Category Archives: Activities

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Change happens.

Heraclitus of Ephesus, a philosopher born in 535 BC, stated: “The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change –”. Heraclitus was famous for his insistence on ever-present change as being the fundamental essence of the universe, as stated in the famous saying, “No man ever steps in the same river twice

Over the past few years, our family has experienced a bucket-load of change; sickness, job loss, new job, death of family member, sale of home, retirement, and move across country. I’m sure we are not alone – every family, couple and individual experiences change on a constant basis.

Change can be challenging – it is not always optional – or welcome.

Butterflies know all about change.

There are a myriad of reasons why change occurs or has to take place. Even planned changes can be a bit unsettling while trying to find your way in new circumstances. If it is at all possible, it’s best to have a proactive plan in place before change occurs.

When we moved to the east coast from the west coast, we also changed three time zones. It turned out that by driving instead of flying, our internal clocks could adjust a bit more slowly. Keeping in touch with those at home was another way to keep our bearings while finding our way-we discovered Instagram and posted photos of interesting things we saw along the way.

During any season of change, it is vitality important to try to get enough sleep each night. Sleep is not only essential physically but a good night’s sleep can strengthen memories and promote creative thinking.

Change is not always bad – in fact, it seems we are designed for change – it happens whenever we break routines. Even when there isn’t a big change in our life, we can still get a benefit by doing something called ‘Neurobic exercises’. Neurobics is the science of brain exercise. They are, in a nutshell: Doing the ordinary things in new, surprising and unexpected ways—in other words—change. A few examples are using your non-dominate hand to brush your teeth, unlock a door or try to read something upside down. These activities help to increase brain connections and develop new brain pathways.

According to ‘Healthy Living Magazine‘, just as with a physical workout, you will need resistance to grow stronger, just like going to the gym to lift weights; only in this case, the weights are mental.

If the change is going to happen to a loved one who is already experiencing cognitive issues, it can be unwelcome and can trigger something called  Transfer Trauma.

Plan to have your loved one do as much as is normal for them such as making coffee, watering plants, listening to music or watching familiar movies – keep the same routines as much as possible. If old routines are not possible, try to establish new ones as soon as your situation allows. Finding any type of balance is the key to a smoother transition.

Change is going to happen. Our only option is to look for and embrace as much joy as we can in the process.

Less Taxing

This is the time of the year when even the best of procrastinators have to reluctantly gather all the bits and pieces received from various financial institutions such as banks, employers, Social Security, brokers as well organizations that send retirement benefits.

When I was (much) younger, my Mama had me help her do their taxes so that I could be her backup if she couldn’t do them. That was back in the late 1970s when taxes were a whole lot simpler. I found that I actually enjoyed it. One day, I happened to hear about an IRS program that helped folks file their taxes and thought it would be worth looking into.

The first year that I volunteered, I took the classes in Redding with the intention of working at a tax site in Red Bluff. We opened a site, but it didn’t get a lot of response. The next year I discovered a group that had been trying to accomplish the same thing so I joined them. Classes were held at the First Baptist Church in one of their Sunday School rooms.

They took place in January and the only source of heat was from a wood burning stove – so along with pencils and calculators,  students were also required to bring a piece of wood for the fire. Those were the good ol’ days – we also used carbon paper and folks had to mail in their completed forms to the IRS. The tax classes had been taught by IRS employees, but they wanted to expand and advertised for instructors. I immediately volunteered.

Over the past 30+ years that I have been involved, the tax program has evolved to a much higher level of sophistication – we now use computers instead of pencils and carbon paper and e-file the returns instead of mailing them to the IRS – it is a more accurate and quicker way to accomplish this annual project. One thing that has not changed is our dedication to provide free help to anyone who needs to file their taxes.

To that end, the TaxAide program in Tehama County is in full swing for this year’s tax season. To make an appointment, call 727-8298 – you will hear a recording prompting you to leave your name and number so that someone can call you back with the details. TaxAide also has a web site with a few more details about the program TehamaTaxAide.weebly.com

USA.gov has a web site that may be helpful as well: Filing Your Federal Taxes

We have a knowledgeable, kind and caring crew of volunteer counselors who look forward to assisting you file your taxes.

P.S. We are always looking for volunteers.

Everybody was Kung-Fu fighting

How safe do you feel? I recently took a self-defense class for women. The class was a one-day workshop taught by a Kung-Fu Master – which means he had mastered the fighting style of the Chinese martial arts. Now, if they had advertised the workshop as a Kung-Fu class, I may not have attended, as I have no desire to begin learning martial arts at my age. However, since it was advertised as a self-defense class, I thought that perhaps I could learn some things that would be useful in case I needed to defend myself.

Ninja

Apparently others thought the same thing as the room was filled with women who were north of 50.

I immediately liked the teacher. He had a calm and confident attitude about him. His voice carried neither arrogance nor nervousness as he began talking about what he would be sharing with us that day.

My own confidence level increased when he explained that Kung-Fu was developed by the Chinese – who were generally of smaller stature – for self-defense. He went on to explain that the main requirements are brains and balance. It turns out that women have an additional benefit if they learn a few techniques – the element of surprise, as their attacker would likely not expect them to provide any resistance.

Even without a class, there are two things that anyone can work on immediately:

  1. Be more aware of your surroundings: Being aware of your surroundings seems obvious, yet in the rush of our busy schedules, as a caregiver, we also need to stay attentive to our loved one, and may not always able to be as alert to possible danger. Making a commitment to becoming more aware of what’s going on around you as well as practice will help.
  1. Maintain or improve your balance: This can be helpful for a variety of reasons, but for our discussion here, the more stability someone has, the less likely an attacker can throw that person off balance. Practice your balance by standing on one foot for 30 seconds – then switch to the other. You can do this almost any place or time, but be sure to have something close to grab onto in case you get wobbly.

It is also a good idea to make a plan to keep your cell phone charged at all times in case you need to call 911. An “Alert” button on a necklace would add a layer of security as well.

If it’s possible, try to find and attend a basic self-defense class that will give you the training to help equip you in case of an attack. The class I took was offered by my church but adult classes and workshops are often held at community centers or martial arts studios as well.

Ideally, never having to face a dangerous situation would be best, but since life isn’t always ideal, learning how to anticipate peril in order to avoid it would be the best way to keep yourself safe.

No one can completely avoid danger, but do everything you can to resist – the element of surprise is on your side. Then call for help.

“What can she do?”

…that was the question a friend of mine asked me recently. She told me her Mother-in-Law just moved in with her and her husband from a rehab center following a knee replacement. The family had begun to notice she was beginning to become forgetful and was repeating herself fairly often, so they were worried about her living alone.

My friend loved the idea. She had some time off work and looked forward to spending some quality time with her lovely Mother-in-Law. At first, it worked out well – they had fun visiting and enjoying each other’s company. But then my friend had to go back to work. Suddenly, Mother-in-Law got bored.

I asked what sort of things did her Mother-in-Law like to do in the past. It turned out that she used to sew. Due to dementia, it seemed too risky to have her use a sewing machine, so we discussed other types of sewing, such as mending or hemming.  My friend remembered that she used to love to quilt, so she was going to find out if sewing the blocks together by hand might be an option – finishing the quilt wouldn’t be the goal – rather simply enjoying the process.

Discovering what your loved one enjoyed or was talented at prior to the onset of dementia is the key. Did they knit or crochet? Perhaps something like a working on a jigsaw puzzle might also be an option if your loved one has an interest in it. Grown-up coloring books have become very popular and might appeal to an older mind.

An important thing to keep in mind is that even though your loved one has diminishing abilities and might even act like a child at times, their likes and dislikes are still mature. Don’t insult them with a Barbie coloring book or puzzles with pictures of ‘Sponge Bob’

Each person has their own individual set of interests, skills, and talents, so it may take a while find just the right type of activities that will keep their interest. This process may require you to be both patient and flexible.

Sometimes a person just wants to feel useful. My Mama loved folding towels so I would sometimes quietly throw a bunch of clean towels into the dryer to fluff them up for a few minutes and then bring the whole pile of warm towels to her to fold. Mama loved it! At first she would hug the towels for a few minutes and enjoy their warmth and fragrance. Eventually, she would become surrounded by little stacks of neatly folded towels.

I also found a list that might also contain some helpful ideas: 50 Activities for Caregivers to do With People Who Have Alzheimer’s or Dementia

At the end of the day, your loved one simply wants what we all want – to know we’re loved. Some days will be better than others, but remember: You’re doing the best you can, and so are they.

It’s beginning to look , (smell & sound) a lot like Christmas

One of my favorite Christmas decorations.

🎼Jingle Bells, Yuletide smells, Christmas on display – bringing back the memories of a long past Christmas day.

A Christmas tree trimmed with old fashioned decorations and stockings hung by the fire along with the wonderful smells of gingerbread mingling with the sharp fragrance of pine and familiar songs of the season all work together to invoke memories of Christmas past.  Our senses are doorways through which memories can flow.

According to an article in LiveScience.com, Brain’s Link Between Sounds, Smells and Memory Revealed: Sights, sounds and smells can all evoke emotionally charged memories. A new study in rats suggests why: The same part of the brain that’s in charge of processing our senses is also responsible, at least in part, for storing emotional memories…Previously, scientists had not considered these sensory brain regions all that important for housing emotional memories, said study researcher Benedetto Sacchetti, of the National Institute of Neuroscience in Turin, Italy.

Since the Christmas season is chalk-full of sensory delights, this is the perfect time to take advantage of anything that could stir up memories in your loved one.

For example, if making gingerbread houses or gingerbread men was a beloved annual tradition, then the smell of gingerbread baking or the sight of a gingerbread house could trigger fond emotional memories of happy times past.

The Christmas wreath on our front door.

Pine trees are another seasonal smell that is fairly easy to come by this time of the year– even just a few boughs can produce that wonderful fragrance.

According to Fifth Sense, The sense of smell is closely linked with memory, probably more so than any of our other senses.

Besides smells, the sights associated with Christmas such as decorated trees, poinsettias and twinkling lights might provoke a sense of joy accompanied by a memory or two of yesteryear.

Sounds abound as well this time of the year. Christmas songs and hymns are ring out everywhere you go – stores, coffee shops and even offices. Churches sing many of the beloved Christmas hymns and if your loved one has attended church prior to developing dementia, going to a service will provide a plethora of sights, sounds and smells of the season.

Since the senses are connected to memories, it is possible to provide your loved one with memory-triggering pleasures year around, but at Christmas, it is almost as if the whole world is in this process with you. So as much as possible, take the time to enjoy the sweet-smelling, merry, twinkling, singing most wonderful time of the year.

Merry Christmas!

Twiddle de dee

I remember watching my grandma twiddle her thumbs back when I was a little girl. It fascinated me. She did it all the time – usually while she was sitting in her favorite chair and either visiting or watching TV. She told me it was good to have something for your hands to do while you were waiting. That made sense to me and I remember trying to copy her when she wasn’t looking. It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal now, but back when I was very young, teaching my thumbs to twiddle felt like a huge accomplishment.

finishing-well-in-life-twiddle
This one is from AbuelaVicky found at Etsy.comhment.

It turns out that no matter how old you become, it is still good to have something for your hands to do. Last year I wrote a post called For that Fidgety Feeling” about something called Fidgety quilts. I loved the idea.

When my Mama lived with us while she was in the middle stages of dementia, she constantly needed something to do. Prior to the onset of dementia, she both knitted and crocheted. But as the dementia became more and more pronounced,

BizzieLizzieKnits
This one is from BizzieLizzieKnits found on Etsy.com

she found it difficult to maintain any type of ongoing focus.  She would quickly become bored and forget what she was working on.

We kept her busy with short-term activities such as folding warm towels, sorting colored beads into small bowls according to their color, and one of her favorites: picking lint off of sweaters. Before dementia struck, Mama was very detail oriented. It made sense as she was a laboratory scientist and paying attention to details was extremely important.

If I had heard about fidgety quilts back then, I believe that Mama would have loved the idea. The fact that they don’t require any special skills or knowledge to play with the various ribbons, buttons and interesting items attached to the quilts makes them perfect for every ability level.

I recently watched a short news video on BBC titled: “Lancashire knitters ‘twiddle muffs’ dementia tool plea” where there was a plea for area knitters to make and donate “twiddle muffs” to local hospitals. The muffs are a great idea – especially if you are a knitter. If you don’t knit, you can still purchase a Twiddle muff for your loved one. They seem to be a bit less expensive as well as more portable than the ‘Fidgety Quilt’ so would make a marvelous Christmas present for a loved one who tends to get fidgety.

Twiddle Kitty
Twiddle Kitty

Once you begin to look, you will discover a whole world of items designed to help give loved ones’ fingers something to do and perhaps reduce periods of agitation.

If you happen to be a knitter perhaps you might consider creating a few extra twiddle muffs to bless someone who could use a thoughtful and helpful gift this Christmas season.

Whimsical joy

While engaging in a lovely chat with a friend of mine, I learned that she had recently embarked on a journey of caregiving. I wanted to give her a word of encouragement or comfort. She didn’t ask for advice, although she had said that she read my book,  “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey” and had gleaned some information which she felt might be helpful and ideas that she would try to keep in mind.

My heart broke with the knowledge of what would likely be a long journey ahead of her. It is no easy task. Many of our loved ones require constant supervision and need help with everyday activities. I hoped that she would have the strength to endure in the difficult times. She mentioned that this was not something she had taken on alone – which is such a blessing as it divides the load and shares both the joy and sorrow. Since she is a believer, my friend will also be drawing on the strength and comfort that comes from the Lord.

Joy is what will be needed for this endeavor. I encouraged my friend to find as much joy as possible by finding social networks and opportunities for her loved one to laugh and smile.

Look for ways to increase the music artistic expression in their world. Sometimes it will be a challenge to go out in public due to mobility limitations or possible inappropriate behaviors.

My sister, Peggy Whitten has a great saying that I love to quote when it comes to caring for a loved one: “They can’t enter your reality, you have to enter theirs.”

Some days their reality may seem like you’ve stumbled upon a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. That’s okay. Try to discover what activities you’re loved one might enjoy doing, (although this may change over time).  I would encourage you to venture out when you can. Help your loved one go to their place of worship, attend concerts, browse art galleries, feed ducks at the park, or visit a zoo.

Do whatever your loved one enjoyed prior to dementia and even add a few activities whenever possible.  When it comes to food, help your loved one share a meal with others whenever possible, whether it’s at a restaurant, with a church group, or a local senior center. Dining with others may also help promote better nutrition which is crucial.

Is there something that will give your loved one a sense of purpose? finishing_well_in_life_towelsMy Mama enjoyed folding towels. I often would bring them to her still warm from the dryer – she would hug the pile of towels and smile large. Eventually, she would begin folding and stacking them next to her. She enjoyed it so much that I must admit there were a few times I took clean, folded towels out of the linen closet to toss them into the dryer in order to give her something to fold. She also loved sorting colored beads and picking nits off of sweaters.

Anything, no matter how silly it seems, if it helps your loved one feel as if they can still do something to contribute is a worthwhile activity. Remember, the journey can be long, use your imagination to lighten the load and find all the whimsical joy you can.

Sleep? Oh yawn

So it turns out that sleep may not be overrated after all. The amount of sleep you get may have an impact on whether or not you get Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers are beginning to see a more definite link between sleep and beta-amyloid and Alzheimer’s. Beta-amyloid build-up in the brain may lead to a vicious cycle – it disturbs sleep and impairs memory, which can trigger additional build-up of Beta-amyloid  — the protein that makes up the toxic plaque that is the most common suspect behind Alzheimer’s.

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have also found compelling evidence that poor sleep – particularly a deficit of the deep, restorative slumber needed to maintain memories — is a conduit through which the beta-amyloid protein may trigger Alzheimer’s disease attacks the brain’s long-term memory.
Our findings reveal a new pathway through which Alzheimer’s disease may cause memory decline later in life,” said UC Berkeley neuroscience professor Matthew Walker, senior author of the study to be published in the journalNature Neuroscience.

How does it work?

“Sleep is helping wash away toxic proteins at night, preventing them from building up and from potentially destroying brain cells,” Walker said. “It’s providing a power cleanse for the brain.”

According to a recent research study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, that analyzed the sleep patterns of adults 70 and over found that those who slept for shorter amounts of time and had poorer sleep quality, had higher levels of Beta amyloid, a brain plaque that is an indicator of Alzheimer’s. That’s not to say that if you don’t get enough sleep, you’re destined to get Alzheimer’s disease, but there does seem to be a link between the two.

“These findings are important in part because sleep disturbances can be treated in older people. To the degree that poor sleep promotes the development of Alzheimer’s disease, treatments for poor sleep or efforts to maintain healthy sleep patterns may help prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer disease,” said Adam Spira, PhD, lead author of the study and an assistant professor with the Bloomberg School’s Department of Mental Health.  

finishing_well_in_life_yawn
Wayne Owensby is demonstrating a yawn

Besides avoiding the usual suspects of caffeine and alcohol, there are other of practices that can help. The easiest one is yawning and stretching – in fact, it’s so easy that you are probably trying to stifle a yawn right now.

Make this part of your going-to-bed routine: Begin by opening your mouth wide to simulate a big yawn. Reach out your arms and give them a good stretch. At first, you’re just going through the motions, but after several yawns and stretches, your body and brain will get the message that it is time to sleep. Then notice what this does to the quality of the sleep that follows. What you will discover is that something about stretching and yawning prepares the body and brain for sleep.

Here’s a video to get you yawning: Contagious Yawning: Why We Do It, What It Shows About Us

I don’t know if my Mama had sleep issues in the early stages of dementia, but sadly, in the late-stages of this disease, sleep seems to be one of her superpowers.

Sweet dreams.

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.

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.