“Everyone Forgets Things” – Memory Issues and Misguided Phrases

 

Tea on the Screen Porch

Tea on the Screen Porch

How to Give Comfort to a Caretaker

My brother was visiting my mother and I took the opportunity to go out for dinner with a close friend. During cocktails I mentioned that my mother was having more and more difficulty with her memory to which my friend replied “Everyone forgets things. I am always misplacing my car keys.” I felt completely alone as the air rushed out of me. He had just dismissed my observation as an over-reaction that was not something to be concerned with. I felt marginalized. Didn’t he realize that I wasn’t talking about normal memory lapses? If it was normal I wouldn’t have attempted to share what I was going through.

My friend’s reaction was well intended and he meant to provide advice when all I wanted to do was share a very real change in my mother that I was dealing with and have it acknowledged. Think of all the times we have had reflexive responses; ‘You will get another job’, ‘You were lucky. It could have been worse.’, or ‘Time heals all wounds’. In my case I have heard them all and they all made me stop sharing and feel really alone in my caretaking. I wanted someone to say ‘I understand, tell me more’ or ‘that must be very difficult to deal with’ to let me know they were there for me and knew the challenges I was wrestling with.  Remember, when someone is working with a problem and you want to support them, acknowledge and listen without providing unsolicited advice.

Memory and How to Maintain It

Memory loss is a real issue and manifests in many ways. One of the strange things about the aging memory is that the senior might remember events from 40 years ago in great detail and not know what they had for breakfast. This may make you believe that their memory is fine when careful monitoring is called for. Check to make sure that cooking surfaces and garden watering hoses are turned off. Keep your own record of their appointments and any regular medicines they must take. What did they eat for breakfast or dinner? There are many sites that can provide memory tests to help you know if there is anything that needs following.

The more engaged the brain is the healthier it will stay. Crossword and picture puzzles, reading, and stimulating conversation all help. I know a senior woman who follows the news avidly and loves to talk politics. Physical activity promotes blood flow to the brain to keep brain cells healthy so consider a 30 minute walk at least three times a week. Keep them involved in the community with relatives and friends for more mental stimulation. A senior is old but not incapable. Let them help with cleaning and cooking and continue to be a contributor to society. They will thank you for it.

Do This – Not That

9 Brain Boosters to Prevent Memory Loss

What’s Normal, What’s Not, and When to Seek Help

Do Memory Problems Always Mean Alzheimer’s Disease?

CBD Oil is Making Seniors Live Happier and Better

CBD Oil Is Helping Seniors Live Better

Anxiety

One of the most disconcerting issues with caring for your aging parent is watching them become filled with anxiety and/or frightened about things that had been routine. I know a woman, we will call her Jane for this article, who broke her wrist from a fall she had while outside watering her plants. She was terrific about doing her physical therapy and her wrist recovered really well.

What didn’t recover was her feeling of freedom to walk outside and water her plants. Jane became filled with anxiety when she walked without someone else helping. She walked with her daughter for two miles at a time so she was definitely physically capable but her anxiety made her unable to walk around her house without aids.

Jane’s anxiety got so bad that she had the doctor give her prescriptions for anti-anxiety drugs.  The drugs had some positive effects but she still would become immobilized with fear. The anxiety was creating memory problems and a degree of depression that limited Jane’s independence. She wanted an answer that worked for her.

The Answer

The answer came from a friend’s younger daughter. She thought that since CBD oil was finally legal in her state that maybe it could help and she devised a plan to get her to try it. First she asked for Jane’s daughters to support the attempt. This took some effort because CBD oil comes from Marijuana or Cannabis. Cannabis is not legal in Jane’s state but CBD oil is. Jane’s daughters came onboard after doing some research and went to a local store and purchased some CBD oil and an inexpensive Vape Pen or E-Cigarette.

From the first puff Jane became calmer. She even smiled and laughed. She was not ‘high’ but CBD seemed to work on her nerves and had a calming effect on her anxiety and panic attacks.

Since that day Jane’s life has changed. She has sublingual CDB oil that she places under her tongue before she goes to sleep and a Vape Pen that she carries for when she gets an anxiety attack during the day. She now sleeps through the night and any of the debilitating anxiety attacks are short-lived by taking a couple of puffs on her Vape Pen.

CBD oil is quickly becoming mainstream because it really works with almost no side effects. Read below to see how much the medical industry is now involved and endorsing it.

Marijuana and Cancer – America Cancer Society

Why Is Marijuana Use Among Seniors on the Rise?

Treating Dementia with Marijuana

No One’s Son Anymore – My Mother Passed Away – A Loved Ones Death

Mother Lies in Trauma Center After Stroke

At the beginning of September my mother passed away. I had stopped home to pick up some things at lunch when I heard what I thought was an awful song on the radio. I searched and then discovered my mother on the floor incapacitated by a massive stroke. I called for help and she ended up at the local trauma center where doctor’s finally agreed that at 90 1/2 years of age there was nothing they could do for her.

I arranged to have her transported to a beautiful hospice and summoned my seven siblings and their children to her bedside. Everyone came immediately and she passed with six of her grandchildren in various stages on her bed. One was brushing her hair. Another held a cup for her to sip Coke. Several were stroking her arms and massaging her feet. Over 20 of her direct descendants were there. It was exactly how she wanted it… quick, painless and her loved ones at her bedside.

Everything went very smoothly because she had taken the time with my prodding to clearly write out her exact wishes. When we sat down to put her wishes on paper it was often traumatic, argumentative, and simultaneously calming. I now know that completing her will and medical directive were the best things I ever did for me and my mother.

The doctor’s at the trauma center were clear that I was a lucky one because all I had to do was follow her directive. He bemoaned the fact that most people fail in this because it is too uncomfortable and then when the end is near they are left arguing and fighting. The lesson is to take the time and energy to have a medical directive that clearly states every contingency. We were able to grieve and stay bedside because we did not have any decisions to make when we were so emotional.

To this day when something of importance happens I want to call her and tell her about it. It is all a part of grieving. The hospice provided information about grieving that was a help.  I noticed that everyone grieves in their own way and sometimes I did not feel comfortable with other people’s comments even though I knew that they were given thoughtfully. It is difficult for those who care about you because there is no training class for dealing with a loved ones passing. But there are many groups that offer support after a loved one passes and it is fine to take advantage of them.

Here are a few helpful links to sites that offer information and help:

Common Grief Experiences

Find a Grief Share Group

Get a Medical Directive

The Eyes Have It

Mother at the Eye Doctor for Glasses

Mother at the Eye Doctor for Glasses

One of the things that all caretakers have to deal with are vision changes. It all starts around 40 when eyes begin to lose elasticity making it difficult to read books and newspapers. This loss of elasticity makes the eyes have changes in vision all through the day. You will often need 2 or 3 pairs of glasses for long distance vision, computer distance, and book/newspaper distance.  As you enter your 60s it becomes necessary to find a different eye doctor than you will find at a neighborhood glass shop.

With this in mind my mother had to progress to the Emory Eye Clinic doctors for glasses. She had already been receiving eye shots for macular degeneration from a macular specialist and glaucoma treatment, (eye drops), from a glaucoma specialist. All of those problems created changing vision and a loss of vision in the left eye that were making it hard for her to keep her lifestyle.

We had to change to more advanced treatment than available from the local eye-glass store.  We made visited a specialist who then recommended the Low Vision doctors at Emory. We had already changed the light bulbs to ‘Daylight’ LED bulbs as recommended by her macular degeneration doctor. These bulbs really helped because they have high contrast.

What we are trying to do is make sure that she can live her life as close to normal as possible. Make sure you stay on top of the vision issue because there are treatments and special equipment that can keep their QOL (Quality of Life) excellent.

  1. Low Vision Information
  2. Vision and the Elderly – WebMD
  3. Vision Issues in Aging – CDC

A Really Great Report from NP (Neuropsychological) Testing

We recently changed my 89 year old mother’s General Practitioner to a Geriatric GP. Her improvement waBrains instantaneous. My mother walked around telling everyone that she felt incredible and did not know why. I was puzzled too as the only thing that her new GP did was take her off most nutritional supplements and the one-a-day vitamins she was taking. It turns out that one-a-day vitamins and supplements are not good for older people. Who knew? Older people need a special doctor just like children need a pediatrician.

The other recommendation was for Neuropsychological testing. My mother immediately said “NO WAY!”.  She equated the psychological part or the name with her being considered crazy or some other name people give to older persons. After a lot of back and forth she relented and endured the three hours of testing.  Two weeks later we got the results, no dementia and no Alzheimer’s only some ‘cognitive decline’.  Needless to say my mother was walking on air with the diagnoses  as she had expected to hear something else.

What the diagnoses meant was that she was responsible for her well being.  The doctor could now take steps to keep her active and they suggested volunteering, exercise, and diet changes to get her weight down.  It is now important for her to stay engaged in the community to keep her mind going.  She was older but not incapable so get out there and stay involved.

UNC – What is a neuropsychological evaluation?

Wikipedia – Neuropsychological test

Medscape – Neuropsychological Evaluation

 

 

Keeping Your Siblings Updated and The Perils it Brings

The Siblings

The Siblings

Every time my mother has a change in her status I feel responsible to update my 7 siblings about her condition. The first comment from each when I told them her memory was getting bad was “Everyone forgets things” like I didn’t already know that.  Another comment is “I am so busy” , which means ‘everything else I am doing including surfing the internet is more important’.

And still another comment is “I spoke to her on the phone last week and she sounded fine”. All of these comments make it alright for them to stay away and not help because if she is OK then she doesn’t need help. If they bothered to visit for a couple of hours they would see that she is no longer fine.

When I attempt to explain what the doctor’s tell me and what the doctor’s recommend I am given a lecture on the proper treatment they discovered surfing the web. They add that the doctor’s do not know what they are talking about even though she is going to a geriatric specialist who only treats the elderly. And then they phone our mother and tell her not to do what the doctor said based on their 5 minutes of web surfing.

All I wish is for them to help and relieve me for a few hours so that I can have a break. If they would commit to some sort of schedule it would even be better. Then I could also schedule some free time to meet up with friends for dinner. A schedule is also better for my mom so that she knows what to expect. Surprises are not always good for her.

I believe that I am making a mistake by being proactive with her status updates as it seems to create more of a divide between them and our mother.  If they are interested then I will answer their questions but trying to have them help in her caretaking by keeping them aware of her condition has not worked. Often is has made it more difficult to give her the care she needs because of their objections to her doctor’s recommendations.

Brothers, Sisters and Aging Parents

Role Reversal: Caregiving for Aging Parents

Caring for elderly parents inflames old sibling rivalries

When to Take the Car Away – CareTakers in Denial

The First Car They Drove

The First Car They Drove

A major event in caretaking is taking away the freedom and independence that driving provides to your loved one.  Neither party wants this to happen. The loved one sees this as a signal that their independence is gone. The caretaker sees this as another task that they must perform that use their limited supply of time and energy. It is a hardship to both.

So when do you take away the keys? I know of a situation where children stay in denial because they do not want to acknowledge that their mother is not the same as she was and they do not want the additional work and responsibility that they will have when they have to be a chauffeur. Their mother has a bad hand that can’t grip the steering wheel safely, unsteady legs, growing forgetfulness, legal blindness in one eye, and an inability to perform when under any stress and still one child remains adamant that she should be able to drive.

Her car’s transmission broke and it could be a perfect time to take away the keys and the caretaker child sees that. But the other child who lives 100 miles away and rarely visits is trying to help the loved one to buy a car even though she is 84 with declining abilities.

Do you wait for an accident that she causes or when she gets lost and you must call the police to look for her? Do you want to wait until someone is hurt? I will always err on the side of caution because I do not want to see anyone hurt or even killed. Like I said this is where you step up and do the right thing.

Age and Driving

AARP – 10 Signs That it’s Time to Limit or Stop Driving

When should elderly people stop driving?

 

Good Days / Bad Days

A Happy Day

A Happy Day

Getting an Eye Shot

Getting an Eye Shot

I want to begin this post by saying that my mother has been remarkable. She has cooked, cleaned, and done many things to take care of herself for a long time. This post is about changes that befall all of us as we get older.

It all started trying to get glasses. The eye doctors all said she would need 3 different lenses; one for distance, one for the computer, and one for reading. That was 3 years ago and off we went to the eye glass store to get new glasses. She had been diagnosed with wet macular degeneration in one eye and was getting a shot monthly to slow the eventual blindness down. Over the last 3 years she has gone through many pairs of glasses trying to find the perfect pair.

On our last visit she said she wanted to ‘drink champagne and go dancing’ because finally she could see. This has happened before and within 30 days she was complaining about how they could not make glasses right. The real problem as her doctors say is that her vision is bad and changes hourly. As you age vision and the thinking process that turns what comes into your eyeball into images that you understand don’t work as well as they do when you are younger. If your knees can wear out why can’t the vision part too?

Enough background. She decided that I was not going to try and get the eye store to make another pair of lenses for her at no cost after 90 days and 4 new lenses. This caused her to get my sister-in-law and then my brother to take her directly to the store. My sister-in-law and brother never mentioned her request and when they each separately took her they were met with the same response of no more free lenses. They would make a pair of single vision glasses for the computer for a cost. This agitated my mother. (see ALZ.org for information on what agitation is and other terms mentioned in this post.) The agitation brought on an ‘event’ . The event had her struggling between going to the emergency room, urologist, or getting the CDC to check the bad water coming out of the faucet that was making her sick.

My sister-in-law and brother both thought that I was ‘denying her medical care’ because she was not taken to every doctor alive. She had called the doctor’s and they had said that there was no problem and if she still felt bad in a week to call them. She was having an ‘event’ and it was a bad week for both my mother and me. Thank goodness it ended but it had been the first time that her condition had escalated to this point and was an eye opener. I immediately changed her physician to a geriatric specialist and she is now under care of a doctor who understands the mental decline that we will all eventually go through.

She has been having good days since then and we are talking about making sure that I have all of her information about finances, doctors, and medical directives. I also must get a durable power of attorney so that I can authorize her desires when she cannot. Whoever is the primary caretaker should have a medical directive and durable power of attorney.

More information:

The Alzheimers Organization

10 Common Symptoms of Dementia

Detailed Dementia Information

I Am So Busy I Can’t Make My Weekly Visit

Elderly Are Often a Second Choice

Elderly Are Often a Second Choice

My brother “D” has always been good about taking my live-in mother out for a couple of hours at least once a week. But there is no real consistency. I can’t depend on him taking her to the grocery store at the same time each week or even showing up once a week. He just thinks that I can fill in for him at a moments notice. He doesn’t realize that I am already taking off work for her doctor’s appointments and rushing home to help fix her computer or some other ’emergency’.

The elderly look forward to outside stimulus and visits from family and friends are that stimulus. It is important for them to feel a part of the community and to keep on going. I sometimes find my mother making doctor’s appointments that are unnecessary just to connect to the world. The visits from my brother and his family are much more than grocery shopping but rather they are a symbol of being a part of the world and still very much engaged with life.

Sometimes I feel alone with my mother’s needs when a family member regards their commitment as a flexible commitment. It is upsetting to my mother when she has expected a visit only to get a call that they cannot make it because of another event. She acts gracious and forgiving but that is more because she does not want to upset them into never ever showing up. She knows how helpless she is and how dependent she is on caretakers.

When she gets the cancellation I often alter my schedule to take her wherever she was to go.  It is never convenient for me but it does make me feel really good about myself. I also feel really frustrated with other’s lack of responsibility. I often think of Karma and what will happen to them when it is their time to depend on others. And I pray that Karma will not exercise itself in a lack of care when father time places them in need of caretakers.

5 Ways to Keep Your Elderly Parent Safe

Getting Organized and the Benefits of a Routine

Keep Them Busy and Engaged

Busy Building the Bathroom
Busy Building the Bathroom

Recently I decided to rebuild the upstairs bath room. So right away I enlisted my 88 year old mother who happens to live with me. She became responsible for taking pictures of my progress, entering receipts in my Excel worksheet, and keeping me company on my numerous trips to the local Lowes or Home Depot. Who says that only Walmart is a good place for older ones to have their exercise walk. I find the big hardware stores to be fascinating to my mom. And everyone is really friendly even when I lose her.

Keeping your loved ones working and serving a purpose in life is critical to their well being. When they have a reason for living they wake up every morning with a sense of purpose and they forget their pains and assorted ailments. It is much nicer to have conversations about what you are doing positive in your life than what ails you.

Here are links to some more information:

Older people and social connectedness: how place and activities keep people engaged.

Importance of Activities for Elderly People