Archive for October, 2009

Learning To Trust Yourself, Caregivers Have Good Hearts

Caregiving can be full of doubts.

“Am I kind enough? Patient enough? What if I don’t make the right decision regarding medicine, surgery, or treatment for my loved one? Is this what Dad would have wanted? Is my mom–or dad–better off in a care home or here, with me? Alzheimer’s, cancer, Lewy Body, Parkinson’s, heart disease…how can a spouse, son, or daughter know what to do? Learning to trust your heart, and your gut is about the hardest thing to do.

You can’t know it all. You don’t have to know it all. It’s not even about knowing it all! Yes, as a caregiver you need to educate yourself, know what resources are available, ask for help, and as important as it is to be a savvy caregiver who knows what’s going on, it’s equally if not more important to trust your instincts.

When I say “you’ll figure it out,” it’s because you will. You’ll use all your senses, all your past experience, all your knowledge and it will come together just when you need it.

You know your spouse. You know your mom or dad. You know what they need. And most likely, that tiny alarm going off in your head is something you should listen to. We’re connected to those love on a spiritual and biological level. How many amazing stories have you heard about a family member who knew a loved one was in danger–or had something going on that the doctors were missing?

That’s why it’s essential that you stay healthy, you get the rest you need. Your senses are dulled when you’re past exhausted. Your loved one needs you to be their advocate and to do for them what no one else in the world can do. You listen, pick up clues, love wholeheartedly and pay attention when others can sadly consider it at times, “just a job.” Not to you. It’s family. A part of you.

Trust your good heart. Speak up when you feel a check. Your good heart will guide you.


October 28, 2009 at 12:04 am 5 comments

Don’t Forget to Enjoy Your Parents: Alzheimer’s Or Not

Want to know when I miss my mom? Watching a mother and daughter cross the street arm in arm. Watching a son and father, hands in pocket, strolling down the street. There’s something about the two of them–together–just being that starts my tears to flowing. They’re good tears. Memory tears.

My mom has passed away. She was 92 years old, and during her last few years she struggled with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and heart disease. Doesn’t sound like much fun, and it wasn’t, not that part, anyway.  The part about hanging out with my mom was at times, quite enjoyable. I learned that I had to separate the daughter in me from the caregiver in me. Caregiving is a role, a daughter is a state of being. It’s a relationship.

My mom was still my mom and much to my surprise, I found that I enjoyed being with her. If you had told my 20 something or 30 something self that I would ever enjoy walking extremely slow (can we say sloths move faster?) next to my mom, just for a stroll, or shopping at a Walgreen’s, or taking in a small antique store would be somehow deeply satisfying, I would have shook my head in serious doubt.

So from one daughter to another, one daughter to a son, don’t forget to enjoy your parents. Alzheimer’s or not. You can still enjoy their company. You don’t always have to go somewhere or do something, but don’t count it out.

  • Take your dad to a car show. Most guys like cars, or gun show or a baseball game. If he liked it when he was young, it’s likely he still enjoys the same past-times he used to.
  • Take your mom to a doll store, or a doll show, or a craft show. The holidays are coming up and that’s when crafts explode. Women like Christmas items–nutcrackers, handmade ornaments. You don’t have to stay long, but getting out and enjoying the season gives the two of you something to do that doesn’t involve the medical community.  

Take clues from your parent’s past. What hobbies have they enjoyed through the years? Rekindle these pleasures. Whether you see if on their face or not, they’re probably enjoying themselves because those old memories are what’s left intact. Don’t let a dead-pan expression fool you. Many disease, such as Parkinson’s creates a “mask,” and hides their feelings. Notice how long they stay engaged, what they read for, how they watch other people and interact. That means their brain is active. They’re exercising those neurons in a natural way.

Continue to make memories with your parents. Each one is a gem in your pocket. The more you do together, enjoy each other’s company, the more you enjoy caring for them. It becomes much more of a two-way relationship. You’ll get just as much out of it–when you start enjoying your parents. Alzheimer’s or not.

October 23, 2009 at 2:08 pm 2 comments

Should My Parent Continue to Live Alone? Questions to Ask Before You Rush In

When we first hear the word, “Alzheimer’s,” we panic.

As adult children and caregivers, we want to swoop our parents in our arms and make this terrible disease go away. Sadly, we tend to rush in, take over, and overwhelm those we love with our worries and fears. Alzheimer’s isn’t a “life is over” right here and now type of disease, and if your parent is in the early stages, you have time to find out what’s best for them and what’s best for you.

First, I hope you take a little time to process the news, and to educate yourself. Talk to a good friend. Take a deep breath. Cry. Scream. Grieve. Ask questions. Search the web (the Alzheimer’s Association at is a great  place to start), get some books and start to make a plan–short term and long term.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What stage Alzheimer’s is your parent at? No matter what the medical community tells you, how do you think your dad (or mom) is doing?
  • How isolated is your parent? Could they get out and wander? Are they still driving? Do you or other family members live nearby? Are their neighbors caring? Is there church or family friends close and willing to pitch in?
  • What community resources are available? Do your parents live in a rural area or near a city with lots of services available to them?
  • Would it be best to hire live-in care? Move them into your home–or you move in with them? What about an assisted living facility–or is your parent’s Alzheimer’s more advanced? If so, start check out memory disorder facilities where they’ll be safe and not wander.

Don’t freak out. There’s a lot you can do to keep your parent’s brain and healthyand active as it can be. You can find your way. You can get the care your parent needs. It won’t necessarily be easy–I can’t promise you that–but trust yourself. You’ll figure it out.

October 20, 2009 at 11:53 pm 2 comments

Is Your Parent a Picky Eater? Sandwich Generation Dinner Time Stress

I never imagined that I’d find myself at the dinner table trying to coax my mother to eat like she was a fussy toddler. That wasn’t what I was expecting when I joined the ranks of the sandwich generation, but there I was, sitting across the table from a pouty senior.

“If I eat another piece of chicken I’m going to start clucking.” 

My mom pushed her food around the table with a sour look on her face. I would have laughed, but I was too tired and too aggravated to let her think she was entertaining. Was it as simple as a power struggle? Did my mother have an appetite? Should I enforce “family rules” or respect her choice to eat–or not eat whatever she wanted? Was my mom’s nutrition something I needed to be concerned about? So many worries.

Like many caregivers and family members, I tried really hard to make my mom happy–and take care of her at the same time. I bought whatever she asked for. I cooked what I thought she would like–even if it meant fixing a whole separate meal for my family. I also had kids who were observing my mom’s antics., but they understood it wasn’t the same.  

Soon after my mom turned 90, I gave up the food fight. I decided that my mom could eat anything she wanted–or not eat. I found that not fighting with her made it easier to live with her. We went from grumbling and moving cold eggs around the plate to just eating rice and butter, or just eating pudding, or just drinking Ensure…and finally, my mom settled on Klondike bars. By that time, my mom had late stage Alzheimer’s. and I was grateful when she’d eat anything.

I guess my point is, do the best you can.

Our elders aren’t our children, and we don’t have to prepare them for a lifetime of good eating habits.

We don’t have to follow the rules, or make the rules–we have to adjust to what life has handed us. Sometimes it seems pretty crazy and chaotic, but I learned that caregiving isn’t about rules and shoulds, it’s a lot about intuition. 

I knew we didn’t have a long time left together. All we had to do was the best we could do.

What’s right for your situation? I don’t know because you just have to take it a day at a time. Figure it out as you go. Trust that you’ll know what to do when it’s time.

Don’t miss out on Dakim’s Dakim’s “Give Thanks for Loved Ones” Contest running now through November 5th. 

Visit Alzheimer’ for entry forms and contest rules.

October 16, 2009 at 2:35 am 1 comment

My Spouse’s Personality Has Changed: Is it Alzheimer’s?

You’re worried. Your spouse or perhaps your parent has changed.

You don’t know exactly how to describe it, but he’s just not himself lately. He’s less engaged, or maybe he’s more agitated and can’t seem to rest. Maybe he fixates on odd things, or is starting to lose his words, or he’s having  sundowning issues and gets more upset late in the day.

Maybe it’s your mother you’re concerned about. My mother, who didn’t show Alzheimer’s symptoms until her late 80s, became over-the-top anxious. She was always thinking someone’s breaking in her house or stealing from her.  I also started noticing that she was making excuses for losing something, not calling, or why she had moved an object from one place to another or why something broke.

Is it Alzheimer’s? It could be. Alzheimer’s gives us clues long before we recognize or acknowledge them.

But it’s also one of our biggest fears so we tend to jump to that conclusion.

Looking back, I now see that some of my mother’s behavior, worries, and anxieties were probably an indication of the Alzheimer’s that was to come. I also know that I enabled her for a while by going along with her excuses. She wanted to stay in her own home and I knew that was important to her, but she needed more help than I realized.

If you have concerns, ask your doctor–or make an appointment with a geriatric physician or neurologist. Even if they dismiss your concerns, don’t give up. Alzheimer’s is a brain disorder and ultimately, it has to be diagnosed by a “brain doctor,” a neurologist. Why go to all that trouble? Because there are medications that can help.

How to Alzheimer’s medications work?

According to the National Institute of Health, here are some basic facts to help you understand more about Alzheimer’s Meds:

  • Alzheimer’s medications are cholinesterase inhibitors
  • They can be prescribed for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s Disease. 
  • These medications may help delay or prevent symptoms from becoming worse, but they don’t work the same on everyone, and they may only work for a limited time.
  • These medications may help control some behavioral symptoms such as anger and agitation. 

Medication names are: 

  • Razadyne®, (which was Reminyl® and is now offered in a generic form). 
  • Exelon® (rivastigmine)
  • Aricept® (donepezil)

As a caregiver, daughter, son, or spouse, you have to be your loved one’s advocate. Personality changes are clue that something’s going on. You have to take the initiative to educate yourself, ask questions, and don’t give up.

October 13, 2009 at 10:23 pm Leave a comment

Grief Starts Early With Alzheimer’s, Ways to Honor The Grief Process

We tend to think that grief begins after a loved one has died, but grief is a natural part of life–and change–any change can trigger grief. We grieve the loss of our pets, a move, a career change, changes in our bodies and our health, a divorce, or our children leaving home. Even the changing of our favorite seasons can cause us to long that things could just stay the same. Nowhere is grief more profound than when we care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s can feel like a series of goodbyes. We grieve our loved one’s losses, and we grieve our own. As our elders must choose to no longer drive or live alone, or walk without assistance, we feel for them. We remember our moms and dads and spouses when they young and strong and could take on the world.

I remember sitting with my mother who had Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s at the doctor’s office one day. She was up on the table (I had to help her get there, and trust me, that wasn’t easy) and sitting four feet away, it caught me how small she was, how vulnerable she looked with her shoulders curve down and in. Her hair was completely white and she had a rather vacant look in her eyes. She was and wasn’t the mom I knew so well.  I saw my mother cocooned inside a body she nor I barely recognized.

Knowing where Alzheimer’s is going can kick in periods of sadness. That’s okay. It’s being honest and there are times when it’s good to cry, good to feel the emotions of sorrow and longing. Grief comes in waves, and I’ve found that if I honor the changes, the grief, even when it does feel as if my heart will break, then soon, that wave will pass.

Ways to Honor Our Grief:

  • Take some photographs.  See the beauty in vein-riddled hands and silver-white hair. There’s a sense of beauty that comes with aging, I liken it to the beauty and intricacy of a spider’s web. Even when the photographs reveal the ravages of time and disease, there’s something important about acknowledging today–just as it is.
  • Dig out some old photographs–baby pictures, grade school, high school, the dating years, wedding photos. Remember who your loved one is–and was. Create a bridge by taking note of each decade, each life event. Display these photos so when grief comes, you can ease its sting by acknowledging what an amazing life journey they’ve had–and you’ve had with them.
  • Write letters and share what you’re experiencing. Even if no one ever reads them, you need to write them. Grief is like a suitcase we carry with us–and if we have a place to put it–our thoughts, our worries, our memories–when we write them, we ease our own emotional load.
  • Talk to those who share your experience. Call your sister, a cousin, or a friend who has been through a similar situation. Knowing that someone will listen to you, someone you can reminisce with, confide in–makes our grief bearable.

The more we grieve now, whenever it rises in us, the more natural and healthy it is. We can’t deny that our loved ones are dying–we’re all dying–and if our loved one is older and is struggling with Alzheimer’s or other diseases, then yes, they will most likely die before us. Grief helps prepare our bodies and our hearts.  Know that as a loved one and a caregiver this emotional work of grief is necessary, and it’s part of your healing.

Don’t miss out on Dakim’s Dakim’s “Give Thanks for Loved Ones” Contest running now through November 5th. 

Visit Alzheimer’ for entry forms and contest rules.

October 10, 2009 at 2:33 am Leave a comment

Distraction and Substitution is Key to Alzheimer’s Behavior Issues

Alzheimer’s behavior issues is one of the toughest parts of the disease. Many people with Alzheimer’s are agitated easily. They may startle, scream, bite, kick, run, or hit–and that’s when caregivers find themselves at a loss to what to do. It’s also the number one reason why families place their loved ones in a care home. But there are certain techniques that can really help both you and your care partner avoid a complete meltdown.

Geriatric and Alzheimer’s specialists use what they call the distraction and substitution methods:

  • If your loved one with Alzheimer’s becomes agitated or fixates on something you don’t want them to, (sexual behavior, taking things, holding onto you) then try distracting them. Change the subject, wheel them or guide them to different room, even outside if it’s safe, or get someone else to talk to them in order to break their concentration or fixation.
  • After the distraction, or as a part of it, substitute one object for another. If, for example, your loved one took someone else’s watch, offer them yours, or offer a cookie or a flower–anything that causes them to open their hand voluntarily so you can remove the object they shouldn’t have.  You can’t always use food because many Alzheimer’s patients don’t feel hunger all that often, so it’s not enticing. You may even keep “toys” or other found objects you know they like so you have something to distract them with.

You’ll have to find what system works best for you, what distraction and substitutions entice them. Nothing will work forever, but even a few weeks of relative peace is a gift for a frazzled caregiver.


Don’t miss out on Dakim’s Dakim’s “Give Thanks for Loved Ones” Contest running now through November 5th. 

Visit Alzheimer’ for entry forms and contest rules.



You could win a $2500 brain fitness system for a senior friend or family member!

October 6, 2009 at 7:44 pm Leave a comment

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Hi, I'm Carol O'Dell. This blog will include stories and lessons I've learned while caring for my mom, and now as I speak to caregivers around the country. I hope to offer suggestions, ideas and insights that will help others.

While this blog is supported by Dakim Brain Fitness, I’m not blogging to promote the Dakim company or products. Instead, I’m writing about how caring and being cared for affects your life and your family. My hope is that this blog gives you a place to learn, reflect, gain new perspective to make it another day.

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