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!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

You Need To Get Moving To Avoid Alzheimer's

Last week we discussed dedicating part of our 168 hours per week to intentional exercise.   I want you to consider that idea today.  If you set aside five hours per week to exercise, you will be amazed at your body’s response.  That exercise can be something as simple as a brisk walk or as vigorous as a weighted workout or aerobic exercise.  If you are not a regular exerciser, start with a walk around the block.  Count your steps.  It takes me about 1,150 steps to cover a half mile.  Your number might vary some, but that is a good starting point.  So start walking and start counting.  Determine a path in your community that will have you covering 2300 to 2500 steps.  Get started moving!

I realize there are days this will be difficult.  You may feel stressed by the demands of life.  However, the benefits of going for a walk will far outweigh the energy exerted.  Walking fast enough to get your heart rate up will act as a “cleansing agent”  for the body.  You sweat out impurities, you release stress, you experience a building-up of pleasant  emotions, and you  make your body a healthier machine.

The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation recently announced that regular exercise can decrease your chances of getting Alzheimer’s dementia by as much as 50%!  My mother has dementia, and her mother had dementia.  You can bet I am exercising! 

So, I am just about finished writing this blog, and my day’s plans have changed drastically.  Rather than going to work for a few hours, practicing with my choir at the assisted living across the street, and exercising with my Leslie Sansone video this afternoon (see “Favorite Products” at, I am waiting at my mother-in-law’s house to take her to an unexpected 10AM doctor’s appointment.   God is the only one who knows how the rest of my day will proceed.  However, I feel sure He will allow me at least an hour to exercise so I will be better prepared to care for those people He has trusted to my care.  Don't deprive yourself of a healthy workout!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Eldercare Is TOUGH Work!

Eldercare is tough work.  Chances are you have experienced, are presently experiencing, or will experience caring for a loved one as they age.  The hardest part, I believe, is getting the caregiver to care for themself.  As the daughter of a mother with dementia and a daughter-in-law of an aging mother-in-law, I understand the pulls on daily life that are placed when trying to give good care for those we love.

So, how do you care for the caregiver?  The first thing is time.  Time is probably the very thing you feel you have the least of.  Oh, I know money is always needed.  However, if you had all the money in the world, you still would not have more hours in a day.  Whether you are living as the poorest or the richest person in the world, you only have 168 hours in a week.  The question is this.  How will you spend those 168 hours?

If we look at the 168 hours in a week as a beginning balance on Sunday morning, we may feel we have loads of time to play with during the next seven days.  Actually, that is true.  What I have found is we spend those hours as recklessly as we spend the money earned in that paycheck every Friday!  It is my recommendation you look at that beginning balance of 168 hours, subtract time to sleep, time to eat, time to do the things you need to do each week, and set aside some of the remaining time to do something you enjoy.  That “something” may be catching up on your favorite television show, spending time with friends, going to the park, or (prepare yourself for this one) going for a walk.  We will talk more about that option soon. 

So, spend some time this week caring for YOURSELF!  Come back soon and LISTEN TO MY BRAIN RATTLE!  


Welcome To "Let's Talk Dementia"

Welcome to Let's Talk Dementia Blog.  I am Carol Howell, owner of Senior Life Journeys, and my hope is to inspire you, uplift you, and give you hope as you navigate the journey of dementia.

My mother was diagnosed with dementia in August of 2006.  Her journey has been a growing experience for me.  Her diagnosis brought about what I refer to as “shower cries”.  This was the time I would spend in the shower crying for the changes I feared I would experience in the future.  If you cry in the shower, you can probably do so without anyone knowing about the event.  If your face seems red from crying, you can blame it on the heat of the shower.  It is a great way to mask your emotions.  However, masking your emotions is not a great way to handle the ever changing, always challenging world of dementia.

Today we need to talk about what dementia is.  It is my belief you can receive a great deal of comfort in knowledge.  Many times the things we fear are not founded in reality.  Many times the knowledge we need can help alleviate some of those fears.  If you have children, you might remember how much better you felt when you discovered your neighbor’s children did some of the same crazy things your children were doing.  It brought relief to know your children were not as strange and unusual as you originally thought.  The same can be true of dementia.  Learning your loved one’s behavior is considered “normal” often brings a great sigh of relief.

Let’s get back to the definition of dementia.  Dementia is simply not being able to think clearly which leads to the inability to perform the activities of daily living –  feeding, bathing, dressing, toileting, and ambulating.  There are many types of dementia.  Some dementias are reversible, and some dementias are irreversible.  Alzheimer’s dementia is the most common form of dementia, and, unfortunately, it is not reversible.  Before assuming your loved one has Alzheimer’s type dementia, seek medical treatment.  There are many reasons your loved one could be displaying signs of dementia.  These could include reactions to medications, emotional disturbances, metabolic or endocrine dysfunction, malnutrition, vitamin B12 deficiency, tumors, infection, hardening of the arteries or even diabetes.  All of these are conditions that can be treated and the dementia will usually disappear.

Seek medical help, for sure.  However, seek support for yourself and anyone else who will be considered a primary care giver.  That is where I come in.  Senior Life Journeys is here to help you from the minute you receive the diagnosis all the way through the journey.  We offer a wide variety of services and options.  Let me help you relax, breath, and learn to smile while you care for this person who means so much to you.  We can do this together!