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Aging is like traveling to a foreign country

topofmayanruinsI just returned from a mission trip to Belize. It dawned on me while I was there that planning for aging is a lot like planning for trip to a foreign country. You can read books and learn about what to expect, pack for a variety of experiences, but when you arrive, you depend on the help of those around you to make the most of your journey.

I packed rain boots but didn’t realize that the duct tape wasn’t going to hold so I needed to buy a new pair. My new boots were only $8 and are a unique memento of my trip.

The flies swarm in the rain and I wasn’t even that phased by the fly in the bottom of my cup of coffee on the 6th day.

The warmth of the people and their suggestions on how to cure heat rash (rub a lime on your skin), avoid the killer bees, and even the tasty chew on the leaves of the all-spice tree enhanced our journey.

As American’s we are fiercely independent but need to learn how to trust and depend on others. The fact that 7 out of 10 Americans turning 65 today will need 3 or more years of long-term care requires that we share life plans, our weaknesses (not just our strengths), and accept help when we might need it most. Discovered.

Life is a journey, and I hope to make the best of it even up to the end, when most likely, I will need the help from others to manage even my day-to-day activities.

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The benefit of a memory care community

I am currently in Belize with my daughter and our church Youth Group. I can’t imagine trying to manage a week away if mom were living with my family. As a sandwich generation caregiver, I want to make sure I don’t short change my daugther and miss the opportunity to be a good mom to her. She is pictured below being silly and showing me how to have fun with he “panoramic” picture feature on my iPhone. We are spending the week painting the 4 room schoolhouse in the Cayo district of Belize as well as getting to know the many children that attend the school.  
Thankfully, my parents saved and told us they never wanted to live with us. It would have made things simpler had we had a conversation years ago with the amount of care they have needed and the complications that dementia brought as we worked to transition them into a safe environment.

Right now I’m happy that my mom is in a community and we have the extra care she needs in place so I can also have the time to focus on raising my kids. Pleased. 

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Pop-Pop would be proud

My son, who has just graduated highschool, joined me on my visit with mom today. He is leaving tomorrow for the outdoor National track meet. He worked hard to qualify and proud seems too small a word for me to describe his accomplishments.

When he tells my mom, she quickly responds “Pop-Pop would be so excited for you if he were alive.”

I choke out a response about dad being able to cheer him on from above. My mom has never really talked about dad. It was heart-wrenching the first few months when she just wanted to know when he was coming back to their apartment. Now, she fully grasps that he is gone and her comment was a wonderful response to a momentus accomplishment.

My moms comment is so clear, normal, and true. I got a glimpse of the  gracious, witty woman who loved and admired dad too. Awestruck.

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Making Memories Easy to Use and Share

ScanMyPhotos2011When my dad died, we pulled a host of photos together and had them scanned so we could show a photo montage at the celebration of his life. I used a local service, but was intrigued when I talked with the Mitch Goldstone, the owner of Scan My Photos. They made this process simple and easy.

Basically, you sign up and they send you a pre-paid box you fill with photos. You opt for the amount and resolution and receive DVD in return, plus your photos. They offer a host of other services to enhance and preserve your photos that you will find at the web site http://www.scanmyphotos.com/.

They are running a 25th anniversary special and you can save 25% on your order. You will need to use coupon code “25Years” to get the discount. That means a scan of around 1,800 photos would cost around $110. Not a bad deal. But you have to act now if you want to test it out. I’m going to be sending in my first box today. Recommended. 

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Helping Care for Loved Ones of All Ages

marymelissashow-297x300Recently I was interviewed on the Mary and Melissa Show which is led by two mothers who share the hurdles of raising kids with disabilities. While I walked into this business out of the need to help manage and support aging parents, I have learned of the ongoing needs to manage and organize a host of information for families who have children with disabilities.

Most people find the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services figure that reports at least 70% of Americans turning 65 will need three years of care frightening. As a country, we will struggle to care for loved ones in many ways. I have focused my experience on helping families avoid having to deal with the simple things that a little organization can solve. To learn more about how you can make sure you and your loved ones are ready, I hope you will listen to this show. Encouraged. 

If you are interested in scheduling me for a radio interview, use the form provided and my office will contact you:

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The Sneaky Poke and a New Connection

handforpokeI’ve had to make an adjustment to how I visit my mom. The community is dedicated to memory care so on any visit, I could be walk in to find a resident who is frantically searching for their dog and asks for my help, or one that has just decided to follow me and is trying to walk out the door with me when I leave.

I’m slowly getting to know the other residents. A few immediately made themselves known to me, but many of them don’t speak so it takes time to get familiar with the residents. On a beautiful day, we go outside to sit under the gazebo. One resident settles in next to us and but doesn’t speak. A second resident walks by and we invite her to come join us. As she gets ready to sit, the first resident reaches out and pokes her right in the behind. I giggle and make eye contact with the woman who did the poking and she winks at me. She tries to speak but garbled words emerge but she continues to smile at her prank.

Thankfully, the second resident doesn’t mention it and joins as we discuss the beautiful weather. I saw how the disease changed my parents in two very different ways. Now I’m seeing a whole new host of behaviors. Some of the residents are delightful and always smiling and others are argumentative and confrontational.

For years, my mom swung between behaviors and I learned Three Go-To Tactics for Dementia Caregivers that served me well. I believe the lion emerges when she’s frightened and confused. We worked with her doctor to find a medication that would help as well as a found a new community that is dedicated to supporting those with dementia.

I grew up moving a lot and learned to take everyone I met as they and quietly watched to see how they behaved. My habits have had to change and after watching dementia in my parents and in others, I don’t believe that man who repeatedly bangs his walls with his hands had a violent personality before or the woman who will come up and tell me to go sit down was bossy before dementia. It’s such a cruel disease that steals so much from all of us. Acknowledged. 

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What to do when you visit the doctor with Mom (or Dad)?

stethoscopeHeartSo, you got mom to the doctor and even went with her. You sat quietly when she told the doctor she had nothing to report. Maybe the doctor even did a mini-mental exam and agreed that mom was fine and set up a follow-up appointment for 6 months or a year. You have noticed issues with her memory or behavior and are concerned, but it doesn’t seem like your mom’s doctor is.

There are several things you can do to help make your visit more productive:

– Contact the office in advance to tell them your concerns and let them know you are coming in with mom. Give specific examples of events.

– Talk to mom about the concerns in advance and share them while you are in the office with your mom.

I tried both of these tactics. My mom would refute or deny examples. She continued to do this with the doctors when they would tell her she had a stroke and later when vascular dementia was diagnosed.

One thing that worked well was to use my dad’s inability to answer his own medication questions as a flag to the doctor. When my dad was asked about surgeries, he would report “none” and I would then speak up to add that he had a pin in his hip as a result of a break within the past year. My dad was also unable to answer any questions about his medications or conditions, he would just reply “none”. I would use his inability to advocate for himself to demonstrate his memory issue, even though the doctor had just administered the mini-mental exam on which my dad would usually score 29 out of 30.

The psychiatrist who initially diagnosed that my dad may have Alzheimer’s told me that I was going to have to be sneaky if I wanted to help my parents. I resisted feeling like it was disrespectful. We have always had open communication, but that was not the case when it came to my parent’s health or help from any of their children.

I had to wait for catastrophic failures in their lives before I was given a window to help. It took several before I was really able to help them, and I proceeded gently.

Knowing what your loved one may be facing will help you and help them be involved in the many choices you will face. I suggest you work to make an appointment with a Psychiatrist, Psychologist or Neurologist and request a neuropsychiatric evaluation (pen and paper tests). Even if to just get a memory benchmark. You may need to present it as a follow-up appointment requested by their doctor, and hopefully, you can get their doctor to help at least make this one referral. If not, you could make the appointment and let them know it was recommended. It’s a little on the “sneaky” side, but recognize that if they don’t remember or recall this request–that is a good reason to consider using this tactic. Advised.

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