Archive for January 2014

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10 Symptoms of Caregiver Stress

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

If you experience any of these signs of stress on a regular basis, make time to talk to your doctor. 

  1. Denial about the disease and its effect on the person who’s been diagnosed.  “I know mom’s going to get better.”
  1. Anger at the person with Alzheimer’s or others, anger that no cure exists or anger that people don’t understand what’s going on. “If he asks me that question one more time I’ll scream!”
  1. Social Withdrawal from friends and activities that once brought pleasure. “I don’t care about getting together with the neighbors anymore.”
  1. Anxiety about facing another day and what the future holds. “What happens when he needs more care than I can provide?”
  1. Depression that begins to break your spirit and affects your ability to cope. “I don’t care anymore.”
  1.  Exhaustion that makes it nearly impossible to complete daily tasks. “I’m too tired to do this.”
  1. Sleeplessness caused by a never-ending list of concerns.  “What if she wanders out of the house or falls and hurts herself?”
  1. Irritability that leads to moodiness and triggers negative responses and actions. “Leave me alone!”
  1. Lack of concentration that makes it difficult to perform familiar tasks. “I was so busy I forgot we had an appointment.”
  1. Health problems that begin to take their toll, both mentally and physically. “I can’t remember the last time I felt good.”

Source:  Alzheimer’s Association (


The American Recall Center

Friday, January 24th, 2014

I am posting this information about the American Recall Center at the request of Mario Trucillo, managing editor of that organization. I hope it will be helpful to you.

Caring for a loved one as they deal with Alzheimer’s takes strength, patience, and true compassion. As those in our care get older, their prescription regimens and level of medical expertise that goes along with care often increases. It can be difficult to find the time to stay up-to-date on the latest safety updates on the complicated world of prescription drugs and medical devices, which is very important in ensuring you are giving proper care.

With The American Recall Center you can find news on potentially dangerous prescription medications and medical devices in simple terms, arming caregivers with the information they need in one easy-to-find location. Whether it’s breaking news on a blood thinner or how to identify side effects from a recent hip replacement recall you can quickly find the information you need to know precisely what to bring up with a medical professional.

Another time-saving tool for caregivers is our newly-introduced Patient Safety Alerts. With this feature, you simple check off the types of drugs taken by you or someone under your care, and whenever there is breaking safety news on a drug in that category you receive an email written in terms that are easy to understand. Features like this exemplify the goal of The American Recall Center: to make medical information easily accessible for everyone, thus saving time and energy for caregivers.



Denial May Deprive You of Joy

Friday, January 24th, 2014

One of Ed’s closest relatives – we’ll call him Alexandru – was visiting from out of town. One evening they had a long talk. The next day Ed had no memory of the visit, let alone what they had discussed.

I had been telling Alexandru for months that Ed had Alzheimer’s, but he never believed me. He thought Ed’s memory problems were just due to normal aging. In short, he was in a state of deep denial.

Alexandru spent all the rest of his time with Ed trying to refresh his memory of their talk. When it didn’t work, he left for the airport to go home, upset and distraught.

What Alexandru didn’t realize was that Ed would never remember that visit. It would have made more sense to spend their remaining time together discussing something else or interacting in some other way. They could have had a pleasant – maybe even joyous – visit.

All too often loved ones of people with Alzheimer’s are in denial. Hence they spend their time trying to get the person to “act normal.” Trying to get them to remember and do things they will never be able to remember or do.

This only leads to anger and frustration for the visitor (and often for the person with Alzheimer’s as well).

It would be so much better to look for ways to interact at the level of their loved one rather than try to drag that person into our world. Because they can’t function in our world. We can only reach them and enjoy them in their world – at their level.

If you feel that you’re in denial, try interacting in some way that focuses on the present moment rather than one that involves the person’s memory. See how that works. You may be pleasantly surprised.



Alzheimer’s Stories That Matter

Monday, January 20th, 2014

I went to visit Ethel one day. Before I had a chance to sit down she started showing me the quilt she’d made many years earlier.

“The binding is all frayed. I have to put a new binding on it.”

That was a perfectly “normal” thing to say and show me. But the thing is, Ethel shows me the same quilt and makes the same comments about the binding every week. She also tells me each time that she has two framed pictures of Jesus in her room, and she points them out to me.

In addition, she tells me that the two angels over her bed were supposed to have been centered but they weren’t because there wouldn’t have been enough room for her walker. (I never could understand that, but she always said it.)

As I’ve mentioned several times here, I volunteer to visit some ladies with Alzheimer’s. Ethel is one of my “ladies.” Since I’ve been visiting I’ve learned that most of my ladies have stories they tell me every time. My assumption is that these stories (and the events they depict) are deeply meaningful to them.

Perhaps Ethel’s story about the binding gives us a clue that sewing was very important in her life. Similarly, the pictures of Jesus belie her strong religious foundation.

Finally, I wonder if the story about the angels not only reveals her religious beliefs but perhaps also a streak of obsessive compulsiveness – wanting everything to be lined up and perfectly centered. It’s almost as though she’s embarrassed and has to explain the lack of symmetry to me.

Of course my ladies don’t remember they’ve told me their stories before; each time is like the first. And I always respond as though it’s the first time I’ve heard them.

If my ladies don’t spontaneously tell their special stories, I bring them up. Then they cheerfully tell me the details, which are normally perfectly clear in their memories.

The stories told by people with Alzheimer’s can teach us a lot about their lives. They also help us find important topics to discuss when we visit, which can make our visits far more pleasant and meaningful to the person we’re seeing.

Does anyone else out there have loved ones with special stories? Care to share?

Puppy’s Magical Visit to a Memory Care Facility

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

I’ve always heard that pets can reach people with Alzheimer’s on a level we cannot. But I was not at all prepared for the profound reaction my little puppy was going to bring about last Thursday. Here’s what happened:


“Oh, my sakes,” Ruth said. “Isn’t she adorable! She’s so tiny. Look at that cute little face!”

That’s what Ruth (one of “My Ladies” with dementia I visit each week), said when I arrived with my itsy bitsy Shih Tzu puppy, Christina.

Christina, ten weeks old and weighing in at just two and a half pounds, hasn’t yet had her first haircut and is a little ball of fuzz. Her eyes peek out from beneath a broad tuft of fur; her tail never stops wagging.

“Thank you so much for bringing her. I love her!”

Then we played a game with Christina. Ruth sat in her well-worn easy chair at one end of her room and I stood at the other end just in front of the door.

Ruth clapped her hands and called Christina, who went racing toward her, then dive-bombed her feet like Babe Ruth sliding into home plate head first.

The second Christina arrived Ruth flung both arms straight up in the air and shouted, “Whee!”

Then I called Christina and she shot back to me like a mighty Hereford in a stampede.

We both laughed so hard we had tears running down our cheeks.

“Thank you so much for bringing her,” Ruth said for the second time.

Given Ruth’s memory, I thought I could probably bring Christina frequently, and every time would be like the first time. What a wonderful gift that would be. So much pleasure for Ruth and so easy for me to do.

Finally, and reluctantly, I told Ruth I had to leave. She walked me to the door. Then we hugged, as always.

“Thank you so much for bringing her,” Ruth said for the third time.

Then she added, “This is my best day since I’ve lived here!”




People With Alzheimer’s Say the Darndest Things!

Sunday, January 12th, 2014

Alzheimer’s is a deadly serious illness and deservedly so. But sometimes laughter is the best medicine. My experience is that people with Alzheimer’s can say some pretty amusing things.

Many times the person is aware and even proud he or she has said something humorous. Then we laugh with the person – not at them.

These moments can be among the most precious we will ever have with our loved ones. Here are some examples:

My first stories are about one of the ladies with Alzheimer’s I volunteer to visit in a local memory care facility. I’ll call her Ruth. Ruth tells me the same story every time I visit her, except she sometimes includes new information or adds a twist to some part of the story.

She tells me that during World War II the Army used to bus young ladies to a base on Friday nights to dance with the soldiers. Ruth was one of those girls. She was a great dancer, unlike many of the men.

She tells me that most of them couldn’t dance and they just “stomped out a two-step.” When she tells me that she imitates them in a most humorous way, lively stomping her feet up and down.

Ruth also tells me that when the girls arrived at the base the men looked them up and down “like they were shopping.”

One of the bits of information she added the last time I saw her was that her husband was an especially bad dancer. “So bad,” she says, “he must have learned how to dance in a barn.”

But the most amusing event by far was when she offered me a cookie one day. I patted my ample tummy and asked, “Do I look like I need a cookie?” She said, “Oh, you’re just settling!”

I’ll share one more example – about one of my friends’ grandfather. (We’ll call him George.) It seems George was having a lot of trouble driving.

He was adamant that he’d never stop, and so his granddaughter, Sandra, disabled his car. He was, however, still alert enough to call a mechanic to come and repair it.

Sandra had assumed he’d do that so she had called his mechanic to ask him to give some excuse for not being able to fix the car.

When George contacted the mechanic the next day he was told “Your car needs some parts that are only available on the internet. It will take a long time.”

George then called his granddaughter and said, “Sandra, I have a job for you. Drive me to the internet!”

Dealing With Family Strife

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

When you’re the primary caregiver for a person with Alzheimer’s, no one else in the family will truly understand what you’re going through.

In families where there is good will, conflicts can typically be worked through for the common good. Some general strategies include:

  1. Sharing responsibilities among family members
  2. Meeting regularly to discuss care issues
  3. Being honest in discussions
  4. Not being critical of each other
  5. Joining a support group for Alzheimer’s caregivers
  6. Seeking family counseling if needed

However, in families where people didn’t get along well before the diagnosis, it can create nightmares, especially for the primary caregiver. Here are some additional things you can try:

Be Patient and Understand Where They’re Coming from:  Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and understand why they lack knowledge of the situation. If you can stay calm you’ll have a better chance of decreasing stressful interactions. 

Educate Your Relatives about the Patient’s Condition: It can help if you make very detailed lists of the person’s dementia symptoms and behaviors and share them with other family members. Remember, they’ve never seen the person do many things you see on a daily basis, so put down even the smallest details. Update and share these lists frequently.

Have Other Family Members Care for the Patient for Awhile:  The best way to let other family members get a better understanding of the loved one’s condition is to have them take care of the person for a while. Ideally, this would be for a week or two while you go on vacation, not just for an afternoon while you’re at a movie. Almost anyone can deal with a person with demented for a few hours. Let them take care of the person for a couple of weeks and you may find you’re being criticized less and appreciated more.





Visiting Miss Daisy

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

“I’ve come to visit you, Miss. Daisy” I said in a perky tone of voice after introducing myself.

“Me?” she exclaimed – smiling, looking up at me, raising her eyebrows and putting her hand over her heart.

“Yes. You,” I answered, delighted by her excited reaction.

She had already won my heart. It was obvious she was thrilled to have me visit even if she had no earthly idea who I was.

Since retiring a few months ago, I’d decided to volunteer spending time with some local memory care facility residents who don’t have many visitors.

During our first visit I discovered her social skills are so good you’d think she’s volunteering to visit me!

During that first visit, I asked her, “What kind of music do you like?”

Without hesitation she blurted out, “classical!”

So for the next visit I wrapped up a CD of The Nutcracker Suite and gave it to her. She tore off the gift wrap and smiled real big when she saw what was inside.

But after a few minutes, her eyes became downcast, and she said “I’m sorry I don’t have anything to give you.”

To help her save face, I pointed out that she had some cookies on her table.

She laughed lightly and said, “Sure. Help yourself.”

When I soon asked if I could have another she said, “Take as many as you want.

They were some of the best cookies I ever tasted.

Then I put the disc into the slot of the portable CD player I’d brought along. It was immediately obvious that she was familiar with the selections. She smiled, moved in time to the music and used her hand to tap out the rhythms on her lap.

At the end of the visit she said, “I hope I see you again.”

“I’ll come visit you again next week.”

“Oh, that would be wonderful,” she said.

Then – as always – she insisted on walking with me to the front door. I moved beside her as she inched along ever so slowly, unsteadily pushing her walker down the short hallway. We shook hands then I left, feeling so happy that for that half hour at least, I had given her joy.