An Hour a Week…

A friend of mine was frustrated. Her Mother is in the early stages of dementia, and although she is one of four siblings, the weight of decisions regarding her Mother’s care falls to her.

After an extensive search, she and her husband found an acceptable care home that had an opening in the city where they live.

My friend is able to visit her Mother a few times a week. She was pleased with the level of care they provided, which included a wide variety of activities. Her Mother regularly enjoyed strolling through the garden area and sitting on the shady benches while visiting with friends among the beautiful flowers. All seemed well as her mother settled into the routines at her new home.

Then one day my friend received a call from the director of the facility. He informed her that a decision had been made to move her mother to a different house within the complex. The care home campus consists of three homes, with each one housing residents of similar abilities. She and her husband were a bit uncertain about this move since they had been quite happy with the previous arrangements and were concerned that this change could be detrimental to her mental well-being.  He stated that she would be given a thirty-day notice if they did not go along with the move. Due to the lack of options, they agreed to this unsettling change.

As feared, her mother’s condition worsened after the move. The residents in the new home were much less active – or talkative. Before long her mother began to settle into a more sedentary lifestyle as well. It was at this point where my friend was sharing her frustrations with me. She was concerned that her visits would not be enough to counteract the effects of her Mother’s new living situation.

Shortly after our visit, I came across a wonderful study published in “Neurology Advisor” that found that just one hour a week of social interaction improved patients’ quality of life and eased their agitation.  The study included more than 800 dementia patients living in 69 nursing homes in the United Kingdom.

The key word here is social interaction’. As long as there is any willingness or ability for a loved one to be actively involved in the visit there seems to be a measure of benefit. Some examples of active involvement include conversations, singing together, playing cards, board games, or bingo.

Try to discover what activities your 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 the onset of dementia and even add a few activities whenever possible.  When it comes to food, help your loved one share a meal with others, whether it’s at a restaurant, with family, or in the dining room of the care home.

The best part of this study is that it shows what only one hour of social interaction’ can do to improve quality of life, additional time spent may help even more.

An additional benefit may be the discovery that the increased ‘quality of life’ and ‘sense of connection’ may flow both ways.

 

Road Scholars

While my husband Wayne was a tour bus driver, some of his favorite trips were the “Road Scholar” excursions.

Wayne driving a tour bus through the beautiful Trinity Alps in Northern California.

Their adventures took them to a wide variety of interesting places – not just the touristy spots, but also out-of-the-way destinations with educational value.

That is why I was so pleased when I learned that the Road Scholars would be offering Caregiver Grants to adults age 50 and over who help care for a loved one. The grant would also offset the costs of arranging substitute care while attending a Road Scholar learning adventure.

You are an eligible caregiver if you are the primary unpaid caregiver providing daily care and support for an ill or disabled family member (spouse, parent, adult child, partner or sibling).

A quote found on the page of the Road Scholar website states: “The leaders took a personal interest in me, and in each of the participants. They understood I was on a respite from caregiving for my daughter who is very ill and in hospice care. I felt I had permission to sleep as much as I needed and to socialize only as much as I was able. Each presented their topics in such a way that I was inspired to learn more when I got home, or to restart former activities such as painting and Tai Chi. They gave me a new lease on life and I am so grateful.” — Road Scholar Caregiver Grant Recipient

If you are a caregiver, or know someone who might benefit from a Road Scholar trip, please check out their website: Road Scholar’s Caregiver Grants

If you have any questions regarding Caregiver Grants, you may contact Participant Services by emailing registration@roadscholar.org, or by calling toll free at (877) 426-8056, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., ET.

Keeper of History

finishing_well_in_life_evelyn
Evelyn Elsbury

Not much happens in my friend Evelyn Elsbury’s world that she doesn’t note, jot, type and photograph. Her closets shelves display binder after binder chalked-full of photographs, letters, cards, clippings, and love. She has worked tirelessly to make sure she has collected and cataloged not only her life and history but has also created individualized binders for all her family members – including great grandchildren.

Born in Cook, Nebraska, on June 22, 1913, when Woodrow Wilson was President, Evelyn was the oldest of six children, three girls, and three boys. For the first 100 years of her life, she believed that her birthday was June 23, but one day while filling a prescription, it came to light that it might actually be June 22. After sending off for a certified copy of her birth certificate, she was surprised to learn that she was indeed born on June 22, 1913. It may be hard to imagine how it didn’t come up earlier, but it seems that there just wasn’t a lot of need to produce birth certificates during the previous century. Her Mother broke her leg just prior to giving birth to Evelyn, so the record-keeping may have had occasion to slip.

Her formative years were spent in Omaha, Nebraska, but in 1927, her Father packed up the whole family and headed to California. The journey would take them almost three months as roads were rough and they experienced many breakdowns and flat tires.  The California destination was triggered by her mother’s asthma and the doctor had suggested they try living in a dryer climate.

Her father saw an advertisement that said, “Come to Rio Linda, raise chickens and get rich!”  So they tried to make a go of it, but the ground was too hard to grow anything.  Her Father had driven a street car in Nebraska, and in California became a streetcar driver for PG&E.

Her mother passed away when Evelyn was 22 leaving several young children to care for. Even though she had already met the man she was going to marry, Evelyn spent the next four years caring for her younger siblings. With so many mouths to feed, Evelyn did what she could to supplement the family’s income with a variety of jobs including babysitting and ironing. Her mother had been a housekeeper for a local doctor, and after the death of her mother, she took over that responsibility as well.

She married Bill Ensbury, the love of her life on Oct. 15, 1939, and was married 52 years until Bill passed away in 1991. They had one son, Richard who lives in Northern California.

Bill was a forest ranger. They lived in Sterling City while young Richard was in elementary school, but when he graduated the 8th grade, they moved to Chico.  Evelyn was a housewife when they lived in Sterling City, but after they moved to Chico, she went to work capping toothpaste tubes to earn enough money to buy a Television Set. She also worked at Grants Department Store. After Chico, they moved north to Yreka, where she worked for the Welfare Department.

Evelyn has always been involved in church. While in Sterling City, they became acquainted with a pastor and his wife Bernard and Doris Johnson who were planning to go to Brazil as missionaries. Evelyn spent the next several decades creating hundreds of beautiful placemats out of recycled Christmas cards each year to send to the Johnson’s to brighten up their holidays.

Evelyn has shown that same industrious spirit in everything she turns her attention to. The history she has kept and preserved will continue to bless family and friends for countless generations to come.



Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and tips finishingwellinlife3Dcoverabout doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey.

Find our group on Facebook 

Finishing well – but way too soon

Andy Jon

My brother Andy was born early – he was due in November, but was born October 26, 1965. We had just moved to Red Bluff and Mama always said that it was all the packing and unpacking that brought on those early labor pains. Andy was the youngest of four children and also the smallest child they had.

Even though he was little, he was quick and very curious about everything. Somehow when he was really little, he heard there was candy available at a new store (Shortstop) that had been built up the street and around the corner. He snuck out of the house and attempted to get to the store but was hit by a car. Thankfully, Joe Parker, a Highway Patrolman on his way home was right behind the car that hit Andy. Joe saved Andy’s life, got him breathing again and called for an ambulance. He was rushed up to Mercy Hospital where our Mama had worked prior to our move to Red Bluff. It took some time, but he gradually improved and eventually was released.

Even though Andy recovered from the accident, it marked him in such a way as to be his definition of who he was. (If he couldn’t do something, it was because of ‘The Accident’). That, however, was never able to dampen his curious and impulsive spirit which remained with him throughout his life – as well as his ability to do large math calculations in his head and retain an enormous amount of baseball stats – he loved stats.

Our family did quite a bit of traveling – which included camping. Somehow due to his curious nature, Andy usually managed to sneak off and get lost on a regular basis. These incidents were the origin of one of my earliest beliefs as a child – it was: “The way you know that you really love someone is that you miss them terribly when they are gone.”

His childhood years were typical, although as a sister, I thought that he was a bit spoiled. Andy was only eight years old when Wayne and I got married. We moved away and began living a new life separate from the day-to-day of the family life in Red Bluff. Life went on; Andy grew up, married, had a family and moved away as well.

Our lives moved on and for a time we were connected by family but separated by distance and differences. We reconnected again when difficult circumstances and aging parents required more of our time.

When Andy returned to Red Bluff he was not at a good place in his head. He was angry with God as well as everyone else around. He felt as if he was a victim and the world owed him a great debt.

Wayne and I reconnected with him and began the process of loving, mentoring, and supporting him through the most difficult times of re-adjustment. In some ways, it was easy… Andy was fun to hang out with; he simply had issues. Wayne and Andy became best buds – they hung out all the time – going to movies, working on projects and discussing life issues. My job was usually to try to improve his housework habits.

Through our time together, Andy’s world steadily improved. Although Andy made progress on several fronts, ultimately, his turning point came after he finally embraced the truth that God was not his enemy. In fact, once he began to realize how much God loved him, his faith grew stronger. Andy became a better decision-maker in his daily life; he also became more social with a broader circle of people. His housing conditions became more stable as well.

Andy left this life the same as he entered it – too soon. My childhood belief still holds true:The way you know that you really love someone is that you miss them terribly when they are gone.”

Though my heart is broken, the Lord gave me Isaiah 57:1&2 to help with the grief:

“The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.”

We know that Andy had many struggles in life but over the past several years he experienced many victories and was in a good place – he finished well.

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.

Millie, the Turtle Teacher changes the world one student at a time

When a person works in the same profession for 62 years, there is no doubt they love what they do. Such is the case with Millie Shuford.  Born in Asheville, North Carolina in 1927, during the Coolidge administration, she left in 1944 to attend college at Mars Hill just north of Asheville to study history and English. She went on to receive a Mastor’s degree in English at Wake Forest University. Her education served her well as she spent the next several decades impacting class after class with her knowledge infused with kindness, compassion and encouragement.

Millie Shuford and Muffin
Millie Shuford and Muffin

English was the subject most near and dear to Millie’s heart throughout the years. One of her favorite stories is about the time she was given a class of 8th graders that had caused two other teachers to up and quit. It was in the early years of de-segregation and the kids were an unruly bunch. Millie described her first impression of the class as going to war—the kids were used to getting up and walking around or talking any time they wanted to. Millie’s first task was to get them to share ideas—but speak one at a time. After a couple of weeks, she was able to get them in line and begin to enjoy learning.

About that time, a band was scheduled to come to the school. She mentioned to the principle how excited her class was about the band. He said that since he knew how disruptive her class was they couldn’t go. She tried to assure him they would be fine, but he disagreed. When she told the kids, they were very sad; so she went back to the principle and asked again—promising him they would behave. Again he said no. She was determined that her class would attend the concert. So one morning, at a break; she picked up her pocketbook and went back to the principal’s office to ask one more time. Before he could say no, she told him, “If my class cannot go, then I cannot stay here as a teacher.” He could tell she meant it. He finally relented, but said they better be good. Her class was so happy—they attended the concert and behaved perfectly.

Millie Shuford as a young teacher
Millie Shuford as a young teacher

One of her greatest joys in teaching was to help her students get ready for college. She recognized that the kids needed extra training in order to succeed in life and was able to make significant changes in the way teaching was done. She was also instrumental in helping her kids find scholarships to go on to college.

Millie’s impact on the children and the education system of Myrtle Beach, SC is displayed by the street around the school that was named after her called “Shuford Avenue”.

One day, Millie read a poem to her kids about turtles – how they had such struggles to grow up because of all the obstacles they had to overcome – their legs were short it was hard to walk and they had a heavy pack on their backs, and yet they could do amazing things and live wonderful lives. The students could really identify with that, so they started bringing her turtles. She received so many she had to create a place to display all the turtles – over 400. There were stories about each one. The kids loved to look at and talk about all the turtles, Eventually Millie became known as the Turtle Teacher.

Another animal that she had an impact on, or better said had an impact on her is a darling little rescue dog named Muffin—so named because the doggie’s shaggy fur is the same color of the muffins her mama always baked for breakfast when she was a little girl.  The original owners found they didn’t have the time or inclination to care for the little doggy, and left her out on her own to wander the neighborhood. When they were asked if they would like someone else to care for the dog they immediately agreed. Muffin moved in with Millie and they are living happily ever after.

Other evidence of her impact is the abundance of letters she has received over the years from former students thanking her for the wonderfully positive effect she had on their lives.

Tommy Dodd, a former student wrote in a heart-felt letter, “This note is no praise, but the deepest thanks are owed to you. You have been much more than just a teacher. You have given me encouragement, and an inspiration to express myself. I only hope that every guy like me gets assigned a teacher like you somewhere in his educational life.”

His letter ended with a phrase she wouldn’t have thought he would say when she first met him, “May God bless and keep one of the kindest sweetest, most beautiful people in the world.”

Millie said her desire was always, “To realize that I’m capable of living on my own, and taking care of others, and doing something important.”

I believe she has accomplished that immeasurably.



Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and  tips finishingwellinlife3Dcoverabout doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey.

Find our group on Facebook 

Soda Studies

I have set a few Google Alerts of topics that I am interested in or researching. They show up in my inbox on a regular basis.

Soda

A recent slew of articles captured my attention. They were all on the subject of sodas and sugary drinks. It turns out that there does seem to be a correlation between soda consumption and memory loss. Somehow, I have a sneaking suspicion that even die-hard soda drinkers might have suspected these beverages were not a health food. But, us humans like what we like and at times it takes something like a study to give us the little extra push to make changes.

There were two studies, done at Boston University came up with a “very strong suggestion” that not only do sugary soft drinks shrink the human brain and reduce memory capacity but sugar-free versions lead to higher chances of stroke and dementia.

Our findings indicate an association between higher sugary beverage intake and brain atrophy, including lower brain volume and poorer memory,” explained corresponding author Matthew Pase, PhD, fellow in the department of neurology at BUSM and investigator at the FHS.

Energy drinks

The Framingham Heart Study has been going on for a long time. They looked at the offspring of the original volunteers who enrolled in 1948—those who consumed more than two sugary drinks a day of any type—soda, fruit juice, and other soft drinks—or more than three per week of soda alone.

Sudha Seshadri, a professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine and a faculty member at BU’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center, who is senior author on both papers says, “It looks like there is not very much of an upside to having sugary drinks, and substituting the sugar with artificial sweeteners doesn’t seem to help.

On the other hand, according to a recent study led by Assistant Professor Feng Lei from the Department of Psychological Medicine at National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, a cup of tea a day can keep dementia away, and this is especially so for those who are genetically predisposed to the debilitating disease.

Coffee too seems to offer some protection. Recent studies seem to indicate that it may actually improve your health – from boosting brain power, to delaying Alzheimer’s disease and improving memory as you age.

On a side note: Do you enjoy coffee but not like the side effects of caffeine? You can still enjoy coffee’s benefits. Studies have shown that even decaffeinated coffee can lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. (Read my post Drink Up….Habits Worth Brewing )

Thirst quenching is a serious issue. Dehydration can also  cause confusion as well as a vast variety of medical problems. Perhaps plain old water would be the best candidate for our drink de jour.

A Time to Mourn

I somehow assumed that since Mama had been slipping away bit by bit for over a decade, that I would have said all my goodbyes and experience her passing with a minimal of grief. I don’t know if I ever said any of that out loud, or whether it was just a vague idea, but either way, as it turned out this was not true. After her passing, I experienced sudden bouts of crying and waves of sadness would wash over me at unexpected times.

Two of our children watching the memorial service on iPads
Two of our children watching the memorial service on iPads

Another assumption I had made was that since Mama had been ‘out of social circulation’ for over a decade, and several of her friends had already passed, it would be better to hold a quiet, family gathering to remember her rather than a more formal memorial at a church. Again, my assumption turned out to be mistaken. I quickly came to realize that not only did I need to have a memorial for Mama, other family members, friends, church friends and previous co-workers also needed to have the closure that a memorial service provides.

We wanted to keep it on the simple side. The first thing my sister and I needed to decide was: who would perform the service and secondly, where would it take place?  We decided to hold it at the church where my sister teaches a class. It made sense as there would be built-in support from others who attend there. Mama had been an Episcopalian but had stopped attending a number of years ago due to health issues. We felt it would be okay with her to be remembered at a Baptist church.

We also wanted the service to be performed by the same person who had performed our daddy’s memorial service a decade ago. It was slightly more complicated—not only had he and his lovely wife moved to Portland, Oregon, but they were also dealing with the grief of losing a son in a very unexpected and tragic circumstance. Nevertheless, he agreed to perform the service and we set a date.

The next item on our to-do list was to write an obituary. I wrote up a preliminary draft, and my niece, Christi who is our family historian filled it out in a way that wonderfully captured Mama’s personality. Obituaries can be expensive to place in the newspaper, but it helps to let others know about the passing and memorial details, as well as a useful record for future generations. Costs can be kept to a minimum by only submitting basic information.

Due to this modern, mobile age, much of our family—like so many others are living in other states and countries. But also due to the modern age, we now have technology that helps overcome these distances. Some of our children were able to attend the memorial service through the use of Facetime. We set up two iPads on the front pew and everyone could see and hear quite well. Technology is great!

And finally, a memorial service is also one more way to show honor to a parent. As God’s word tells us in Ecclesiastes, there is “A time to mourn.” I have come to the conclusion that memorial services – no matter how simple or elaborate, are an essential piece of the grieving process.



Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and  tips finishingwellinlife3Dcoverabout doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey.

Find our group on Facebook 

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.

The Power of Chocolate

There are several desserts and snacks that are not tempting to me at all. Unfortunately, there are also several that are. Chocolate – specifically dark chocolate is one of those on my ‘really, really like’ list. In light of that, I was quite pleased to read a recent article with the headline: “New dementia pill made entirely from CHOCOLATE hits shelves in Britain after cocoa was found to improve blood flow and help the heart” Yes!

The pill is called ‘Blood Flow+’ and (for the time being) is only available in the UK. The chocolate pill uses flavanols extracted from cocoa to improve blood flow and combat cholesterol levels, which help reduce dementia, strokes and heart attacks.

Dr Alf Lindberg, advisor of Cambridge Nutraceuticals, a research company, said: “We believe this is the way forward. New analysis is showing there are powerful compounds in many natural nutrients that could help maintain the health of everyone. We support the huge amount of research has gone into Blood Flow+ and we are delighted that it is the first cocoa flavanol product officially allowed to claim it benefits heart health.”

That seems to be great news for folks like me who love, love, love dark chocolate. Sadly, the articles I read all agreed that simply eating dark chocolate wouldn’t have the same effect. It turns out that in order to get an effective dose you would have to gorge on 400grams (almost a pound) of dark chocolate, containing a whopping 2,429 calories – every day! That might even be too much for me.

Take heart, though. Even we are not able to get the benefit from

My sweetie bearing chocolate gifts

the ‘Blood Flow+’ pill, a recent study led by Professor Ian Macdonald, a University of Nottingham expert has found that consumption of a cocoa drink rich in flavanols — a key ingredient of dark chocolate — boosts blood flow to key areas of the brain for two to three hours.

Increased blood flow to these areas of the brain may help to increase performance in specific tasks and boost general alertness over a short period.

So it seems as if eating any amount of dark chocolate is still potentially good for you. I think it’s a risk I need to take.

In light of all this, if you’re not quite sure what to get your sweetheart for Valentine’s Day, it just might be a good idea to pick up some dark chocolate – to share.