Category Archives: Memories

Rural America hit hard by latest COVID-19 wave

When the pandemic first took hold in America, the bulk of cases were in urban areas, like New York City. I remember at the time reading some opinions from those in rural areas of the country, who thought that being a spread out population would protect them from the coronavirus. While that may have protected them somewhat during the early period of the pandemic, the trend have now reversed, with rural areas of the country being overwhelmed by an influx of COVID-19 cases.

Vaccine hesitancy and the political influence of anti-vaxxers and covid deniers in rural America is playing a role in the rise of cases from the delta variant, but that is not the whole story. What we are witnessing are the critical deficiencies in the rural healthcare system. People are dying needlessly because there is not enough space, supplies and staffing to care for them. With the country’s elder population increasing over the next decades, this is an issue that needs prompt attention.

I witnessed the challenges facing those needing medical care in rural areas when I was a caregiver for my parents. There were no memory care facilities with available beds nearby, so my father was transferred to Roswell, over an hour and a half away. This placed a huge burden on my mother when trying to visit him, as she didn’t drive and had to take a bus to make the trip. She was so tired after one grueling trip that she fell in the middle of the night and broke her shoulder. When my father became critically ill, he was transferred all the way to Albuquerque, a three-hour trip from where my parents lived. He died without family present, as my mother was preparing to visit him.

When my mother became ill, the local hospital was unable to perform her surgery, so they transferred her to Roswell. She spent the summer there, recuperating from surgery at a skilled nursing facility. Instead of making the trip back and forth to my parents’ home in Ruidoso, I lived out of a hotel in Roswell for that summer, a pricey endeavor but I learned how important it was for me to be a hands-on caregiver advocate for my mother during that recovery period. Her follow-up care had to be carefully arranged once she got back home, because the oncologists only visited Ruidoso a few days a month. After she died, I learned that the oncologist group discontinued serving the area, forcing those with cancer to travel an hour and a half away for treatment.

Many rural hospitals have closed. Equipment and beds are limited. It’s difficult to recruit doctors and nurses to serve in rural areas. Ambulance services have also been impacted, meaning people die because they can’t get to a hospital fast enough. Specialty services and tests often require lengthy travel, a burden for many families. You can see how these issues create a perfect storm when a pandemic strikes. Many rural healthcare systems now find themselves at the breaking point.

People should be able to age in place where they wish, but they should also be aware of the challenges in aging in a rural area. It will take a mix of public and private funds along with innovative minds to fix the issues plaguing the rural healthcare system, but it is essential and we must take the hard lessons learned during these times to advocate for change.

Leave a comment

Filed under Memories

NYT report shines light on dangerous drugging of nursing home residents

A recent New York Times investigation may be a revelation to some, but not to family caregivers who have loved ones in nursing homes, especially memory care centers. The investigation found that at least 21 percent of nursing home residents are on antipsychotic drugs. “Chemical restraints” have become a convenient method to reduce the hands-on care needed for those with dementia in nursing homes which are chronically understaffed. Savvy (and/or devious) nursing home operators and doctors have found workarounds to circumvent the weak government regulations that attempt to curb this dangerous practice.

This is an issue near and dear to my heart. I’ve written about my father’s experience in a memory care center during the last year of his life. He was given Risperidone, a drug typically given to adolescents with schizophrenia. It turned my father into a zombie and made him unsteady, causing several falls which resulted in ER visits. To add insult to injury, my family was left with owing thousands of dollars for medications used to inappropriately sedate my father.

Here is what I wrote about my dad’s experience with the drug:

I remember the indifferent attitude the doctor at the local hospital had when I questioned the use of Risperdal, which was already controversial even while my dad was still alive. The doctor just shrugged his shoulders and said they had to continue prescribing what the doctor from the nursing home had ordered. He asked me if I knew what it was for and I responded “to make patients like zombies so they’re easier for the nursing home staff to deal with” and the doctor agreed with a laugh. I did not find it funny at all.

Johnson & Johnson paid over $2 billion in fines to settle charges levied by the government that they promoted off-label use of the drug to elderly patients with dementia and even provided kickbacks to doctors and nursing home operators. The massive fine didn’t hinder the practice. The drugs of choice are now Haldol and Depakote, according to the New York Times investigation. Doctors are adding a diagnosis of schizophrenia to nursing home residents with dementia to get around government regulations. Haldol is used to treat schizophrenia and therefore doesn’t have to be included in the mandatory reporting of antipsychotic use that nursing homes must provide to the government.

The underlying problem to the overmedicating of nursing home residents with dementia is staffing shortages. If facilities were adequately staffed and had special training in how to care for those with dementia, the need to sedate residents would be alleviated. Families aren’t going bankrupt just so there loved ones can be turned into zombies through chemical restraints. Nursing home operators get access to medications that a family doctor would likely balk out if a family caregiver asked for it to manage their loved one at home. The government’s response continues to be insufficient.

My advice is that if you have a loved one in a memory care center, review their medication list on a monthly basis. If you are not comfortable with your loved one being on a particular medication or you witness alarming changes in your loved one’s physical or mental state, speak up. If you are looking to move your loved one with dementia into a memory care center, ask about their use of off-label medications. Ask that they seek your permission before prescribing such drugs. We must advocate for our loved ones to be treated humanely and not as an experiment to sedate into submission.

3 Comments

Filed under Awareness & Activism, Memories

20 years after 9/11

It’s hard to believe that it has been 20 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

I remember my father being particularly saddened by the scenes of destruction in New York City, the first place he called home when he arrived in America. My father had a passion for global affairs, especially those where repressed people were uprising. He wrote many letters to the editor over the years, discussing political affairs not only in his homeland of Northern Ireland but in Africa and the Middle East. He was an avid reader of large tomes on military policy and strategy. I wish I’d had deeper discussions with my father about world events. One of the worst aspects of dementia for my father was losing the ability to read, his favorite hobby.

I hope you’ll have time today to reflect and spend time with loved ones.

Leave a comment

Filed under Memories

Watermelon babies

I was enjoying some watermelon this morning and it reminded me of a funny story from my mother’s childhood. The family was gathered around, enjoying slices of watermelon when one of my mother’s older siblings warned the others to be careful not to swallow a watermelon seed, otherwise they’d grow a watermelon baby inside their tummy.

While the rest of the family got the joke, my mother did not. She began to worry that she had accidentally swallowed a watermelon seed. She became upset enough that she went to her mother who set the record straight and assured her there were no dangers of melon babies. Nowadays, kids could just Google it or ask Alexa.

The extreme and unusual heat wave that struck parts of the U.S. and Canada recently serves as a reminder to check in on our elder loved ones and make sure they have sufficient relief from the summer heat. Here in the Deep South, we tend to take air conditioning as a standard necessity, but other parts of the country that typically have moderate summer temperatures don’t always have AC units. I learned that the hard way at my parents’ condo in New Mexico. Even with a modern, high-powered fan, it was miserable. While it was merely uncomfortable for me, for those who are older or with certain health conditions, the heat can be life-threatening.

I hope you have a peaceful and pleasant Fourth of July and get to spend time with loved ones.

Leave a comment

Filed under Memories

Celebrating fathers and all male caregivers

This Father’s Day weekend, I hope you will be able to celebrate the fathers, father figures and male caregivers who have made a difference in your life.

My father adored me as a baby and while we grew apart a bit as I grew older, I always knew he loved me. I only wish I could have returned the favor more at the end of his life, but even through the fog of dementia, we were able to communicate with one another and demonstrate the strong father-daughter bond that had been there all along.

As this past year has taught us so painfully, we can never take moments to express our love for granted. Happy Father’s Day to all who provide care for others.

1 Comment

Filed under Memories

Reflecting upon older losses in a period of raw grief and renewal

Today marks six years since my mother’s death. I have to say that Mom had an uncanny sense of timing for her departure from this earth. The world has faced a series of challenges over the last several years that has left a path of death, destruction, and fractured relations that I’m glad my mother did not have to live through.

Now many of us find ourselves teetering between anticipation about establishing a new normal while mourning the losses that have piled up. And of course there are those like myself, mourning pre-pandemic losses of loved ones. It’s an odd mix of emotions; one may feel guilty about experiencing the joy of reunions while others have yet to bid a formal farewell to their loved ones while the pandemic rages on in India and other parts of the world.

My mother was the eternal optimist, to a fault in some cases, as I write about in The Reluctant Caregiver. I am more of a realist with pessimistic tendencies, but I do believe that the best antidote to the last several years of chaos and upheaval is by embracing whatever brings us joy. Give yourself grace and let go of whatever pain you can. My mother and I had a difficult relationship in ways because of our contrasting personalities. With the passage of time, I now can better focus on her positive attributes, including those I embrace in my life, such as her love of animals and nature, her sense of humor, and being kind to those in the service industry.

I hope you are able to find some sense of peace during this unusual period of grief and renewal.

Leave a comment

Filed under Memories

This Mother’s Day, reach out to those who are grieving

My mother’s last Mother’s Day in 2015.

The COVID-19 pandemic has left thousands of Americans motherless this year. One model shared in a study published in JAMA Pediatrics suggested the number of children who lost a parent due to the pandemic could be as high as 40,000, a staggering amount in just a year’s time span. On the other end of the spectrum, adult children grieve their elder mothers who died during the pandemic, some who must grapple with the extra pain of not being able to properly say goodbye.

Having lost both of my parents, I do find that Mother’s Day is harder for me emotionally than Father’s Day. I believe this is because my mother died in the month of May, just a couple of weeks after the holiday. My last memories of her before she became bedridden was reading her Mother’s Day card and admiring the fresh flowers I bought for her. Even though this year will mark six years since her passing, those bittersweet memories are still the first to surface when I’m reminded of Mother’s Day via the endless online ads and TV commercials.

I found this essay by Carol Smith on grief and the myth of closure to be compelling and moving.

For those whose mothers are still alive and perhaps will be seeing in-person for the first time in months due to the pandemic restrictions, I am so thrilled for you and I hope you have a wonderful reunion. We know now more than ever that each moment with loved ones is precious.

If you have a friend who may be grieving the loss of their mother, reach out and offer support in whatever way is meaningful to them. It can be a lonely holiday for those whose mothers are no longer alive, and acknowledgment from caring souls can mean so much.

In honor of Mother’s Day, AlzAuthors is offering free Kindle copies of our first anthology Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregiving Stories: 58 Authors Share Their Inspiring Personal Experiences.

2 Comments

Filed under Memories

A time of bittersweet reunions

May has arrived, and with it, a swirl of varied emotions. The world is beginning to open back up, which of course is a good thing. Now that I’m vaccinated against COVID-19, I’m also beginning to venture back out. There’s a strange mix of novelty in doing the most mundane of tasks, but humans are resilient and adaptable and a “new normal” will be established.

There is hope in the air, but May is also a month of loss for me. It will be six years since my mother died, and my beloved cat Nod crossed the Rainbow Bridge last May. Watching the Kentucky Derby yesterday made me think of my mother. Watching the race was the last happy moment we had together.

Many families are experiencing bittersweet reunions with their loved ones who have been isolated in nursing homes during the pandemic. Of course they are thrilled to visit their family members in person, and some can now hug and hold hands with their loved ones. But the toll the past year has taken cannot be denied. This moving New York Times photo essay captures the raw mix of emotions sparked during these long-awaited reunions.

Best wishes to those of you reuniting with your loved ones. If we’ve learned anything over this last year, it’s how precious those moments are and how we can never take them for granted again.

Leave a comment

Filed under Memories

Too strange to be true? Not always

I had a strange experience this week that reminded me of one of my favorite stories in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer’s & Other Dementias. This collection also includes a story I wrote about my father called “French Toast.” The story that I find so delightful is “The Bird,” about a woman with Alzheimer’s who is living with her adult daughter. One late night the mother wakes her daughter up and announces that there is a bird in the house. The daughter is skeptical, as most dementia caregivers would be, because hallucinations and other visual disturbances are not uncommon. But it turns out that the woman with dementia is correct and there is a real bird fluttering around the house!

I’ve been hearing strange noises coming from the house alarm system. It was intermittent, maybe every few months or so, but the noise sounded somewhat like chirps or squeaks. Sometimes I wondered if I was imagining things, and felt silly for thinking about a creature being inside the alarm system. When the pandemic struck, I had a hole on the roof where rats got in repaired. Even after the rats were gone, I still heard the occasional weird noise from the alarm system. The alarm system continued to work fine, so I didn’t consider it a priority to fix, especially during the pandemic lockdown.

This week the security system had to be upgraded because it was using old 3G technology that is being phased out. I was on the fence about mentioning the sounds to the technician, on account he might think I’d lost my mind. I was shutting the back door on his request and about to mention the sounds when he removed the alarm console cover. He announced, “You’ve got lizards!”

Mystery solved! I’m still not sure how they got in from the outside but they were likely attracted to the warmth of the circuit board. The one in the photo was the larger one and a smaller companion slithered out as well. I’d be happy to let them back outside but haven’t seen them since the ordeal. My cat will probably spot them before I do. On the rare occasion I’ve seen one in the house prior to this incident, the cats would surround it but thankfully were more curious than in hunter mode.

Other than an amusing story, what I’m taking away from this is the same moral from the Chicken Soup for the Soul story. The daughter said how enlightening it was to put herself in her mother’s shoes, and imagine how it would feel to not be believed. I wondered if I was imagining things as well, and there is a relief when one receives validation. To be less automatically dismissive is a good lesson for all of us, especially when interacting with those with dementia.

1 Comment

Filed under Memories

Marking Dad’s 89th birthday

Today would have been Dad’s 89th birthday. This year will mark 10 years since his passing. It’s hard to believe that much time has gone by, and how much the world has changed in just a decade.

I’ve always loved this series of photo booth shots. I wasn’t an entirely cooperative model but Dad’s beaming smile makes up for it. Dad rarely smiled in photos as he was self-conscious about his teeth, so the wide smiles in these shots are extra precious. He was definitely a proud papa.

1 Comment

Filed under Memories