The Lady in Red

I had a lovely visit with an old friend the other day. I don’t call her old finishingwellinlife-redbecause she is in her late 90’s, but because we have been friends for a very, very long time.

I asked her what she had been up to, though with Irene, I knew it would have something to do with sewing. The last time I had visited with her, she was busy making handy meal bibs for all the residents in the retirement village she lives in. She explained that she had become known as the lady who could fix anything – a torn seam, a button, hem or repair a worn spot.

From time to time, various neighbors would drop by with whatever garment needed attention, and Irene would go to work like a busy bee and take care of it. She said that sometimes she had a large pile of items, and then sometimes, several days would go by between projects. She explained that she doesn’t charge her neighbors for sewing – it’s a ministry. She feels as if her ability to sew – even to have good eyesight at her age – is a gift from God to share with others.

She always makes me laugh, and this visit was no exception. As always she was beautifully dressed in an outfit that she created.

Her tiny little apartment  is filled with dolls from her doll collection. Irene’s collection is different from any other I have ever come across. Hers are not fancy or expensive but rather they are ‘Rescue Dolls’ that someone has neglected and tossed aside. Over the years, they came to her all grimy, with matted or missing hair and torn clothing. Irene vigorously and lovingly scrubs them down, repairs their hair and creates a special outfit for each one – including booties and a beanie.

Irene loves each one of her dolls, but there is one in her collection finishingwellinlife-90dollthat is her most prized possession. It is a doll her Mother gave her for Christmas when she was seven-years-old. Irene immediately fell in love with her doll. Her sewing talent was developed and blossomed through the tremendous number of outfits she made for the doll over the past ninety years.

Irene’s doll stands as a witness to the beginning of what has become almost a century of sewing and a beautiful testament to a lady who certainly knows how to finish well.



Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and finishingwell-3Dcovertips about doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey.

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Maintaining a good balance

I have one of those toothbrushes that pause every 30 seconds to let you know it’s time to change where you are brushing your teeth until the front and back of both the top and bottom teeth are brushed for a total of 2 minutes.finishing-well-in-life-bal

I also work on my balance while brushing. It occurred to me one day that if I stood on only one leg for each 30-second segment, it would help me maintain good balance. I’ve discovered that it also helps to pair activities up with something I am already doing in order to work it into a routine.

My daughter, a massage therapist, is always telling me about the importance of staying in balance. Even if I don’t do all my other stretching exercises every day, I will, at least be working on my balance. I did discover an interesting thing – if I close my eyes, I have to work harder to stay balanced. So, if you try this, please have something sturdy close enough to grab if you need to.

According to WebMD,  Keeping  muscles fit matters:  In a 2009 study of 900 seniors, researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago reported that those who maintained muscle strength were significantly less likely to go on to develop memory impairment or Alzheimer’s disease.

In an article in the Alzheimer’s Reading Room,  Bob DeMarco talks about discovering his mother’s trouble with balance. After he began to take her to the gym (at the age of 88), her balance improved dramatically. The article goes on to say that poor balance may indicate memory decline – another reason to work on improving balance.

If all of that wasn’t enough, there is one more motivation to develop better balance:

According to the study by the French Institute of Health and Medical Research and the University of Bordeaux, the risk of dementia may be higher for older people who have general anesthetics.

finishing-well-in-life-balaAfter my Mama had a hip operation, her body healed nicely, but the part of her brain that knew how to walk never came back on-line.

So my challenge to you…and myself is: How can we improve our balance? The gym? Stretching exercises? Standing on one leg? I realize it’s hard to add one more activity into an already busy day, but remember – it’s all about balance.

Help, my Mother-In-Law is moving in….

….and I think she has dementia. There are so many ways this post could go from this headline, but today, I am going to focus on the ‘Safety’ aspect of bringing an elderly loved one home. The person who inspired the title of this post had a toddler, so she had already done some ‘baby proofing’ such as securing cupboard doors, pulling knobs off the stove, and plugging outlets. Adults, however, bring a whole new set of safety issues – essentially you may need to senior-proofyour home.

Once Mama came to live with us, we began the practice of keeping the doors leading outside locked at all times. We thought that was enough to keep Mama from going outside alone. We were under the mistaken impression that dementia would prevent her from remembering how to unlock doors.

That’s when we discovered ‘Muscle Memory’.  It turned out that evenfinishingwellinlife-lock though her mind didn’t remember how to unlock a door, her fingers remembered and were able to turn the lock quite nicely. It didn’t take too long to discover there was much more to be done.

My husband Wayne quickly went to the ‘big box’ store and bought a new lock he could install near the top of the door where Mama would never think to look and couldn’t reach. We also hung a very large Christmas bell around the finishingwellinlife-bellsdoorknob to create noise for added security.

There were a few things we could do right away that made a big difference. Since falls are a leading cause of injuries, we removed throw rugs and anything else that could cause her to trip. We noticed that Mama liked to sit in a certain place on the couch, so we made it ‘her’ place.  We also placed a folded blanket under the couch cushion to bring it up higher so she would have an easier time standing back up. Adding more, and brighter lighting, as well as several night-lights were also easy to do.

The bathroom needed more attention. We obtained a raised toilet seat, a shower chair, grab bars for the walls and a bubble bath mat for the shower—there was already a shower wand that extended the facet. I always set the water for Mama, so there wasn’t a problem with getting the hot and cold mixed up.

A Place for Mom” has an “Elderly Home Safety Checklist” which can be printed and filled out for handy reference.

“Good Call” has a resource as well, “A Guide to Helping Senior Citizens Stay Safe at Home” it is accessible and reader-friendly, with larger font and compatible with screen-reader technology. Their optimized guide also includes a printable PDF version to share to those who can’t access the internet.

For additional help and resources, use the federal government’s Elder Care Locator  to find your local office, or call 800-677-1116 to inquire about home modification loans and services available to seniors.

Remember, at the end of the day, we can only do what we can do to make a home a safe place for our loved one. My sister and I would tell each other all the time, “We’re doing the best we can, and so is Mama.”