It has been 7 years since my mother died. The pandemic has made time’s passing more difficult for me to track. Seven years feels both not long ago and yet another lifetime ago. I think my mother would be very upset about the state of the world right now, as she always looked for common ground and the good in people. Those things seem to be in short supply these days.
I did have a moment of synchronicity today. I was listening to Glenn Campbell’s late masterpiece albums, Ghost on the Canvas. It was recorded after Campbell’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and was one of my mother’s favorite albums. It’s one of my favorites too, and I’ve listened to it dozens of times. Today I played it on the YouTube app on my TV and when I looked up during one of the instrumental interludes, I realized the song was titled, May 21, 1969.
I had never noticed this before! According to information I found online, May 21, 1969 was the date the date Campbell’s network variety show debuted on network TV. It would become a hit and known as “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.”
What are the chances that May 21, the day my mother died, would also be in a song title of one of our favorite albums? The moment felt like Mom’s spirit connecting with me through the wonders of the universe.
It seems rare that justice is done in cases like these so I wanted to give an update on a case that I’ve written about previously on The Memories Project.
A police officer in Colorado who used excessive physical force against a 73-year-old woman with dementia who had been accused of shoplifting has been sentenced to 5 years in prison.
The case went viral after the video of the rough arrest was released to the public and shared on social media. Karen Garner was accused by Walmart staff of trying to walk out of the store with $14 of merchandise in June 2020. Staff were able to retrieve the merchandise in question, but Garner walked away from the store before police arrived. Officer Austin Hopp attempted to stop Garner, who was confused and not cooperative due to her dementia. Hopp proceeded to slam Garner to the ground during the arrest, dislocating her shoulder. She was also hogtied and suffered a fractured arm and sprained wrist.
Garner’s ordeal didn’t end there. When she complained about pain at the police station, she was mocked and ignored. Hopp and two other police officers laughed about the incident, boasting, “We crushed it.”
You can watch the arrest below. Viewer discretion advised.
A female officer involved in the arrest has also been charged in the case and has a court hearing in June.
This is such an important topic and I’m grateful for Kay Bransford’s excellent blog post. As my father’s dementia progressed, simple tasks like paying for groceries or a fast food meal became a challenge that caused my father to become angry and accuse others of trying to rip him off. My mother eventually had to take over those tasks. After my father’s death, my mother’s loneliness made her susceptible to the barrage of telemarketers who would call on a daily basis. As a long-distance caregiver, it was difficult and frustrating for me to try and manage from afar.
Click on the link below to read the helpful post on Dealing with Dementia:
There were a few odd conversations with my Mom when things didn’t make sense. But the most alarming thing was when I realized my parents had changed their decades-long habit of giving every January. I started to notice that my mother was writing checks to charities that they had never previously supported. I would read…
HFC’s Humans of Dementia Storytelling Contest is open and will be accepting submissions through April 30. This is a great way for young people to share their experiences of caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s or other dementias.
More about the contest: “HFC invites high school and college students to submit written or photo profiles of someone you know who has or had Alzheimer’s or related dementias.”
HFC, formerly known as Hilarity for Charity, was founded by actor Seth Rogen and his wife, Lauren Miller Rogen. Lauren’s mother developed early-onset Alzheimer’s at age 55 and died in 2020. HFC’s mission statement: “HFC is a national non-profit whose mission is to care for families impacted by Alzheimer’s disease today, activate the next generation of Alzheimer’s advocates, and be a leader in brain health research and education.”
Please share with the students in your life who have been touched by Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Encouraging our youth to share their perspectives on this disease will help spread awareness and embolden younger generations to contributing to finding effective treatments and care options.
This year, the Alzheimer’s Association is taking a closer look at Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and encouraging greater awareness and understanding of this condition and its relation to Alzheimer’s disease.
Here are some of the top takeaways:
More than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s
1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia
In 2020, COVID-19 contributed to a 17% increase in Alzheimer’s and dementia deaths
More than 11 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias and in 2021, these caregivers provided more than 16 billion hours of care valued at nearly $272 billion.
Fewer than 1 in 5 Americans are familiar with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which can be an early stage of Alzheimer’s
About one-third of people with MCI due to Alzheimer’s disease develop dementia within 5 years of diagnosis
I recently had the privilege of writing a blog post for The Conversation Project. My father died 10 years ago and in May, I will be marking seven years since my mother’s death. I’ve had a lot of time to think about end of life issues in the years since their passing and I’ve shared my perspectives here on The Memories Project blog and in my book, The Reluctant Caregiver.
In my post for The Conversation Project, A Good Death Is More about the Journey than the Destination, I discuss my family’s reluctance to talk about death and end of life issues, and how that impacted their end of life journeys, albeit in very different ways. My father’s death impacted how I cared for my mother, when just several months later, she was diagnosed with cancer.
Neither of my parents experienced the kind of death that I would want for myself, and that is why it has become such an important advocacy issue to me. Please talk to your loved ones, discuss your end-of-life wishes and document it all so that you can have some peace of mind when that phase of life is reached. What I wish for everyone is that you can find the time to simply be with your loved ones who are nearing the end of life, and not overly preoccupied with medical care duties. Just like at the beginning of life, it’s important we have those bonding moments at the end of life as well.
There is more interesting research going on in the world of Alzheimer’s. Scientists are examining whether the brain’s infrastructure plays a role in a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s. A damaged vascular system in the brain could develop cognitive performance issues, akin to an aging power grid that struggles to deliver power to a city, according to the research discussed in this Stanford Medicine Scope blog post.
In looking at a genetic atlas of the brain, researchers found that the “majority of the top Alzheimer’s risk genes are significantly expressed in the [brain’s] vasculature.” If you want to do a deep dive into the research, take a look at the study published in Nature.
The new technology used to create a genetic atlas and the accompanying discoveries give Alzheimer’s researchers new avenues to explore. No cause and effect has been established yet between brain vascular damage and Alzheimer’s risk, but there will now be additional research conducted to examine this area.
What could this mean for potential treatment of Alzheimer’s disease down the road? According to the Tony Wyss-Coray, who runs the lab where the research was conducted, treatments that could target the brain’s vascular system may be more easily accessible as the blood-brain barrier presents a challenge when it comes to getting drugs into the brain.
I’ve written before on this blog about having a keen interest in studies that involve dementia, Alzheimer’s and overall cognitive health, while also maintaining a healthy skepticism. This week a preliminary study about how having a pet could benefit cognitive health made the rounds on social media. Those of us who are pet owners know how much love and joy they can bring to our lives. But it’s also important to understand and be able to manage the challenging moments as they age and develop health issues of their own.
The study found that those who had owned pets for five or more years were able to delay cognitive decline by 1.2 points vs. those in the study who did not have pets over a six-year period. The study analyzed cognitive data of more than 1,300 adults age 50 or over. While researchers were only able to establish an association, not a cause and effect with this study, the findings support prior research in this area.
Pets offer loyal companionship and keep us on a routine. Dog ownership encourages daily walks, and regular exercise has been demonstrated to have cognitive benefits. By just being their unique and adorable selves, pets can offer us moments of joy that help relieve stress and lift our spirits. As a society, we should do everything we can to make sure elders and those with health issues have the support they need to keep their beloved pets with them, whether its at home or in a residential facility.
I cannot imagine my life without my pets, but I also accept the considerable responsibility that I have in maintaining their well-being. If you have elder loved ones with pets, check on them to make sure that there are no care issues that need to be addressed.
I came across an interesting discussion recently about whether Ensure and other nutritional beverages marketed towards older people are really the best option.
The discussion that followed the geriatrician’s perspective included interesting pros and cons. It made me think about my parents’ experience with the beverages. My father had never been a fan of milkshakes or similar beverages, but he seemed to enjoy the Ensure drinks, so I would ship cases of them to the memory care center where he spent the last year of his life. My mother existed on Ensure for the last month or so of her life. I have regrets about that, wishing I had taken time to make her something that she would have enjoyed more.
This is why I’m such a strong believer in expanding inpatient hospice and providing more robust home hospice care. As the sole caregiver for my mother at the end of her life, things like whipping up something delicious for her to eat didn’t cross my mind because I was so busy focusing on the “important” things, like her pain medication, treating her bedsores, etc. While I managed to mainly keep her suffering to a minimum, there was no joy in her final weeks.
Those with dementia may struggle with solid food as they enter the final stages of the disease, so liquid forms of nutrition may become a necessity. Homemade smoothies, puddings and milkshakes may interest those who have grown tired of the commercial products. If you can, consult with a nutrition specialist or dietitian about tasty, safe options for your loved one. Bringing loved ones small moments of joy can also lift the spirits of family caregivers.
As difficult as it can be to find a good nursing home and secure space for your loved one, the challenge doesn’t end there. Dementia caregivers in particular must be aware and be prepared to take action if the nursing home tries to evict your loved one.
So many people are not aware of the amount of nursing home evictions that take place each year in the US and the chaos and stress it causes families. I experienced a form of this when the skilled nursing facility where my father was placed after being discharged by the hospital said it could no longer care for him because they didn’t have staff that could provide dementia care. My father was not able to return home because he could no longer walk and my parents’ condo had stairs. My father was stranded and eventually was placed over an hour-and-a-half away from my parents’ home in the closest facility with a memory care wing.