clinical experience. He manages the Age Matters Clinic in Toronto, Canada. He strongly believes that medical treatment can improve the life of Alzheimer’s and memory loss patients.

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