Bittersweet birthday memories

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For me, July will forever be associated with birthdays. My mother’s birthday was July 6 and my birthday is July 19.

While birthdays should be filled with happy memories, ever since the death of my parents, I’m left with bittersweet memories. There’s a profound quote in the Netflix documentary, End Game, which is about end-of-life care and hospice, that touches upon what I’m feeling this week.

“Suffering is the wedge, the gap between the world you want and the world you got.”

Even though I didn’t spend my birthday with my parents as an adult, they always sang Happy Birthday to me over the phone. It was a fun tradition, and each year Mom would tell me how they practiced all week to make it special. My parents both had some musical talent, with Dad especially fond of singing in the style of his favorite crooner, Bing Crosby.

The year before my father was placed in the memory care center, my parents performed the best rendition ever of Happy Birthday. My dad was in high spirits that day, and even though he was in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s by then, he hadn’t lost his ability to sing or to ham it up. He continued singing, performing a medley of classic show tunes before Mom was able to get the phone back from him. At the time I thought, “I wish I had recorded this!”

As my birthday approached the next year, I was visiting my parents and Mom and I made the trek to the memory care center to see Dad. He was mobile but heavily medicated. I didn’t expect any birthday singing, but Mom insisted. I was torn about recording it, but I knew in my heart that it would be my last birthday with my father alive. Little did I know then that my mother would be in a care center a year later recovering from cancer surgery.

Even though I knew it would be painful, I decided to record it. I’m glad I did, even though it is heartbreaking to watch. (I rarely share this video, but am making an exception here.)

As to the quote about suffering, what I wanted was the sublime Happy Birthday performance from the year before. What I got was my father, addled with medication and his brain ravaged by Alzheimer’s, trying his best to perform one final time, with my mother trying desperately to be upbeat.

Ultimately, both memories are gifts. They are both filled with love.

 

 

 

 

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Stay or move, that is the question

I was recently introduced to a resourceful website called StayorMove.org. The site focuses on what is are the most crucial questions as we grow older, such as do we stay put in our current homes or do we move on to a different location or live in an assisted living facility?

It’s questions we all should ask ourselves, but many people wait until a health issue makes the decision for them. That’s why I like the approach found on the StayorMove website, which is easy to navigate and uses a series of videos to address the pros and cons of a variety of housing options.

>>READ MORE: Can America afford to age in place?

I also appreciated the fact that growing old in a rural environment was addressed. Those who follow this blog know this is an issue that’s important to me, because my parents’ health care was compromised by living in a small town with limited medical resources. They have a series of videos on the Village movement, which seeks to connect neighbors and volunteers to help elders age in place, while valuing the contributions of elders to the community. I’d love to see this concept expand.

The videos are brief but informative, and hopefully will encourage the “stay or move” conversation to continue. The more people are educated, the better decisions they can make about their own aging and housing choices.

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Fireworks and Sundowning – Not a Happy Fourth of July — The Imperfect Caregiver

A good reminder that not everyone reacts well to fireworks, including people with dementia. (This can also apply to people with autism and pets, among other groups.) Have a safe and happy Fourth of July!

As if sundowning weren’t a challenge for those with dementia and their caregivers we add fireworks to the mix on July 4th each year. A person who once loved fireworks may respond differently now. For someone with dementia, the loud pops and explosions can trigger memories of wartime experiences causing a return or worsening of […]

via Fireworks and Sundowning – Not a Happy Fourth of July — The Imperfect Caregiver

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July 3, 2018 · 7:16 am

Keeping elders safe during heat waves

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While I expect long, hot and humid summers in Atlanta, this spring and beginning of summer has been particularly brutal. Atlanta has already recorded stretches of 90-plus degree weather and the summer season has just started. I was taking a look at the national map and it looks like much of the country is experiencing hot temperatures.

That’s why I thought it was a good time to remind everyone to check in on elder relatives and neighbors more often during periods of extreme heat. As I wrote in this article last year that was posted on The Caregiver Space, seniors can be stingy when it comes to their use of air conditioning. Some of this comes from frugal living during tough economic times, when thing like AC were considered modern luxuries. But in some parts of the country, fans may not be enough to battle the heat. (I learned this the hard way when I stayed at my parents’ condo in New Mexico, which doesn’t have air conditioning, and had to endure 90-degree weather.)

Here are some simple tips that can mean the difference between life and death during the summer months:

  • If your elder loved one lives independently, check in on them more often during heat waves. Ask how they are holding up. Are they using air conditioning or fans?
  • If possible, visit in person, or have a neighbor, caregivers or family friend visit. Make sure elders in the residence aren’t showing any signs of excessive heat exposure. Seniors can be more susceptible to heat stress, according to the CDC.
  • Hydration is key. It was always a struggle to get my mother to drink enough water, and I’ve found this is a common trait among seniors, compared to my generation which seems to carry around a water bottle everywhere.
  • Monitor seniors’ activities to make sure they are not overdoing it when the forecast predicts extreme temperatures. Encourage any physical activity early in the day before the weather heats up.
  • Encourage the use of community cooling centers.

In this day and age, no one should die because of a heat wave. Yet every year, we read of tragic cases, many involving older people. This is one of those situations where it indeed “takes a village” to make sure people stay safe.

What are your tips for staying cool?

 

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An encore visit to the cat circus

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The Amazing Acro-Cats

This past weekend, The Amazing Acro-Cats returned to Atlanta for multiple “purrformances.” Of course, I had to go. It is such an entertaining, quirky show. It’s the only time you get to see “cat herding” in literal action. I highly recommend catching a show if they come to your town.

When I saw that the Acro-Cats were going to be in town this time around, my heart clenched a bit. If  you’ve read my book, The Reluctant Caregiver, there’s a darkly humorous account about the first time I attended an Acro-Cats show. The essay is titled, “That Time I Chose the Cat Circus Over My Dying Mother.”

I couldn’t help but remember seeing them in 2015, and how desperately I just wanted one evening free of caregiving duties (at that time, I was a long-distance caregiver, but in contact with Mom daily.) I arranged everything so carefully, got out of work early and called Mom before the performance to let her know I would be unavailable for a couple of hours. I had just settled into my seat in the theatre when my phone rang. It was Mom.

And here’s where the guilt pangs come in. I didn’t answer the phone. I didn’t wait to see if she left a voicemail. Instead, I turned my phone off. “I just want to see the cats,” I screamed inside my head. I was definitely in need of a break, but ignoring my mother’s call and turning my phone off is not my proudest moment as a caregiver.

Of course, throughout the performance, I kept thinking about Mom. Wonder if she had fallen? (She wore a LifeAlert pendant so she did have remote assistance.) Wonder if she was having shortness of breath?  Wonder if she needed to call 911 but couldn’t? Wonder if she was dying right at that moment and wanted to tell me one last time that she loved me? How could I be so selfish?

Immediately after the performance I turned back on my phone and with dread, listened to the voicemail. Mom was asking me to call her doctor in the morning to inquire about her pain medication. She was as “OK” as a dying person can be, and I was relieved my night out hadn’t ended in disaster.

This time, I could enjoy the cat circus without any interruptions, which was bittersweet. Mom would have enjoyed the cat’s antics. Check out a snippet of Oz’s stirring rendition of “Careless Whisper.”

In a sad coincidence, Samantha Martin, the Acro-Cats founder, is now battling stage III colon cancer, exactly what my mother had. She is raising money to offset the costs of not being able to tour while she is recovering from surgery. Martin has done so much to help needy cats, rescuing them and helping them get adopted. She’s also shown the world that cats can learn tricks through her clicker training method. I wish her the best in her recovery. The Acro-Cats will always hold a special place in my heart.

 

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When You Need Some Help: 5 Reasons to Join a Caregiver Support Group

Caregiver support groups are available in-person in some communities and online around the globe. Choose which format suits your personality and circumstances the best. The important thing is to make sure you have a support network to help you along the caregiving journey.

The Purple Jacket

In a world that seems to have lost the idea of the “village,” sometimes we feel pressured to be able to do it all. Asking for assistance or admitting that you are overwhelmed feels like failure, and we often think that we’re being judged by others as not good enough. And that’s just with normal, everyday life.

When you find yourself caring for a loved one, the pressure increases. You are expected to take on this additional burden with a smile, and your willingness to do so seems to be a measurement of your love; expressing your anger or frustration to friends and family earns you appalled looks of disbelief. The good news is that there is a village for you; a caregiver support group. Here are 5 reasons why you should think about joining one.

To Reduce Stress

Perhaps the primary reason to join a support group for caregivers…

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AlzAuthors marks 3rd anniversary with book sale and giveaway

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AlzAuthors June book sale.

I’m so excited to announce this book sale and giveaway. The AlzAuthors group is marking its third anniversary! I’m honored to be a part of this group of authors who have written books about Alzheimer’s and dementia.

In addition, June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness month, so it’s a good time to read more on these important topics.

Check out the link below to learn more about the book sale and how you can register to win a collection of books from AlzAuthors, including The Reluctant Caregiver.

via Happy Anniversary AlzAuthors! Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month Book Sale & Giveaway

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