Monday, December 17, 2012

Smile In Spite Of Dementia

I have the distinct pleasure of directing seven senior citizen choirs.  Most of the participants of these choirs have dementia.  This can make things interesting, to say the least.  Many of them have lost the ability to read, some are easily agitated, and some forget from week to week their involvement in the choir.  However, they are my favorite people, and we have a great time together singing.

The next five days will be spent directing a Christmas performance with five various choirs.  You might never guess my biggest challenge with these folks.  Answer is --- getting them to smile.  They are so intent about singing, they forget to smile.  I am constantly reminding them to smile, “You are singing ‘Joy To The World’, but you are not smiling.  Come on.  SMILE!”  They will then smile, and the smile lasts about 10 seconds.  Then their heads are back down, concentration on singing has begun, and the process repeats itself.

I don’t mind reminding my singers of the need to smile.  Because of the dementia many of them experience, they are not capable of remembering the need to read, sing, and smile all at the same time.  It takes a great amount of brain activity to cause all this to happen at one time.  I think it is more important they sing.  If they smile, that is great.  If they sing, they are causing their brain to release endorphins.  This make them feel better.  So, SING!  If you can remember to smile, that is even better.  Just don’t forget to SING.  Hope that gives you Something To Ponder.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Dementia and Afghans

I could write and give you all the details regarding the thousands of things I need to accomplish (and that is just during the next 24 hours), but I am sure you are swamped with packages to wrap, house cleaning to accomplish, menus to consider, and so on.  So, I am doubtful you will feel too much sympathy for my plight.

Momma, on the other hand, is so very busy giving serious consideration as to whether she should crochet full-size afghans or baby afghans.  Oh my, what a tough decision, indeed.  Actually, I am proud of the afghans she makes.  As you can see in the picture, I have one on my office chair, and I even use one as a table covering.  However, I say with a sigh, there comes a time you just don’t need any more afghans.  All the children, grandchildren, friends, and acquaintances are proud owners of one or more of her handmade creations.

This week I had the brilliant idea of contacting my church to see if they could help with distribution.  Happy days are here again!  They want all she can make.  Oh man, they don’t know how quickly my Momma can whip up these things.

Anyway, Momma’s crocheting is so good for her.  She enjoys keeping her hands busy (that becomes important in about the third stage of dementia), she likes to be creative, and she thrills to share her work with others.  Momma’s budget is feeling the pinch of purchasing all this yarn, but the goodwill her afghans produce and the health benefits for Momma are priceless.

Way to go, Momma.  Keep on stitching!  Hope that gives you Something To Ponder.

Monday, November 26, 2012

It Looks Like A Cat

(Disclaimer - When I was in school, and a poetry assignment was given, I had my older sister write the poems for me.  I know that was a bad thing to do, but she is excellent at poetry.  After reading this blog, you will understand more fully why I made that decision.)

It isn’t a fox

He has on no sox

It looks like a cat

A cat in a box

He just wants to rest

To be at his best

It looks like a cat

Put this box to the test

He sat oh so still

Just resting until

It looks like a cat

Had quite the fill

A lesson to heed

From a cat who can’t read

It looks like a cat

Taught a lesson, indeed

Take time to rest

To be at your best

It looks like a cat

Aced that big test

Monday, November 19, 2012

Dementia - Going The Extra Mile

Ninety minutes there.  Ninety minutes back.  Sit and wait between the two events.  That is what my husband, Michael, does whenever Momma and I need a trip to our local outlet mall.  He says he doesn’t mind, especially if there is food involved somewhere in the process.  But, really, who wants to do all that driving  just to sit and wait on someone?

Michael is a sweetheart, and no one knows this better than me.  My mother would argue that statement.  She thinks he is the best thing since sliced bread, and he truly is her “son-in-love”, as a one of my reader’s referred to her son-in-law.  Michael takes extra effort to help me care for Momma.  If Momma wants it, you can bet Michael will make sure Momma gets it.  Whatever “it” is has little bearing on things.

Momma has Alzheimer’s, and Michael is determined we will enjoy our time with Momma.  If she gets to the point she doesn’t recognize us, we will know we maximized our time together.  How many son-in-laws go to this kind of effort?  I would guess there are not too many.  A son-in-love, on the other hand, would look at the situation differently.

Alzheimer’s can be challenging.  Having a strong hand on your back can mean the difference between success and failure as a caregiver.  Who can you support today?  Hope that gives you Something To Ponder.

Monday, November 12, 2012

World War II Veterans Honored

World War II Veterans Honored

Nov 11, 2012

November 7th, 2012 was a day Clint Andrews will always remember.  That was the day he joined 100 World War II Veterans, flying out of Columbia, South Carolina, on an Honor Flight bound for Washington, DC.  Clint was picked up in the wee hours of the morning, driven to Columbia, and escorted the entire day.  The veterans visited the World War II Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Clint is a young 94 years old, and he was joined by veterans from age 85 to 97.  To date, over 81,000 soldiers have taken advantage of this privilege.  I am proud of Clint.  He is a man that stands above most men you will ever meet.  He is a man of honor, integrity, courage, and love.  I am sure these traits are true of most all the men who joined him on November 7th, but, to me, Clint stands taller.

Upon returning to Columbia for each veteran to begin their trek home, the celebration continued.  This was in stark contrast to their return from war in 1945.  During those days, the brave men were met by a relative or two, but no fan fare greeted them.  However, on November 7th, 2012, these 100 men returned to the airport in Columbia, SC to a throng of people with police escort!  Clint said, “It was like returning from the war!”

WAY TO GO, CLINT!  You so deserve the special acclaim you received that day.  By the way, you are still one more good looking solider.  Thank you for making America a place I can call home!  Hope that gives you Something To Ponder.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Dementia - I Don't Remember You

I love Chinese Food.  I especially enjoy sushi rolls.   Fortune cookies, on the other hand, are disgusting.  Most of the time, the fortune inside of them says something that isn' a fortune at all.  For example, it might say “You have character”.  That is NOT a fortune.  If it said, “You have character that will lead to great success,” THAT would be a fortune.

Recently, my fortune said, “You will soon be receiving some good written advice.”  I have high hopes that written advice will look something like this.  “Dear Mrs. Howell, we are pleased to announce you have won a gazillion dollars in the ‘Win A Bunch’ sweepstakes.”  Yes, oh yes!  That would be some “good written advice”.  In the meantime, I have decided to use that fortune and this blog to bring you, my reader, some good written advice.

I recently watched the movie “1,000 Words”, with Eddie Murphy.  He portrays a character who, among other things, visits his mother with dementia.  She thinks he is her husband, and he continues to insist he is Jack, her son.  This, of course, does not settle well with her, confuses her, and causes the visit to be less than what Jack had hoped it would be.

When visiting with someone who is not living in the here and now, allow them to set the tone and character of the conversation.  If they believe you to be someone other than who you are, go with the moment.  Dust off your acting skills, smile, and be whomever they seem to think you resemble.  The process may not seem like fun, at first, but watching your loved one smile, liven up, and have a few moments of happiness is really what your visit should be about, anyway.

Eddie Murphy’s character, Jack, had some education ahead of him before he figured out this technique.  You, on the other hand, have just been the beneficiary of the fortune from my recent Chinese food experience.  Please put this “good written advice” to work.  Hope that gives you Something To Ponder.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Dementia and Being Old

Moses Was An Old Dude

Oct 29, 2012

Did you know Moses was 80 when God called him to talk to Pharoah about freeing the Israelites?   Moses was an old dude, for sure.  Then God decided to give Moses a break, and He arranged for Aaron to come along and help Moses.  Guess what?  Aaron was 83!  Now I’m not so sure I would consider an 83 year old man to be much of a helper, but we all know God has a sense of humor.

Our pastor used this passage of scripture in Exodus as the text for his sermon this week.  Being someone who works with senior citizens every day, and someone who writes about senior citizens in both blog and book format, this little tidbit of information on Moses and Aaron caught my attention.

I think it is one of the ways God reminds us to recognize the benefit senior citizens have in our lives.  We are often quick to disregard their stories or ideas.  We seem to forget they have knowledge beyond anything we have experienced.  We ignore their education, both formal and informal.

God decided to call on the wisdom Moses had gained in his 80 years on Earth, and He enhanced that wisdom with Aaron and his talents garnered through 83 years of being alive.  If God looks this way on the senior citizens, shouldn’t we?  Hope that gives you Something To Ponder.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Momma And Her Juggling Career

Exercising the brain is important for us at every stage of life.  This is true even when dementia becomes part of the picture. We have often heard instructions to work crossword puzzles, Soduku puzzles, and jigsaw puzzles. This is good advice IF doing these things is a challenge.  Then the brain is getting a good workout.  If doing these things come easily, the brain challenge is less, and, therefore, the benefit to the brain is decreased.

Knowing this, I recommended my Momma try juggling.  We had just finished a one-mile walk around the neighborhood carrying one pound balls.  We used these balls to do various exercises with our arms.  Then I suggested she try throwing one ball at a time in the air and catching it with her dominant hand.  She did very well.  I then suggested she try doing this same thing with her other hand.  For Momma, that was her left hand.  If you have ever tried writing with your left hand, when you normally use your right hand, you can begin to understand how this was a bit of a challenge for Momma.  In addition to this throwing and catching of the ball, Momma was walking around the neighborhood and talking to me.  This meant her brain was firing in many different locations.  One part of her brain was being used to allow her to talk, one part to allow her to toss the ball, another part to help the opposite hand reach for the ball, one part for her eyes to keep track of the sequence, and so on.

As a reminder, Momma has Alzheimer's.  So, this brain exercise was an excellent workout.  On top of the good brain workout she received, she worked her legs with the walking and her arms with the catching of the ball.  As an extra bonus, it was fun, and Momma laughed and giggled throughout the process.  (Which is also good for her brain.)

Now my challenge is to teach her how to truly juggle.  Then I'm gonna start a side show and charge admission. Or...maybe not.  Hope that gives you Something To Ponder.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Faith and Peace - Buy One Get One Free

I was recently asked to explain why I have peace in my life.  My first thought was, “How do you know I have peace?”  This person seemed to think I had a corner on the market of peace.  Maybe it was on special at the local department store.  “Buy one get one free --- today only --- stock up on peace.”

Of course, I am exaggerating, but the conversation has made me stop and think.  My peace, to whatever extent I have it, really did come as a “buy one get one free” deal.  Use see, peace is the by-product of faith.  When faith becomes real and strong in the everyday activities of life, peace is the naturally occurring result.

In my book, I Prayed For My Refrigerator…And Other Stories of Faith, (Click here to purchase), I tell many stories where faith was absolutely necessary to bring me through various life situations with a smile on my face.  My husband’s life-changing accident, my parent’s divorce, and my story of being bitten by a bat all relay instances where my faith was tested and God’s peace brought me through.

There are few minutes of my day that are not bathed with prayer.  I have often commented that my tendency towards accidents has helped push me into prayerful conversation many times a day.  (My friend, Leslie, calls me Kamikaze Carol.)  When I crank the car, when I walk up and down stairs, when I sit to write, no matter the situation, I consult with God for His direction and guidance.

Am I more peaceful than others in my world?  I don’t know.  I do know that the only true source of peace is through the Prince of Peace.  Come back next week and Listen To My Brain Rattle.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Whose Taking Care of Mom-Mom During The Wedding?

We are making final plans for the big wedding day, and there are a ton of details to consider.  What time does the bride need to be at the gardens?  Will the groom change into his tuxedo at the wedding site?  These seem like normal questions.

When dementia enters the picture, the questions may be different.  What arrangements have been made to allow NaNa and Mom-Mom to arrive in time but not too early?  Has anyone been asked to sit with them until such time as they are escorted down the aisle?  Who will make sure these same grandmothers have all their needs met while their family is busy with the events of the day?  Who will take them home early if they desire?  Did we remember a blanket for NaNa while she is sitting in her wheelchair?  Does Mom-Mom need someone to remind her not to eat fruit?

 (Brandie and Mom-Mom)

 (Brandie and NaNa)

Planning ahead, when a loved one has dementia, is the key to a successful event.  Do not expect them to be able to participate as everyone else might.  They have limitations.  Respect those limitations, adjust your expectations to match up with their abilities, and the event will be more enjoyable for everyone involved.

Me… well I have enlisted the help of anyone and everyone who is willing to be caregivers on the big wedding day.  The more help the better.  Hope that gives you Something To Ponder.

Monday, October 1, 2012

He Was A Minister-She Was A Lawyer

My choir participants have been especially talkative this week.  It seems they had stories that needed to be told, and I was happy to stop and listen.

We all like to tell stories when we have an audience that is engaged.  It is my pleasure to be that “engaged audience” for my senior citizen friends.  It amazes me the life these folks have led.  Even though I know better, I sometimes forget the person I see is not the person they were 20, 30, 40, or even 50 years ago.  These folks have life experiences, histories, and stories.

While talking with one man, I learned he was a Baptist minister and later a Methodist minister.  He also ministered to twelve troubled young men at a group home.  This is impressive, to say the least.

One lady, who presently enjoys humming and eating cookies all of her awake hours, surprised me with the news of her past career.  She was a successful lawyer in Louisiana.  I was amazed to realize the success this lady had achieved.

When you are blessed to be in the presence of senior citizens, take a few minutes to learn about their life.  Ask about their previous career, how many children they have, where they lived, and so on.  They may or may not remember.  If they do not remember, they will say so, or they will make up a story.  Either way, you have spent time with an individual who has a story to tell.

That, my friend, will give you Something To Ponder.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Minor Wrecks Move To Safe Location

Recently I saw a sign on the interstate that said, “Minor wrecks move to safe location”.  I’m not sure why, but it made me giggle.  There are days I feel like a minor wreck, and it might be good if I were moved to a safe location.  Friday was one of those days.  I was exhausted.  I needed some time on the sofa resting and relaxing.  That was my “safe location”.

As our loved ones age, they need safe locations, also.  I take great comfort in knowing my Momma lives in an assisted living facility.  She is among people much like herself, she enjoys being cared for, and she has no concerns for her daily care.  Many people look at assisted living care as the “last resort”.  I recommend you look at it as a wonderful addition to your loved ones life.  This becomes more evident when the decision to move is made earlier in life.  Momma decided to make the move shortly after her diagnosis.  This decision has allowed her to adjust to her new home, make friends, and fully feel like she is “home”.

I hope you are not feeling like a “minor wreck”, but always seek a safe location in order to get the care you need.  It’s just Something To Ponder.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Alabama Meets New York City

Music Therapy is my favorite!  Senior Life Journeys offers three services.  I enjoy one-on-one life coaching with families traveling the journey of dementia.  I am thrilled to have the opportunity to speak to groups.  (I don’t mind being the center of attention, and I am even brave enough to admit it!)  Lastly, I offer Music Therapy in senior centers, adult day cares, adult residential homes, Memory Care facilities, assisted livings, or anywhere there are seniors or individuals with health and cognitive issues.  It is an absolute thrill to observe the change in expression when these wonderful people SING!

 (This picture shows my momma holding John Boy, and Shirley (a fabulous soprano in my choir) holding Marilyn.  Momma was laughing so hard, she just about cried!)

My pianist, Becky, decided we needed to add puppets to our therapy.  At first I wasn’t too excited.  Then I met John Boy and Marilyn.  I would love to tell you about them.

John Boy is a good old country boy from Alabama.  He grew up on a farm, knows the value of a dollar, understands hard work, and just happens to be madly, deeply, and truly in love with Marilyn.

Marilyn is from New York City.  She loves The Big Apple, has never worn a pair of cowboy boots in her life, would not be caught dead with dirt under her well-manicured nails, and just happens to think John Boy is one more “hunky” man.  (Hunky is Marilyn’s word – not mine!)

John Boy and Marilyn tag along with Becky and me as we do Music Therapy.  They sometimes get into discussions about Marilyn’s problem constantly losing her glasses, or John Boy’s workaholic tendencies, but they always end with a love song.

John Boy and Marilyn bring smiles, music, laughter and dancing.  They are teaching me to smile, sing, laugh, and dance every day of my life.  Now that's a good plan.  Hope that gives you Something To Ponder.

Alabama Meets New York City

Music Therapy is my favorite!  Senior Life Journeys offers three services.  I enjoy one-on-one life coaching with families traveling the journey of dementia.  I am thrilled to have the opportunity to speak to groups.  (I don’t mind being the center of attention, and I am even brave enough to admit it!)  Lastly, I offer Music Therapy in senior centers, adult day cares, adult residential homes, Memory Care facilities, assisted livings, or anywhere there are seniors or individuals with health and cognitive issues.  It is an absolute thrill to observe the change in expression when these wonderful people SING!

 (This picture shows my momma holding John Boy, and Shirley (a fabulous soprano in my choir) holding Marilyn.  Momma was laughing so hard, she just about cried!)

My pianist, Becky, decided we needed to add puppets to our therapy.  At first I wasn’t too excited.  Then I met John Boy and Marilyn.  I would love to tell you about them.

John Boy is a good old country boy from Alabama.  He grew up on a farm, knows the value of a dollar, understands hard work, and just happens to be madly, deeply, and truly in love with Marilyn.

Marilyn is from New York City.  She loves The Big Apple, has never worn a pair of cowboy boots in her life, would not be caught dead with dirt under her well-manicured nails, and just happens to think John Boy is one more “hunky” man.  (Hunky is Marilyn’s word – not mine!)

John Boy and Marilyn tag along with Becky and me as we do Music Therapy.  They sometimes get into discussions about Marilyn’s problem constantly losing her glasses, or John Boy’s workaholic tendencies, but they always end with a love song.

John Boy and Marilyn bring smiles, music, laughter and dancing.  They are teaching me to smile, sing, laugh, and dance every day of my life.  Now that's a good plan.  Hope that gives you Something To Ponder.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Momma, A Salad, and Frozen Yogurt

If you have read my blogs in the past, you know I am in serious love with my Momma.  She is the best thing since sliced bread, cameras on a phone, DVRs, and, well, anything else you might imagine.

Recently, I have been concerned that Momma is not eating enough vegetables.  So, I have started taking her out for salad once a week.  We have a McAllister’s Deli in our town, and Momma can make a Savannah Chopped Salad disappear.  Now the point of this blog is not to promote McAllister’s Deli, but that Savannah Chopped Salad is one more happy experience.

What makes me happier, by far, is watching Momma enjoy eating.  After we finish the salad, we wander next door and fill a cup with several flavors of frozen yogurt at Orange Leaf Yogurt.  Now Momma has a sense of humor that is quick.  She will ask me to get her samples starting on the left hand side of the store.  By the time we get to the right hand side of the store, she will have forgotten having tasted the yogurt from the left hand side.  “Pookie (yes, that’s my nickname), did I taste those flavors over there?”  “Yes, Momma.”  “Well, I don’t remember.  Let’s do it again,” she will reply.  “Momma, you can’t milk this Alzheimer’s thing.  You are going to have to actually BUY some of this yogurt, or they will throw us out,” I tell her.  Momma laughs and proceeds to fill a cup with most any flavor they have.  Momma’s cup is full, and my cup, unfortunately, only has a small portion.  We top that yogurt with one – count ‘em ONE – M&M each.  Invariably, Momma will say, “There is no way I will eat all this yogurt,” and, invariably, Momma will somehow  work her way through every last bite of this delicious end of her meal.  We sit together in the car and splurge on this treat, laugh at the fact we are eating with spoons shaped like shovels (something about that just doesn’t seems right), and we just have a great time together.

Yes, I love my Momma – Alzheimer’s and all.  I’m gonna love on her every chance I get.  I hope this gives you Something To Ponder.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Finding The Good In Everything

Life can be a challenge.  That is a fact.  Finding the good in every moment should not be a challenge.  It should be second nature.  Unfortunately, us humans are not always so good at this concept of seeking out the good while ignoring the not so good.  Placing emphasis on the positive and eliminating the negative can be quite a chore.

While coaching folks traveling the journey of dementia, I try to help them clearly see what they have going for them.   Dementia is no walk in the park.  Let’s look, though, at some of the good things in life.  For example –

  1. Do you have friends and family who understand what is going on in your life?  If so, be thankful.

  2. When you last met with your diagnosed loved one, could you bring a smile to their face?  If so, be thankful.

  3. Is your loved one able to feed his/herself?  If so, be thankful.

  4. Is your loved one able to toilet his/herself without assistance?  If so, be thankful.

  5. Does your loved one recognize hunger and thirst and respond appropriately?  If so, be thankful.

  6. Can you depend on your loved one to be “socially acceptable” in all situations?  If so, be thankful.

  7. Are you able now to see there is so much in life for which to be thankful that you might have ignored previously?  If not, we need to talk.  Even if your loved one cannot successfully accomplish the items listed above, you still have much for which to be thankful.

The point to be made is simple.  Look for the good.  Whether we are looking for the good in this life situation called dementia or looking for the good in our personal, professional, family, church or neighborhood life, it is important we seek that way of living.  If you are looking for the good, you will see the good.  Wonder if the opposite is true?  Hope that gives you “Something To Ponder”.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

We All Have Our Limits

I totally enjoy coaching.  I find great pleasure in offering knowledge, suggestions, practical tips, and hope to my clients.  I also enjoy listening to the stories my clients need to get off their chest, so to speak.  Realizing we all have limits has recently become a consistent point of conversation.

I was asked, “What can I do to make sure Momma takes her medicine?”  This question has been asked by two sets of clients in the last month.  Well, I had several suggestions.  Of course, it is great if you can be the one to administer the medication.  Then you know Momma is being medicated timely and properly.  Another suggestion is a medicine administration system that can be purchased which will beep when it is time to take medicine, and it will even call a loved one if the pills are not removed from a certain compartment within a preset time.
However, what to do when they refuse to swallow the medication is a problem.  My only good suggestion is to crush the medication and place it in a favorite food – applesauce, yogurt, peanut butter, or a small amount of ice cream.  Be careful of those few pills that should not be crushed, such as extended release medications.  (Be sure to check with your pharmacist or doctor.)  Outside of that suggestion, you sometimes have to realize we are all working within a set of limitations.  If our loved ones do not want to take the medications, they will find ways to avoid doing so.  They may place the medicine in their mouth, swallow a gulp of water, display an empty mouth, and have actually “pocketed” the pill in the back of their mouth.  As soon as you look away, the pill is removed and thrown away.  Even in the advanced stages of dementia, the brain can work in such a way to allow the individual to think through this process and successfully avoid swallowing the pill.

Limitations are a part of our lives.  We can only do so much.  We need to do everything we can to make life good for our loved ones, but we should not make life miserable for them and ourselves while we are forcing an idea or preset value system upon those with dementia.  Relax.  Smile.  Accept life for what it is.  Your tummy will feel better.  Your head will hurt less, and your loved one will be happier.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

She Is Forgetting More Frequently

Momma was diagnosed about six years ago with Alzheimer's type dementia.  She is very well aware of her disease, and she has grasped a rudimentary understanding of what is happening within her brain.  She is not upset about the process, and she very much wants to live her life to its fullest.

This week, my husband asked if I was aware of how Momma has slipped a little more in the past months.  I instantly became defensive.  “I don’t think she is any different at all.”  Being the kind and patient soul he is, he gently helped me to see Momma is forgetting recent events more frequently.  After I caught my breath, I had to admit he was correct.

So what!  That may seem a strange response to such a big announcement.  However, I believe God has a plan, and His grace is sufficient (II Corinthians 12:9).

I really wish I could change the future into a perfect life for all of us.  I especially wish this for those I love.  I cannot do this, and neither can you.  I can trust in God, lean on my family, and understand the processes that are taking place inside my mother’s brain.  Remember, “Knowledge brings POWER.  Power brings HOPE.  Hope brings SMILES.  We all need more SMILES!"

I like this picture.  I can just hear you saying, "They look like twins."  We hear that quite often. I always take that as a compliment.  I believe my Momma is one more good looking woman.   Momma is 73 years old, and I am, well, less than 73 years old.

                                                 (Photograph by Maggie Bell-Niven)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Don't Startle Me!

I am guessing there are few of us who enjoy being startled.   I recently had the unenjoyable experience of having a teenager hide behind a piece of furniture, wait upon my arrival, and then jump out and startle me.  Let me just explain that I was not happy.  I do not like to be frightened in any way.

Yesterday I watched a caregiver approach a wheelchair bound man, who was sound asleep, from behind.  She grabbed the wheelchair and began moving this man.  He instantly was awakened, and it was obvious he was startled.  Being the good Dementia Specialist, I wanted to sneak up behind the caregiver and startle her!  Fortunately, common sense prevailed.  I held myself back, and I didn’t say a word.  Then she did the same thing to another resident.  UGH!  I wanted to scream.

Don’t do this to your loved one.  It really doesn’t matter if they have dementia, or not.  Do not approach them from behind.  As we age normally, we experience a decrease in our peripheral vision.  Dementia causes this process to accelerate.  It is very important, therefore, to approach from the front, announce your presence, and ask permission to proceed with whatever task you are hoping to accomplish.

You know, it really is just common courtesy.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

I've Got The Bruise To Prove It

This has been my year for medical stuff.  Yes, stuff.  I had surgery in February, five thingies removed from my skin and biopsied in June, skin cancers removed in July, and blood tests along the way.  My most recent blood test was an “Executive Panel”.  (If you are a blue-collar worker, do you still get an “Executive Panel”?  Hmm???)  Now I have a bruise, which is a  very interesting shade of green, on the bend of my left arm.  The blood test was painless, thankfully, but the bruise looks really bad.  It should garner me some sympathy, but, alas, it has not done so.
I am thankful the skin cancers were the “good type of cancer”, and the blood work showed me to be in excellent health. However, did you know that only three out of ten people living with dementia get diagnosed in the early stage of their disease?  That amazes me.  When Momma first began having issues, I threw her in the car, and off to the doctor we headed.  OK, maybe it wasn’t quite that dramatic, but I really did act quickly.  As a result, Momma was started on the medications very early in her disease process.

Why is this important?  First of all, it takes the mystery out of life when we know with what we are dealing.  Secondly, the diagnosis will allow us to learn about the disease and become better caregivers and even better patients.  Thirdly, the earlier dementia is diagnosed and the earlier the individual begins the proper medications, the more effective the medications are in bringing about positive results.

Get diagnosed.  Don’t put it off.  Then seek help to learn about dementia.  I am here to listen.  I am here to help.  Let’s do this together.  Email me at

Sunday, July 1, 2012

To Do List

Do you have a “To Do List”?  I do not have a To Do List at this present time.  I am a bit obsessive/compulsive, and a To Do List can make me crazy.  I get so wound up with the idea of crossing an item off the list, I forget to do things in a logical order.  So, I don’t make these lists.
My daughter has such a list.  Whether mentally or actually written down, I’m not sure.  This week has afforded the pleasure of marking several rather large items off her list.  That is a great feeling for her, and I am happy she has made progress.

However, and I say this with a sigh, don’t give your loved one with dementia a To Do List.  Simply put, it won’t help a dad-gone thing.  In fact, it will become a point of frustration.  If they are like my Momma, the list will suddenly disappear.  Momma only lives in about 400 square feet, but lists, notes, appointment cards and the like are all swallowed up into a black hole that loves to eat paper.  So, I find myself calling Momma with a verbal reminder of things that need to be done.

 Let’s take that thought just a little further.  I don’t call Momma at 3PM and remind her she needs to do something at 4PM.  That is a waste of time for both of us.  Momma will forget,  I will get frustrated because she forgot, and nothing positive will result.   Instead, I call Momma at 3:55 and say, “Momma, you need to be sure and meet Pops in the dining room at 4 o’clock.”  At this, Momma will most likely be surprised at the news, agree to put her shoes on, and out the door she will go.

This method of communication works best.  Expecting your loved one to keep up with a note,or remembering to read that same note, is unrealistic.  Take the time to make either an in-person reminder or a phone call reminder.  It is much more effective.  Even still, don’t be surprised if the relayed information is forgotten before the telephone good byes have been spoken!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

When It Is Time To Move

Recently I wrote about the stress involved with moving.  This stress is very real even when the move is to a much anticipated new home.  My daughter has just made such a move, and she is now seeking all the sleep she can gather to recover from said move.

For many of us, the time arrives when our parent, or other family member, must move from the family home to a home that offers professional care.  Making the decision on when, where, what type, how much to spend, etc., etc., etc. can be overwhelming, to say the least.  There are many issues to consider when making this decision.

Assuming the decision to move has already been made, don’t move to the first place you visit.  Investigate your options.   In my town, there are many different types of group living arrangements, and they each offer a variety of services.

Does your Dad like to socialize?  Then a group home with thirty people might be just perfect.  If he is more of a loner, than a small setting might be more effective.

Think about their daily activities.  Does your Mom like to walk for exercise and stimulation?  If so, make sure the environment you choose offers room to allow for her to do so.
There is much to think about, and the decisions can be difficult.  Senior Life Journeys is here to help walk you through the process.  Let us be the sounding board for your thoughts and emotions, as well as a source of information.  Together, we can make a great move a reality.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What Did You Have For Lunch?

What did you have for lunch?  That is a question I ask Momma quite often.  It really is a crazy question to ask her.  She has dementia, and she usually does not remember.  I ask hoping to hear she actually ate something – anything!  You see, Momma has appetite issues.   One of her medications for dementia is stealing her appetite.  This is a common side effect, and it can be a real problem.  In addition to her lack of appetite, Momma has problems with esophageal  spasms.  When the attack strikes, it puts her in unbelievable pain.  She can go from totally relaxed and happy to doubled over in pain and covered in sweat in about thirty seconds.  These spasms can be brought on by stress and certain foods.  In Momma’s case, fruit and coffee are two things we know she must avoid.  Would you care to guess what her two most favorite food items in the world might be?  You guessed it – fruit and coffee.  Momma was most happy when my Dad would awaken her with a cup of coffee in one hand and her hair brush in the other.  If she could then have fruit for breakfast, she would consider the day off to a good start.

Now, Momma forgets to eat.  She doesn’t listen to the cues her body is giving regarding its need for food.  And, unfortunately, she has to deal with these spasms.  Be aware of your loved one’s appetite.  Alzheimer’s causes the metabolism to increase.  When the average person sleeps, they burn 200 calories.  When someone with Alzheimer’s sleeps, they burn 600 calories.  So, making sure your loved one is getting proper nutrition is very important.  For Momma and me, it is a full-time job.  However, it is like I tell her all the time.  She is worth the effort, and she is so CUTE!

Monday, June 11, 2012

They Are Peculiar People

We had spent the day driving to Florida, and finally had stopped to rest for the evening.  Upon arriving at the hotel, my cell phone rang.  It was our daughter saying my mother-in-law had called and was worried about us.  It seems she felt she should have heard from us earlier in the evening, and she was worried we were lying dead somewhere along the roadway.  My daughter told her grandmother she could call our cell phone and talk with us.  She said, “I wouldn’t do that.  They are peculiar people.”  That statement made my daughter laugh, and it cracked me up!  While I appreciate her concern for our well-being, we did not feel the need to check in with either of our mothers.  After all, we are well beyond the age where our Momma’s need a progress report of our day.  Oh well, I still think the declaration of how peculiar we are is priceless.  To tell you the truth, she is absolutely correct.  We ARE peculiar people.  One of us is more peculiar than the other, but I’m not calling any names!  This concept of being peculiar, or different, doesn’t bother me.  All of us are different, and we all are special in our own way.  This is no different when dementia is part of the picture.  Just because dementia is changing our loved ones doesn’t mean they are not special and important.  They still have so much to offer and add to life.  Yes, they might be peculiar – just like me – but they are wonderful people who need a little extra attention.  OK – maybe they need a lot of extra attention, but they are worth the effort.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Reversing Dementia

Before you get too excited about reading my blog, take a moment and re-read the title.  It is “Reversing DEMENTIA”.  It is not “Reversing Alzheimer’s”.  While I would be thrilled to write with news of such an event, this is not the case.  Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.  It is the only cause in the top ten reasons for death that has no cure, no treatment, and no means to slow its progression.  In other words, it is the pits!  Grandma Carpenter died with Alzheimer’s, my Momma was diagnosed with it in 2006, and an additional 5.3 million Americans are facing life with this disease.  Now that I have thoroughly depressed you, let me give you some good news.  Recent studies have shown that exercising at an aerobic level 3-5 times per week can actually reverse the symptoms of dementia.  Let’s review the definition of Alzheimer’s and the definition of dementia.  Alzheimer’s is most easily defined as a disease of the brain.  Dementia is simply put as an inability to think clearly which affects the activities of daily living.  If dementia can be reversed, the quality of life is greatly increased.  I am happy to hear this report, but I am happier to report first-hand experience.  My Momma is working with a personal trainer twice per week.  He has her doing things I would have bet big money she would not have been capable of completing.  I remember trying to get my Mother to go for a walk with me.  We were still within sight of my home when she ran out of energy.  Now she is doing mountain climbers, squats, push ups, and I don’t know what all.  Then, and I am still amazed at this, she walks three laps around the campus of her assisted living.  After completing those three laps, she will grab a partner who needs the exercise but walks much more slowly, and back to walking she goes.  The added bonus is she is remembering things.  This amazes me.  If exercise can make this kind of difference in an individual with dementia, how much more can it do for those of us who are living with healthy brains?  Makes me wonder why we don’t take better care of ourselves.  Do your part today to fight dementia.  EXERCISE!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What A Difference an "S" Makes

I have spent my entire life either trying to lose weight, actively losing weight, or wishing I was losing weight.  One of the things I will enjoy about Heaven is knowing I won’t have to think about my weight!  Seriously, though, healthy eating and exercise are a huge part of my everyday life.  My husband and I are very aware of everything we put in our body.  We expect our bodies to always be on active duty and fully prepared for the demands we make.  With that expectation comes the responsibility of caring for that body.  My recent book, If My Body Is A Temple, Why Am I Eating Doughnuts?, tells my story of losing one hundred pounds.  It is a Biblical journey yielding information on what is good for your body.  Today, though, I want to think about the difference one little letter can make.  I am always seeking ways to burn fat.  There are foods I can consume that are fat burning, and there are foods I can consume that are fast burning.  See the difference?  One little letter – s – changes the word “fat” to “fast”.  If I am consuming “fast” burning foods like pasta, white bread, bakery items, potatoes, chips, I am missing the chance to consume “fat” burning foods.  I make it a personal mission to keep a balance in the carbs, fat, proteins, and calories I consume.  I use to help me achieve this goal.  I also use AdvoCare products.  Why go to all this effort?  I have great plans for the future.  Part of those plans includes being the best caregiver possible to my Momma as she travels the journey of dementia.  I need my body to carry me through the challenges I will face in accomplishing those plans.  When you make plans for breakfast, lunch and dinner, be sure to think about the “s” in your diet.  Are you eating fat burning foods or fast burning foods?  Healthy eating!

Monday, May 21, 2012

It's Been 20 Years

Twenty years ago life changed at The Howell House.  It was the last day of kindergarten for our daughter, Brandie, and she was dressed and ready for “water day” at McFeat Laboratory Schools.  The phone rang shortly after breakfast with the news of my husband’s emergency trip to the hospital after having fallen at work.  I was given no information as to the extent of his injuries.  I was only advised to meet him at University Memorial Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina.  A few hours later, I began to realize Michael, my husband, had sustained a closed-head injury due to negligence of a fellow employee.  He had fallen on a spill of chemicals, damaged the brain stem and cerebellum regions of his brain, and was unconscious.  After regaining consciousness, I soon discovered Michael had lost four years of his memory.  He thought our 5 year old daughter was 18 months old.  He thought we lived on Ferndale Drive, but we lived on Crestdale Drive.  He thought we had an Irish Setter named Thor, but we had a cat named K.C.  He thought he was an engineer, but he was a programmer.  These were only a few of the changes with which he had to deal.  The physical damage to his brain caused amnesia, severe headaches (that lasted for 18 months non-stop), miscommunication between the brain and the eyes, severe lethargy, and depression.  After 18 months of physical therapy for his brain and 6 months of physical therapy for his eyes, Michael was allowed to return to his job.  Upon his return, he was placed in a position his employer was well aware he was no longer capable of doing.  This gave them the right to let him go because he was not “performing up to standard”!  Life was turned upside down for The Howells, so it would seem, but life was really just beginning to get good!  We have come through this tragedy as stronger and happier people.  While 95% of couples enduring a brain injury end in divorce, our marriage got stronger.  We are still happy and loving each other today.  As I am known to say, “My husband is the best thing on the planet, and he is too CUTE!” 

When I work with families traveling the journey of dementia, I can approach it from several angles.  I understand dementia.  I understand Alzheimer’s.  I understand brain injury.  I understand the need for support.  Don’t travel the journey alone.  It is much easier having someone as your guide.  Remember – Knowledge brings POWER.  Power brings HOPE.  Hope brings SMILES.  We all need more SMILES.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Different Kind Of Family

I am a Life Coach who specializes in dementia.  This means I work one-on-one with families as they travel this new journey that is often confusing, frustrating, scary, and tiring.  It is my hope to bring knowledge, and hope, and smiles to their lives.  One thing that I consistently hear is, “I do not want to place my Momma in one of THOSE facilities.”  I am aware that emotions are running on overdrive at this point, but I have a great desire to help people understand the benefit of group living for folks with dementia.  I speak about this from a place of experience.  My Momma, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s type dementia in August of 2006, made the decision to move to an assisted living in December of 2009.  The move took place in January of 2010.  She will tell you it was the best decision she ever made.  I will tell you it was the second best decision she ever made.  Her first, and best decision, was to purchase a long-term care insurance policy.  This policy allowed her to make the decision to move to a group home setting.  There is not a day that passes when I am not made aware of how blessed I am that Momma is happy living in an assisted living setting.  She called today saying how touched she was by a resident, who is a young 101 years old, which stopped and asked Momma how a sick loved one is doing.  It seems another resident had requested prayer for my brother-in-law (Momma’s son-in-law) during church service.  Momma was touched!  If Momma were living alone, she would not have experienced this feeling of being part of an extended family.  Another example of this “family” atmosphere occurred this week when Emmy, who sits next to Momma at mealtime, returned home after being hospitalized for several weeks.  The party, cheers, excitement, kisses, and cupcakes all came together to make the family members experience the joy of being part of a different type of family.  It is a “different type of family”, for sure, but it is a great family.  These folks take care of each other, look out for each other, laugh with and at each other, quarrel with each other, and love each other.  Sounds like a family to me.  I want everyone to understand how wonderful group living is for folks with dementia.  They are never lonely.  They have mental stimulation and physical care.  Don’t look at it as one of THOSE places.  Look at it as the best place for everyone involved.  For Momma, she is thrilled to be part of this new family in her life.

Monday, May 7, 2012

She Wanted To Dance

On Tuesday, I had the honor of leading one of my choirs in a performance before a group of a couple hundred people.  About seventeen of these great choir members were dressed, transported, lined up, appropriately adorned with matching scarves, and stood waiting to perform.  During this time, another group was performing.  One lady pointed for me to approach her.  I was happy to do so. She said, “Let’s dance.”  She wanted to dance while we stood in the audience of people who were NOT dancing.  For a moment I thought, “But no one is dancing.”  Then my brain clicked into action, and I thought, “Why not?”  So, dancing is just exactly what we did.  This lady smiled from one ear to the other, she laughed, and she danced.  I totally enjoyed doing this.  This event reminded me to be more spontaneous.  The more time I spend around folks with dementia, the more convinced I am of this.  They are the people on this earth who have life figured out.  No, they may not remember important events from the past or events that are planned for the future.  They may not recognize the faces of people they love, but they know how to seize the moment.  They don’t give one wit what other people think.  They just enjoy today.  While I know we can’t always maintain that sense of self-abandonment, it sure felt good for those few minutes this week.  Let me just say this, “Inus, my friend, I loved dancing with you.  You made me think.  You made me laugh.  You made me smile.  You are a gift!”

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Keeping Momma Happy

In my observations, most dementias fall into one of two categories.  There is “happy dementia” and “angry dementia”.  I am blessed and pleased that my Momma has happy dementia.  Dementia can be a difficult journey, so having happy dementia on my side is no small thing.  Momma questioned me this week as to why some people have the happy type while some people have the angry type.  My best explanation is rather crude, I suppose, but it gets the point across.  If the individual was a happy, laid back, easy to please person in their life, then you can expect dementia to amplify those traits.  If they were a driven, in charge, get things done, get out of my way type of person, then you can expect those traits to be amplified.  It is as if their personality is on steroids!  Of course, as is true with most of life, there are exceptions to every rule.  In Momma’s case, the rule holds true.  Momma was always easy going.  She certainly was accomplished in her field of sales, but she was not high strung.  She never minded if someone lended a helping hand, and she was always known as being a friendly person.  Today, Momma is extremely happy to be living in an assisted living where all her needs are met, and she is thrilled I pick up responsibility for the needs the assisted living is not responsible to handle.  She is known as a social butterfly still today, and she doesn’t mind being the center of attention.  All of these personality traits are working to her advantage, and I’m not complaining either.  However, I say with a sigh, because she is willing to let me handle everything, she is good at sitting back and letting me handle things she probably could handle if she desired.  Being the easy target I seem to be, I jump right in and take care of things for her.  What I know is this, I only have so much time with my Momma, and then her brain is going to change.  These changes will not make life more meaningful and pleasant.  These changes will make life more confusing and stressful.  Either way, the time I have now and the time I will have then, are and will be precious to me.  So, it comes down to this.  What Momma wants, Momma gets.  That’s just the way this story is written!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

I Am Fascinated

You might find it strange that I am fascinated about dementia and Alzheimer’s.  Well, let me give you a little history.  My grandmother, Bessie, died from Alzheimer’s.  My brother-in-law has a cognitive disability brought on by serving in the Vietnam War.  My husband has a brain injury with a significant degree of disability from a fall at his place of employment in 1992.  My mother has Alzheimer’s, and my miniature dachshund (who passed away on March 10th) was diagnosed with dementia.  So, you can see that my personal life is full of individuals with cognitive issues.  Now add to that the following.  I volunteer each week with individuals who have dementia.  I also am blessed to minister to families who are traveling the journey of dementia through one-on-one coaching.  Then, to top it all off, I do music therapy for individuals who have every degree of dementia and Alzheimer’s you can imagine.  One would think all of this would be a “downer”, so to speak.  Quite the opposite is true.  It is my pleasure to help individuals learn about Alzheimer’s and dementia.  When they have those “light bulb moments”, I receive a great deal of satisfaction.  One such moment occurred recently.  A client was visiting her mother on Good Friday when her mother said, “Today is the day I will be executed.”  My client was shocked, to say the least.  After remembering one of our sessions together, the client knelt beside her mother, and she worked to change the subject.  This kind of tactic is called “Diversion Therapy”.  She said, “Momma, I didn’t know today was the day.  Do you think we could have lunch first?”  Her mother thought about it for a few seconds, and she then decided lunch was a good idea.  My client did not get hysterical over her mother’s comment.  Instead, she approached her Mom in a calm and confident way, and she then proceeded to “divert” her attention to another subject.  One last thought for you to ponder.  Don’t you think it is likely this lady, in the late stages of Alzheimer’s, was thinking of the crucifixion when she stated it was her day to be executed?  Quite a sobering thought, indeed.  Diversion Therapy is a tactic that may not come naturally, but it is one that needs to be learned and practiced.  Keep it in mind!  Remember - Knowledge brings POWER.  Power brings HOPE.  Hope brings SMILES.  We all needs more SMILES!