Monday, June 17, 2019

Arm Chair Podium

Photo by: Victor-Daniel-Giraldo

As an Alzheimer's/Dementia companion aide, I marvel at the way those I serve fill their days with predictable, simple pleasures. Time gently guides them along, even when the word clock evades them. I tend to fly by the seat of my pants and super-size my helpings, so I’ve benefited from pacing myself to the way our seniors run their race with fiercely guarded routines and carefully measured portions. 

JD, one of my favorite 90+ year-olds, ate and drank the same things, at the same time, every single day. Lunch (served at high noon) consisted of half sandwich, a cup of soup, a handful of oyster crackers and four, bright orange, cheese/peanut butter crackers. After lunch he ate one piece of milk chocolate Gertrude Hawk candy. At 3:00 pm he delighted his taste buds once again with a glass of cold milk and cookie. 5:00 pm promised a special (and carefully measured) reward of its own, AKA “Sippy Time” (wink, wink, cheers). 

But then there were those rare moments when JD threw caution to the wind, lived large, and veered from his rigid routine. Like the day I’d replaced his favorite slacks with a similar pair, only two inches larger around the waist. I couldn’t help noticing how pleased he seemed when he was able to button them effortlessly that morning. Later, we went out for lunch, and when his favorite waitress asked him if he was having “his usual” we were both surprised by his reply, “I’ll have a whole sandwich today.”  After she left to get our orders, he leaned forward and whispered that he must’ve lost a couple of pounds so he thought he could afford to eat an entire BLT that day. I grinned.  

JD, I sure do miss you! You taught me so much about golf, and tennis, and bone fishing...but most of all I want to thank you for passing on the lost art of participating in some of life’s simplest pleasures.
I'm forever grateful. ~mk 

Frank Sinatra Sings My Way  - 

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Alzheimer's/Dementia Strategies

                                           Photo By: Jeffrey F. Lin  at Unsplash

The last few times you visited your loved one, things didn't go so well. You carved out plenty of time, you made sure it wouldn't interrupt their routine, you even remembered to bring their favorite treat - but somehow your visit went south...again. 

Consider this simple strategy for better visits with better outcomes: 

Start over: A/D affords you the luxury of trying again. Use those lapses in memory to make a fresh start. Try, try, try again! 

Avoid: Verbal triggers such as: 
"Now remember... No, you didn't... Don't...Why can't you..." 

*Affirm: Reserve using their name and/or title (Mom, Dad, Mr. or Mrs.) for respectful compliments: 
"Mom, I really admire how you... Dad, it's remarkable how well you... Mr. So-n-so, you really know how to make me smile..." instead of as a lead in for correction: "Mu-ther, please!" or "DaaaadWhy can't you..." or "Now Mr. X, don't..." 
Well chosen affirmations might make it possible for you to reach your goal of better visits with better outcomes.
Next time I'll share some pointers on how, when, and where to have those crucial conversations. 
Recommended Reading: How to Say it to Seniors, Closing the Communication Gap with Our Elders by: David Solie, MS, PA.    

Recommended Reading: How to Say it to Seniors, Closing the Communication Gap with Our Elders by: David Solie, MS, PA.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Be the Bridge


I found out the hard way that my navigation device needed updating. That poor woman who lives inside my GARMIN had a complete nervous break-down the last time we (she and I) drove to Dallas. Brand new neighborhoods and access roads, towering mix masters and HOV lanes - OH MY! After all those years of guiding me safely to and from my home, my GARMIN Genie finally reached her limit. There I was, totally exhausted, in fast moving traffic, with only a few more miles to go and she just kept repeating, “calculating… calculating…”

I felt like a stodgy old road hazard as confident commuters zoomed around me from every direction. I imagined them rolling their eyes and muttering, “Yankee go home.” My face burned with embarrassment as I shouted to no one in particular, “Hey! Give me a break will ya?” I’d just driven 1500 miles like a champ, but then again; I needed to remember the other motorists had places to go and people to see too. 
Do you ever wonder where you’ll be when you reach your own threshold for adapting to change? Living with Alzheimer’s/Dementia can feel like failing to keep up with busy traffic. As those suffering with A/D near the end of their journey, we may need to slow down ourselves and marvel at just how far they’ve already come. Be their "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" so to speak (see below). 
In the end, it could help us all find our way home. 
Bridge Over Troubled Water, Simon and Garfunkel

Photo Credit:traffic-jam-1703575_960_720

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Smelly Cats & Self-Care

There’s a lot of buzz (and research) these days about preventing caregiver burn-out. Whether you’re taking care of a family member or serving others as an eldercare paid professional, here are some simple home remedies I use to bolster my enthusiasm and prevent burn-out:

I exercise my (laugh) muscles on a regular basis, plus, I buy Epsom salts and lavender oil in bulk. Large doses of humor and frequent tub baths are a sure cure for me when I’m feeling low (this is not a cure all, see your doctor if symptoms persist). 

Laughter truly is good medicine! If you’re a fan of NBC’s hit sitcom Friends, you might remember Phoebe Buffay’s silly song about the plight of a poor, misunderstood, smelly cat (see below for the link). “Smelly cat, smel- ly cat, what are they feeding you? Smelly cat, smel-ly cat, it’s not your fault…” Yeah, the merits of laugh therapy are well founded and lots cheaper than a membership to the gym. Laughing-out-loud makes your physiological AND psychological heart stronger, and who among us can't use a little of that?

There’s also a practical care giving lesson hidden in those silly lyrics - cause and effect. When grandpa’s leaving an unusually potent cloud of methane gas behind him, maybe you should think of Phoebe’s song, and find out, “What have they been feeding you?” And while you’re at it, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded that “It’s not your (his) fault…”  

Maybe the cure for burn-out isn’t all that complex. Indulging in simple pleasures like leisurely walks, luxurious baths, listening to music, or watching (and re-watching) silly sitcoms could prove to be your minimum daily requirement for good health and well-being. And let’s not forget the long term benefits of preventing unnecessary gastric upsets (wink, wink). 
Here’s the link to Smelly Cat – I hope you enjoy it!

Photo Credit: 316817_230872830306990_891548831_n smelly cat

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Riders on the Storm

Most of us Baby Boomers were and still are influenced by the music of our youth. I’m not ashamed to admit I listen to my own personal jukebox (in my head) on a regular basis. Just the other day I mentally listened to *Riders on the Storm, while visiting a nursing home memory care unit where I saw people staring off into space and aimlessly wandering around looking for home. It reminded me of a live news feed of an Oklahoma tornado victim picking through a pile of rubble. Pajama clad, confused - wondering what the heck just happened, “All I know is: it sounded like a freight train…”

Alzheimer’s/Dementia is the stormageddon none of us saw coming. And even if we did, there’s no safe place to hunker down and hide from it, so we need to establish better long term “shelters” for those permanently displaced in its aftermath. If you see substandard eldercare, don't just look the other way and utter a prayer of thanks that you're not living there; use your voice to speak for those who can't speak for themselves. Disaster recovery seems to bring out the best in all of us, so roll up your sleeves and get involved - today.    

I know you’d prefer to read stories with happy endings. It takes courage to live life fully aware of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, but that’s the only way we can work together to fix what we can, while we search for a cure. 

Oh boy, I feel another song coming on: "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" by Hugo Montenegro and His Orchestra:
______________________ _______________________________

*Riders on the Storm - The last song Jim Morrison ever recorded with The Doors

Monday, October 1, 2018


Life’s Lovely Circle. 

I drove a total of 3,464 miles just to hold my youngest grandson for the very first time. His eye sight not fully developed, he intently studied my face and his breathing quieted. With one look that little fella snatched my heart!

His skin - so delicate, his coos and whimpers - music to my ears. I noticed every nuance, sigh, and quiver while his mother quietly nursed him in her arms. He knows her. Her silhouette, her voice, her scent. I was witnessing the beginning of their lifelong journey as mother and child. My heart both thrilled and ached for her. Motherhood will require all that she has to give and then some. 

All too soon it was time for me to go home so I took one last long look at them - trying to press every detail into the pages of my mind. I kissed the top of his bald little head and tip toed out of the room.

A few days and many miles later, I drove into my dear friend's driveway. I found Agnes sitting in her favorite chair, nearly naked, except for her disposable underpants and undershirt. The sight of her translucent skin loosely draped over her 90 year old frame was nearly more than I could bear. She strained to see my face through hazy lenses and her breathing slowed to a peaceful rhythm. Like a helpless infant, I wrapped her in a fleece robe and held her close. We talked, and laughed, and prayed together.  A soul deep contentment washed over me as my mothering instincts re-emerged. I slipped off my shoes and yielded to what is, and what was, and what eventually will be. She fell asleep, so I kissed her on the top of her balding little head and tip toed out of the room. 

Tiny babies and frail old ladies...their lives are much the same.

Monday, September 17, 2018


I got all my sisters with me…

Sister Sledge’s 1979 signature song, “We are Family,” was recorded in one take. Pretty remarkable considering, “Kathy Sledge, who sang lead, did not know the lyrics ahead of time. Rodgers and Edwards (writers and producers) gave her each line through her headphones as it came up to make it sound spontaneous.” 

Winging it. I can relate – but getting it right the first time like she did? Not so much.
Providing in-home care services by its’ very nature, extends a tempting invitation for each of us to become part of the family we serve. Sounds good, right? 

If you’ve been at this very long, I’m guessing you already know exactly what I’m talking about. And maybe it’s worked out well for you, but when I look back on the past ten years, I realize I’ve put myself out there over and over again, causing myself unnecessary heart ache I hope you'll avoid.

I like to be liked. I long to belong. It gives me pleasure to help others when they need it most. With that in mind, sometimes I need a (not so) gentle reminder that care giving is my job, NOT my identity.

Oh sure, everyone means well. Families want us to feel comfortable and appreciated in their homes. Plus it’s flattering when people say you’re just like one of the family. We see, hear, and find ourselves in the middle of some very personal situations. A listening ear, comfort and reassurance…that’s most often where things get iffy. Lines are blurred and we cross over before we know it. Do you find yourself unable to “clock out” at the end of your shift? Texting back and forth after hours? Seems impossible to let go and move on?

The truth is, after the coroner is called your work is done. It’s not your place to grieve openly at the funeral parlor. Polite, controlled condolences, sharing a carefully chosen memory, acknowledging their loss is best. It’s not about you. Save your grief for your real sisters. Your caregiver sisters (and brothers) who understand. Moving on is not dis-regard or disrespect for the significant role you played in your client’s lives. That’s what you do. Now go on, and do it again.

I have a bulletin board covered with photos and a box of keepsakes that remind me of those I’ve served and loved. They and their families will always hold a special place in my heart...while I continue to fill it with more and more families who’ll need my help in the days ahead.  

Be encouraged. You’re part of a world-wide family of caregivers. Learn to give your best without giving your heart away. And oh yeah, next time you hear Sister Sledge singing, “We are family, I got all my sisters with me…” turn up the volume and sing your heart out, with all of your caregiving sisters and brothers in mind!