Dad in Live Interview

JOIN US FOR OUR UPCOMING LIVETALKS
A Daughter’s Alzheimer’s Diagnosis
Being Patient.com will speak with James Russell about his daughter Lynne’s early-onset Alzheimer’s. As part of our LiveTalk series, James will share the ways Alzheimer’s has affected their family, and his gratitude for all those who have supported them along the way.
RESERVE YOUR SEAT: Thursday, May 18th at 2:00 p.m. PT / 5:00 p.m. ET

Being Patient is the leading online community for Alzheimer’s & dementia patients & caregivers. https://www.beingpatient.com/

Podcast about Lynne’s Care

I hope you will be interested in an interview with Jim Russell for a Podcast about all the care Lynne receives. The Podcast is a production of the University of California Irvine Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders (UCI MIND). They are the University’s center for aging and dementia research, with our faculty seeking to understand the causes leading to neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. They had thoughtful questions added information for me. I hope you enjoy it.

https://www.buzzsprout.com/1589794/10294312-caring-for-a-child-with-early-onset-alzheimer-s-disease-with-jim-russell

Memories from Miles Away

Even though Susan lives thousands of miles from Lynne, she shared personal stories deep from her heart as a gift for Lynne. I shared the stories with Lynne and her boys, wondering how much Lynne would remember in her dimming light. She remembered Susan and so did the boys. We caregivers benefitted from those stories more than I expected. I have edited the three stories for brevity and clarity for you readers. After the stories I’ll summarize what they meant to us.

Lynne’s Office.  Early days working at Microsoft as recruiters, Lynne and I took an extra hour at our desks after the frenzy of candidates had left for the day to celebrate a hire or commiserate a no-hire. I would find myself walking to Lynne’s dark office with only her desk lamp on. It looked really calm in there. Her desk was always cleaner than mine. She was surely on top of it all. I wanted to be with her in her office in the soft glow of calm and confidence. She always greeted me with a smile for a quick chat that sometimes turned into an exceedingly long chat. We mostly laughed and talked about the “big nerds” we loved and how overwhelmed we were.  That shared experience proved foundational over 30-plus years. Somehow recently, I remembered to remember that gift, her gift, just down the hall from me day after long day.

Baby Roses. Early in 1997 Lynne shared she was pregnant with Henrik and Simon. IShe was in the very early days when doctors tell you not to tell anyone. She told me in the strictest confidence. I was overjoyed for her and Clemens. Lynne was beaming with happiness. It was contagious. I bought them flowers, baby roses to be exact, because Lynne always had a batch of fresh flowers from her garden, so another fresh batch would not indicate any celebration. I remember being proud I found a way to celebrate with her while not projecting her secret. It was our “inside joke.” What strikes me today is I didn’t care if my gift was premature. Her smile when I delivered the flowers said Lynne was delighted someone could simply join her in her joy. Not overthink it. Just enjoy that moment.

Saving a Stranger Dog. One day Lynn and I came across a large shepherd mix awake but not moving in the middle of a dirt road. We were on a hike, a girls getaway. Our heart sank when we realized this dog would likely die. Lynne got her car and together we loaded it into the back of the van. It had hundreds of ticks in its skin. I asked Lynne if she wanted a tick infested dog in her car. She looked at me and said no problem. The shelter tried to find the rightful owner. A few days later I called Lynne and much to my surprise, she was seriously considering adopting this dog, from a rural existence with so many ticks. I thought, Of course Lynne wanted this dog. This was one of those times that as Lynne’s best friend , I forcefully shared my concerns given her full house with kids, dogs, and cats. She was frustrated, maybe at me, I don’t know. I don’t recall speaking of that dog again. It never moved in with her.

I’m not sure Lynne remembered those stories, so it was a blessing for her to to hear them again. The boys enjoyed the memory of Lynne’s friendship with Susan through a lasting relationship, secret pregnancy celebration, and protecting Lynne’s family from self-inflicted trouble due to her overwhelming compassion. Those memories now live with her boys. I have vowed to share those stories with the boys. I don’t have those stories, friends do. And by sharing them in a network of sharing and posting, friends can see ways to care for all of us by sharing memorable stories with Lynne.

Lynne’s Crowded Table

The Sweet Savor of a Garden
Lynne’s Garden
Lynne When the Day is Done

Sunday Nancy and their friends drove Lynne through the red, white, and pink cherry blossoms in the Arboretum. She got in and out of the car more easily since she has gone for more rides. She talked. She expressed interest in going back to the Volunteer Park Conservatory. They walked through the green ferns and red flowers crowding the path with the sweet savor of nature compared to the sterile walls of Life’ Neighborhood.

Sunday Edith sent a song called Crowded Table written and performed by Brandi Carlile and her group the Highwomen. Edith was listening to music as rode her bike at the base of the Three Sister’s Mountains in central Oregon. “The lyrics remind me of the friendship shared and the journey with Lynne. That’s all I want,” thought Edith, “a crowded table. I was sobbing so hard I had to pull my bike over.” She sent the title of the song and lyrics to their friends and me hoping Lynne could hear it.

Our Thin Strong Lynne

The boys take her for drives daily now to get ice cream according to the concierge. They remark about presence is memorable compared to frail octogenarians surrounding Lynne in the lobby. Lynne’s thin body strengthens with the movement, hugs and talks with her boys.

She is blossoming with it. Sunday night she greeted me with a smile and reached out. She said, “I am happy.”

I choked up instead of saying something like, of course, or wonderful. Aegis activities and friends visiting fill me with deep appreciation compared to my solo activities. They’re more creative and the multiple bodies make it more comfortable for Lynne.

Nancy sent us all a cheer. Great Job Team (Lynne’s crowded table)!

Monday morning my eyes had tears when I read Crowded Table lyrics and pictured Edith sobbing on the side of the road. I downloaded it to Lynne’s Pandora song list. Crowded Table was the first song Lynne heard Monday when I put on her headphones.

Lyrics for Crowded Table by Brandi Carlie and the HIghwomen

You can hold my hand
When you need to let go
I can be your mountain
When you're feeling valley-low
I can be your streetlight
Showing you the way home
You can hold my hand
When you need to let go

Yeah, I want a house with a crowded table
And a place by the fire for everyone
Let us take on the world while we're young and able
And bring us back together when the day is done.

If we want a garden
We're gonna have to sow the seed
Plant a little happiness
Let the roots run deep
If it's love that we give
Then it's love that we reap
If we want a garden
We're gonna have to sow the seed

Yeah I want a house with a crowded table
And a place by the fire for everyone
Let us take on the world while we're young and able
And bring us back together when the day is done

The door is always open
Your picture's on my wall
Everyone's a little broken
And everyone belongs
Yeah, everyone belongs

I want a house with a crowded table
And a place by the fire for everyone
Let us take on the world while we're young and able
And bring us back together when the day is done
And bring us back together when the day is done

Lynne’s Sense of Self

When my mother was in the end stage of Alzheimer’s I believed she was blissfully unafraid behind a veil of ignorance about her disease. She had anosognosia, a symptom of not knowing she had a disease, which is different from denial. Lynne and I had hoped she would have the bliss of ignorance. Yet Lynne has had sixty days of Hospice care during which she has lost weight and trouble chewing food. She is aware she has limitations.

She has a strong sense of self relentlessly driving her behavior with meaning.  She knows she is a sapient body in space with words like “I’, or “me,” or pushing Dad away. The downside is she wants to get her body home. She gets depressed, anxious, lonely.

She also values her virtues as a mother, educator, daughter, sister, colleague. She wields a slightly smug smile when I read her notes from a grade-school teacher, Lynne’s co-teachers, fellow recruiters, neighbors, and fellow graduate students. She glows when she sees her boys, together, towering over her, coming to care for her week after week.  She responds to social communion with others who give her dignity, her worth as a person, valued, included, and not ignored. She feels pride when people compliment her on the streaks of gold in her healthy hair. She shows concerns about residents and embraces caregivers. Friends validate what she is feeling by amazingly walking her through Volunteer Park to eat a donut and people-watch at a market.

Lynne does not have my mother’s ignorance of bliss from Alzheimer’s. She has awareness for which she pays a price. In return she has meaning, dignity, and love confirmed and sustained by those who cherish her.

I hope I would have her valor and similar caregivers to sustain me.

Visits are Meaningful

Visits witih Lynne can be hard when we see her less vivacious than our cherished memories of her. Understandably people are afraid to visit, including me, when I don’t have a way to cheer her up, so it’s easy avoid it. And yet her condition nags at us because we love her. I have learned that my times, or family times, or friends times, are always meaningful for the visitors, and almost always meaningful for her. They are meaningful for me and others because we tried to give Lynne a better time than she would have had without our visits. Below are stories of simple visits that demonstrate visits are almost always meaningful for her. Lynne told one of her friends told her to go away, so she did, and came back the next day to share a cheerful visit. Imagine how meaningful it was for Lynne’s friend to have the courage to immediately visit again when Lynne was glad to see her.

The good news is Lynne is more responsive and walking more upright since we changed her medications. Last Sunday friend, Lynn, sent me a message. I helped Lynne eat lunch and gave her a cinnamon roll which she ate as we walked outside. We laughed quite a bit and complemented each other on excellent hairdos. She was in good spirits. Obviously friend Lynn was in good spirits about her visit.

Her boys and Pam, my other daughter, saw improvements for an hour-and-a-half lately. She pointed at me and told them. That’s my dad. She pronounced the title on a poster:  Mardi Gras. We sat in the lobby and talked. I called out a to resident close by,  Hello. How many boys do you have? Lynne answered immediately, Five. I have rarely seen visitors with her. She sits with other residents in the lobby. They tell Lynne, You’re lucky. Your dad comes to visit you.  I know those statements make her happy. They make me feel more meaningful.

Today when I met Lynne she was sobbing, tears flowed down her cheeks. She wrapped her arms around me, saying, She took it all. She took everything.

Really? Everything?

Yes, everything.

I pulled back and looked her in the eyes. Hon, I was just in your room. She didn’t take it all. It’s all there.

It is? Well OK. I lifted her mood and made me feel meaningful. I put on her headphones and backpack to hear the Sister’s Music list from her sister Pam. Lynne gazed up and nodded her head. She mouthed some words. Her body slightly swayed to the music. I was glad I brought the headphones and Pam sent a list. It kept her mood mellow. Pam and I both feel more meaningful about her music. I am grateful for Pam’s care.

I walked beside her, slipped my hand under hers and left it open. Sometimes she moved her hand away. Sometimes she let our hands touch. Sometimes she grabbed my finger, three fingers, the whole hand. Sometimes a grip. Sometimes gentle. It made her more connected, secure, stable. I felt more meaningful. I steered her up to the 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd floors and the lobby. She studied photos revolving across television screens on every floor. She often turned to smile at me. We were both getting some exercise. I felt more meaningful. I waved to her when I left her floor before lunch. I felt I improved her feelings for a little while. I felt more meaningful. Don’t let fear keep her from giving her a more meaningful journey.

Friends Can Care More

Nancy and Lynne in Sunshine

Nancy and Lynn, friends of Lynne’s, sent me this message. “We took her over to the Capitol Hill farmers market (which she always loved) and enjoyed some spicy street food, hot Chai tea, and a Valentine’s cookie while we sat out in the sun in the park. She enjoyed the sun on her face and watching the dogs playing. She kept pointing, “Look at that one.” and so on as we sat there together.

“She was very verbal again and stringing a few broken phrases together. Her body awareness continues to be a challenge, sitting down is harder now. She was happy and talkative.”

I responded, “Nancy that sounds tremendous. It’s a far better day than I’ve been able to give her for months. What jewels you two people are. I hope you can appreciate how much joy I got out of this message.”

Lynne Can Have Visitors

Lynne’s Aegis community is open fully for you to visit or take her out. A gentle reminder that all visitors will be required to show proof of receiving a COVID booster prior to entering and masks must be worn at all times please.

Lynne loved the sun on her face and closed her eyes for the sweet dreams she was having on Sunday when her brother and sister-in-law took her for a walk outside, after a long wait.

Updates Under Hospice Care

Lynne and an oncoming hug

Lynne’s bumpy trip through her first week in Hospice and Palliative care led to adjustments made by the work of her new nurse in consultation with her entire medical team, caregivers, and me. I had become concerned by the declines Lynne showed that week. Lynne was minimally responsive on a sofa in front of the fireplace as she concentrated on the music in her headphones. Lynne walked leaning to the side and backwards with a very stiff back. She fell onto floor near a chair, but no harm. She sat with her head looking up at the ceiling in a rigid position at an ice cream social where I spoon feed her. One morning she had returned to bed with one leg hanging over the side and kept dozing off as I stayed briefly. The floor med tech decided she was in a lot of pain from walking and leaning backward one day, so gave her morphine, which scared me.  Yesterday morning when the floor manager observed after being gone for a week, she said, “This is not Lynne.”

The new nurse calmed me down. I was worried at what I saw in comparison to my unrealistic hope she would show immediate improvement. I felt derelict as caregiver because I did not get accurate information from the beginning. I am pleased with nurse’s response and expect I’ll be updated on her care.

I contacted her new nurse yesterday and passed on my experience and what I had picked up. She called back after supper with her report. She had seen Lynne one-half-to-an-hour after the of morphine, which is during the peak time for its effect on the resident. It was a very low dose and Lynne was fine at that time. She informed me about Lynne’s new prescription of Tramadol twice a day and cut-in-half her Seroquel dosage at bedtime. She also clarified misunderstandings I had from incomplete  information in my talks with staff

Yesterday morning she stood rigid listening to the music director lead us in floor exercises. She sang lyrics with from Love is a Butterfly. Lynne enjoyed watching the musical director and me as I led us in stumble dances through two-steps, tango, and east coast swing under the direction of a resident trained as a dance instructor. We can still have active fun.

Gems of Joy

Today’s post is from a longtime friend of Karen’s and mine who shared with me after my post about shifting my care during frequent mood changes (1/5/21 Shifting with Her Moods). Her sharing from her experience helped me, and I thought would be helpful for readers..

“ I read your Facebook post on shifting moods and it took me back to the 3-4 years we spent with my mother-in-law who had advancing dementia.  I’d like to share with you some of my ‘learnings’ during that time—some from reading, some from learning from my communication mistakes.  I hope they can help you realize that you are doing the best you can under constantly changing circumstances.

“I found that I had to give up my ‘teacher and reality orienting’ roles that I thought were so helpful.  I read an article that reminded me of what I knew worked so well with children: meet them where they are, go into their world and let them lead you.  I thought of that when Lynne said, “I hate this place.”  Letting her know that “I hear you,” or “This is hard, painful,” or something to that effect helps validate what her reality is for that moment–she’d rather not be there.

she went through multiple moods with tears, pushing me away, shouting at me, then smiling, focused, following me in and out of her apartment.  “My MIL’s mood swings were a challenge for me—until I realized that I was taking them personally, thinking there was something I could do to make them better.  My presence was my gift to her, whether her mood was positive or negative—I tried to be a sponge and just absorb and accept and witness them.  It helped me that I knew she would quickly change, and, better yet, would not remember or “accumulate” these unhappy moments as memories.

I had not helped her.” I cannot fathom how painful it must be as a parent to be unable to take away my child’s pain, the one thing (after unconditional love) that we see as our role.  But then I reviewed your description of your time with her.  You gave her nourishment when she couldn’t do it herself, you danced and laughed with her when she felt like it, you accepted her following you in and out of her apartment— all with love and acceptance of the moment.  It all helps—but those times cannot be exchanged like green stamps (if you remember them) to lessen those painful times for her.  I will pray for more joyful times than painful ones, more movement and engagement than withdrawal — perhaps that is all that can be hoped for.  Gems of joy to be gathered and returned to when times are tough.”