My new friend


I made a new friend today. She was in the activity room where I visited with my Mama after work. I spotted her right away – a new face. I noticed her watching us while I was chatting with Mama.

Looking her way, I smiled. She smiled back, and softly asked, “Are you her daughter?”  Nodding, I resumed my ritual of applying Mama’s lipstick and folding a tiny, minty breath strip as small as possible and popping it into Mama’s open mouth. Mama enjoys her teeny-tiny minty treats, and since they dissolve quickly I can offer her something that I don’t have to worry about her choking on.

My new friend stuck her hand out towards me and told me her name. We talked for a moment as she shared with me that her son lives in the bay area but he’s busy and they don’t get along well, and finishing_well_in_life_senior_computershe has a daughter who is a doctor and lives on the east coast. She was hoping that her daughter might be out to visit this weekend.

Since she was talkative, I ventured to ask if she would mind telling me why she was in the care home. She smiled sadly and said she was having some memory troubles so she called 911. I must admit, I was a bit surprised as she had a laptop and seemed to quite ‘in the moment’.

She looked at Mama – who loves a good conversation as much as anyone, but is at the stage where everyone else has to do the talking, and then back at me. Hesitating, she asked me if Mama had dementia. I nodded. She said she couldn’t remember the exact term her doctor gave her, but it was something like dementia.

With a troubled countenance, she quietly asked me what happens next, and if she would know that she was remembering less and less. Big questions that I have no answers for. I replied that everyone is different, but there might be things she could do to strengthen what remains.  Since she had a pretty pink laptop with her, I suggested that she use it as much as possible. Also, I’ve read that being social and visiting with others is good for the brain. 

My heart was sad for my new friend when we said our goodbyes today. The knowledge that you are losing bits and pieces of yourself throughout each day could be quite the struggle.

While reading through various news and research articles tonight, I came across a bright spot of hope for my friend and others in the same situation. It was an article in Science World Report that reported on a new vaccine: “Scientists in the US and Australia are now testing a new vaccine that can supposedly prevent and in some cases, reverse the onset of dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases related to it.”

Wouldn’t that be fantastic! In the meantime, I will be praying for my new friend and hope to see her again during future visits with Mama.

Swimming through life

My Mama has always loved the water – she was born in Duluth, Minnesota. The state motto on their license plate is: “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” so needless to say, there was plenty of water available for swimming.finishing_well-in-life-fish
Even after the onset of dementia, Mama loved to be in the water. We had a membership at the local wellness center that offered an indoor pool, so we took her there as often as possible. However, since we couldn’t trust her to always remember how to swim, we had Mama wear floatation devices on her arms and restricted her water activity to walking back and forth in the pool. Since Mama had diabetes, I also had to keep in mind that her activity could cause her blood sugar levels to drop, so I carried small packets of honey with me at all times.

I was happy to read a wonderful article recently that seemed to confirm the benefits of swimming in spite of dementia – Dementia Friendly Swimming Lessons make a difference  It tells about an  86-year-old man who swims regularly to help him live well with dementia. His wife Jean says,  “It’s made a big difference. He likes being in the water, it seems to relax Fred. He’s happier and it makes a difference in his temper not only while he’s swimming but for the rest of the day.”

That observation agrees with a research article in the ©Journal of Sports Science and Medicine that suggests people swim every day to keep dementia away.

Prevention Magazine includes swimming as part of an overall strategy to help prevent dementia. They outline a variety of steps, their motto is: “Do ’em every day, keep memory loss at bay”

If someone is a swimmer prior to a diagnosis of dementia, it should still be a viable option for them as long as proper precautions are taken to ensure their safety.
As an additional benefit, swimming or walking in the water can help with maintaining balance.

Sometimes, when suggesting an activity, your loved one might indicate that they do not want to participate, but by responding with sensitivity to their feelings and encouragement, you might just help them to have a very pleasant experience in the water. Here is a video of a 94 Year Old Alzheimer’s Patient, Dotty, who goes to the Swimming Pool (VIDEO)

Mama’s trips to the pool lasted until the day came when she was no longer able to walk. I believe that they added to her quality of life and general well-being. If swimming or walking are options at all, they may be worth exploring.

The “Piano Man” keeps rolling

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John Gonsalves, left discusses a song with his wife Saralu and Becky Huskey.

The monthly birthday celebration at Red Bluff Health Care got jazzed up when the piano man, otherwise known as John Gonsalves rolled up to the piano to play along.

The band, “Loosely Strung” comes by every month to help celebrate birthdays, but this month John Gonsalves, who is a short-term resident while recovering from surgery delighted the residents and musicians alike by playing a few favorites on the piano.

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Tony Mayr, left, plays the harmonica in a duet with John Gonsalves.

John was accompanied by another resident, Tony Mayr, a fabulous harmonica player, who has been hooked on the harmonica ever since he came across a toy one as a young lad. That one got destroyed and was replaced by a better instrument. Since each harmonica only has one key, Tony carries a box of harmonicas in various keys with him.

Since the age of 15, John has been playing a variety of instruments. He occasionally played piano with local bands such as Jr. Lesher and Dale  Twiggs band. He played his part in the military as a member of the US Army’s “Screamin’ Eagles Band”. The band traveled throughout the United States and Canada, performing in parades and revues.

After the Army, John attained a Master’s degree in composition and jazz arranging.  He put those skills to good use throughout his 33-year career as a music teacher in Tehama County. One of the members of “Loosely Strung”, Becky Huskey, was offered the opportunity to become Antelope School District’s full-time music instructor when John retired from his position.

He also played with a variety of well-known performing artists, such as the Smothers Brothers, Bobby Vinton, Donnie Brooks and The Drifters as well as every casino in the area. A great honor came to him by way of being chosen to serve a term as assistant grand organist for the Masons of California – a position that took him and his wife, Saralu all over the state.

John is a quiet soul, who prefers to stay in the background – usually at a piano and let his music do the talking.

Ironically, they ended the birthday party with the old Beatles song, “When I’m Sixty-Four”. Many of the residents in attendance were smiling and singing along–perhaps remembering back when they were 64.

 



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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