Dakim Blog

February 16, 2010

The Day I Faced That my Mom Had Alzheimer's

Written by: Dakim

I didn’t realize I had been avoiding. That’s why they call it avoiding. I was already caregiving for my mom but I believed her excuses because I so wanted her life and—if we’re being honest—my life not to change. I had dealt with the fact that she had Parkinson’s and heart disease. I hadn’t faced the fact that my mom had Alzheimer’s.

Punch in the gut.

I was scared. How do you care for a person with physical and neurological issues? How wild was it going to get? Could I handle it?

I was heartbroken. I thought we had more time. I thought it was hard enough already. I hurt for her, how lost she felt, and how nothing seemed to comfort her.

It made sense. The confusion, agitation, paranoia—the million little things started to add up. We had been dancing around this for months and months.

I knew I had to get educated. I knew I needed a plan. But like most huge things, from the moment I didn’t know to the moment I did, nothing cataclysmic had changed. She was still my mom. I would give her the next dose of meds, make her dinner, and then we’d watch a bit of television.

The changes would come in the next few weeks. I’d go online, make some phone calls, and schedule a doctor’s appointment.

I didn’t know what was up ahead. Not the specifics. I’m glad I didn’t.

Yes, there were rough times and sweet times.

The day I faced Alzheimer’s was in some ways a relief—and a re-committment.

Whatever was to come, we’d face together.

February 10, 2010

Is Your Elder Bored and Acting Out? 5 Tips to Spark Home Care

Written by: Dakim

One of the challenges of caregiving is finding ways to add a little zest to life. Even if your loved one has Alzheimer’s, they need stimulation. They need to find life interesting. We all do. Caregivers can feel bored, too. Meals, meds, and doctor visits become so monotonous we don’t realize it’s been weeks since we’ve had a great conversation or enjoyed something new—even a different ice cream flavor would be interesting!

In fact, care home studies have proved that bored elders act out—or worse—zone out. There’s nothing as sad to see as a once-vibrant loved one completely pull in and not respond. Your mom or dad (or spouse) might be fussy and hard to get along with because they’re bored—not ornery. It takes a little work and creativity, but we can help our elders stay vibrant.

Keeping busy is important, but it’s not the magic cure-all. Our elders don’t necessarily want or need as much stimulation as we do, but they do long to feel engaged. Do things together. Enjoy the connection and find things that give you—and your loved one—purpose.

5 Tips to Spark Home Care:

  • Make sure that there’s something to look forward to every day: Record a favorite TV show and watch it together while sipping on hot cocoa. Consider getting Netflix so you get lots of good movies right in your mailbox. They have a decent selection of oldies as well.
  • Connections: Keep ‘em coming. Plan for an old friend to visit or get involved at your church or a civic organization—and reconnect. Dial the number of a cousin and hand your elder the phone. They might not make the initiative, so you might have to.
  • Create a routine you look forward to: Make a monthly trip to the library and another for a pedicure. It’s worth the money and trouble to get out and connect, and it’s better to plan a pleasant outing than to spend all your time at yet another doctor’s visit. Lunch out is cheaper than dinner, so find a place your mom or dad likes to go. Take a ride after you eat. There are parts of your own hometown you haven’t explored.
  • Make something together: an indoor garden, a quilt (even if all they can do is pick out the colors), learn your favorite recipes from the master, or refinish a piece of their furniture. They may only be able to keep you company—or boss you around—but the more you invite them to participate, the more they realize you’re not going to let them curl up in a ball and give up.
  • Enjoy nature right around you. No matter how much they balk, sunshine and fresh air is good for them—and you. Insist they go outside for at least 20 minutes a day in order to get the recommended dose of Vitamin D. Make a small barrel garden with a tomato plant and flowers (marigolds go well and bugs don’t like them). Do some bird-watching or plant a butterfly bush or red flowers such as canna—hummingbirds love them.

Keeping our brains and bodies in good fitness takes a bit of a nudge as we age, but learning to enjoy life again is worth the effort.

January 28, 2010

Preventing Falls (For The Sake Of Your Brain)

Written by: Dakim

For Many Seniors, taking a tumble is all too common an experience. And though bruises and broken bones are the biggest and most immediate concerns, falling can put your brain-health in jeopardy, too.

Head injury is the most obvious risk; concussions can have both short and long term affects on cognitive functions like memory and decision making. A knock on the noggin increases the likely hood of developing Alzheimer’s. And even minor brain injuries often affect balance, putting patients at risk of even more falls.

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January 22, 2010

Why Do People With Alzheimer’s Act So Mean?

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Written by: Dakim

I don’t know about you, but when I’m lost, scared, and in unfamiliar surroundings, I tend to get a little mean myself. For a person with Alzheimer’s, this state of fear and agitation never really stops. Even if they remember who you are, who they are, and where they are, five minutes from now they may lose it. One of the best things we can do as caregivers is to lovingly detach from their tangled emotions and not take what they say or do personally.

Easier said than done.

Alzheimer’s can cause the areas of the brain that house our emotions to go haywire—those feelings of mania, anger, and anxiety are all lit up even where there hasn’t been a trigger event to cause such feelings. Understanding why our spouses or parents are “acting mean” can help us realize that they can’t remember what we said five minutes ago, they can’t necessarily control their unpredictable and unstable emotions, and they can’t always feel love or connection with us. Also know that drug interactions can aggravate behavior and increase feelings of paranoia—so mention any changes to your loved one’s doctor.

I grieved when I lost my mother to Alzheimer’s. I grieved when I finally hit that wall and knew she didn’t know me and didn’t feel anything for me. It felt so cold. So lonely. And yet I had to keep on keeping on, as the saying goes. I had to do intimate things for her—change her clothes, bathe her, brush her hair—and yet to her, I was a “nobody.”

Finally, I turned the corner. I chose to remember for the two of us. Her “mean” behavior didn’t throw me nearly as much. I would be our anchor. I would love when she couldn’t. I would show kindness and patience when she couldn’t.

Yes, there are neurological explanations for Alzheimer’s behavior, but the bottom line is that we—the daughters, sons, spouses, friends, and caregivers—have to dig deep and choose to go on, to love, and to act with maturity and grace—regardless.

January 19, 2010

Yawn For Brain Fitness! No, Really!

Written by: Dakim

Yawning: it’s considered rude, a sign of boredom, disinterest, laziness and exhaustion.

And it just might be really good for the brain, at least according to Andrew Newberg, the director of the Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania.

In an essay published last November, Newberg explains that yawning isn’t just a response to being tired or disinterested, but an attempt by the brain to be more alert and focused. Yawning also reduces stress, improves self-awareness, and, curiously, ties strongly into social connections.

Intrigued? Me too!

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