Helpful Folks – Thanks

Cheryl Hughes posted this article in her blog which made me think about the helpful folks around us.

Last evening we had dinner with Cheryl’s sister Nancy. We have been doing this more and more. It is helpful to me in a couple ways that Nancy might not think about. Nancy, firstly, is not dealing with any dementia. Her conversation seems to go in a straight line. That fact by itself often provides relief to me. Over the course of my working career I traveled to other countries and many of these did not have english as their base language. It was always a great relief to hear American english from the people around you waiting for an airplane back to the states. Cheryl’s mingled conversation is much like trying to make sense of a foreign language with little preparation.

The second thing is that when Nancy talks to Cheryl she is accepting of whatever Cheryl might say. Cheryl tells her about the children in our house, their sister Janice and other thoughts as they occur. Nancy does not correct or suggest anything different. Sometimes she will ask for clarification if Cheryl has mixed up names or dates. Cheryl recognizes that she does mix things up but she does not have the stress of keeping the story straight. That is stressful to her, saying the right thing; giving the right answer; not offending anyone. She learned those from her mother and they are deeply ingrained in her personality. When talking to Nancy she relaxes. (Thanks, Nancy.)

Cheryl’s cousin’s wife Cindy began coming over to sit with Cheryl or take her to one of her exercise classes once a week for a couple hours. I am free to do whatever. (Thanks, Cindy.) These days in the warm summer Ohio air, I often go ride my bike somewhere. Cindy surprised me last Fall by asking me what I did for exercise after a discussion about Cheryl’s exercise classes. One of Cheryl’s instructors was a friend of Cindy’s. Cindy spontaneously offered to come and be with Cheryl while I did something else other than care give. It took me several weeks to figure out what to do with my new found freedom and now I look forward to it.

My son David and his wife Melissa have a wonderful patio and a big green backyard. Many times with little warning I have asked to come visit for a bit with Cheryl. Cheryl likes to visit her children and see how they are doing. Sitting on their patio in the sun brightens her mood. It gets us out of our little condo and does not require a lot of preparation by me. It is a sort of little day trip for her and I can chat with my son who is a fellow engineer. (smiley face)

They have always responded with yes. (One time they were out of town on a spontaneous getaway weekend.) Thanks, David and Melissa.

My son Scott sits with his mom while I go to my stock-club meeting once a month. (Thanks, Scott.) In 1984 several of us engineers decided to make ourselves rich by speculating in the stock market. We started meeting in March of that year. The markets have soared and ebbed. We languished through “black Friday”. We bought gold mining companies. We sold gold mining companies. We drank a lot of beer discussing and criticizing corporate management. We have won big (ABBV) and lost big (F). Good friends and lots of beer with dinner in the back room of the bar makes for a fun evening. (Thanks again, Scott.)

I have also parked Cheryl at Scott and Mavis’s house near us so that I could ride my new ebike around our old neighborhood. Cheryl could see Zachary – the newest grandchild – run around while I was riding. (Thanks, Zachary.)

My daughter Anna visit’s with her mom and in the summertime when her high school is on break takes her mom to exercise class. Last summer Anna stayed with her mom for a week while I went to visit my sister on the west coast and we attended my nephew’s wedding. Jeff and Stephanie have a new baby girl. (Thanks, Anna.)

Our next door neighbor, Jane, comes on Mondays typically to sit with Cheryl for a bit while I go ride my bike around somewhere. Cheryl sometimes walks across the hallway to visit with Jane. She is a good friend and close. Often Jane goes with us on “anything goes pizza Tuesday”. She reacts to Cheryl’s discussion much like Nancy does. Over the years Jane has had issues with her health and Cheryl’s first thought is to see how Jane is doing. Jane has pointed out things to me that she notices about Cheryl and has suggested solutions for those without any judgement. (Thanks, Jane.)

My cousin’s widow, Linda sits with Cheryl while I go do something else. Most recently I signed myself up for a caregiver’s class to find out about other services that were available. Linda came over fairly early in the morning so that I could attend this class. I found the class itself very useful. It was primarily oriented towards care partner health and well-being. (Thanks, Linda.)

I appreciate everyone’s help whether it is a small thing or a big thing. Sometimes it is a phone call. Sometimes it is merely joining us for dinner after church. Sometimes it is taking the roll of care partner for a couple hours. Sometimes it is staying with mom while dad goes somewhere for an hour or a week. I love you all. Thanks so much for helping.

Carpe Diem.

I Want to go Home

A recurring theme in Cheryl’s head is “when are we going home?” I try at first to answer this by saying that’s good because we are already there. This rarely works. Sometimes it merely makes her angry with me.

The conversation is confusing when we reach this point. I can say to her, okay put on some clothes and we will get some lunch and come home. So, how would you find clothes for you in a place where you did not live? This is the first confusion but she accepts the fact that she has all her clothes here without accepting the truth of “home”. Even I am confused.

Later today, she is dressing now, we will go find some lunch somewhere and come home again.

Physical therapy is on the schedule for later this afternoon. Hopefully she will be tired after this activity.

Carpe Diem.

She wants to Cook

Cheryl wants to cook something and I am afraid that she will harm herself. I cannot get past that.

Yesterday after our doctor appointment in the early afternoon, we stopped at Dewey’s pizza for a late lunch. Somehow the white pizza showed up with red sauce on it but mistakes happen and the pizza was good, just not what we had ordered. (That is the second time in a week that the incorrect pizza showed up at our table. Perhaps we need to expand our cuisine. ) Nevertheless, lunch was good and we returned home to do nothing for a bit. Cheryl lapsed into one of her punding/do something modes and began futzing with making something in the kitchen for dinner at 3 in the afternoon.

It made me nervous and I suppose what I should have done was sit in the kitchen to read my book and keep an eye on things. But I did not. I just popped in to check occasionally and point out that we did not need dinner for awhile as we had had lunch at 2:30 pm.

Family dynamics are hard to break. Before Parkinson she did most of the cooking and I stuck to my baking hobby out of the way at the other end of the kitchen. I stayed out of the way when she was cooking. My opinion was not solicited nor encouraged in our old house. Cheryl was a good cook and in my new duties as cook among other things I have tried to duplicate many of our old favorite recipes. Sometimes I would botch them up but most times they turned out the same. (Thanks, Betty Crocker.) These days when she gets in a mood to cook, things can turn out badly, but, more importantly, she has fallen in the kitchen as often as anywhere else and I worry that she will put her hand on a burner or fall into the hot oven.

When I could not gently steer her away from her “cooking” – she was boiling two eggs – I became angry and upset and tried to explain the danger to someone who sees none.

And last night she slept poorly. I blame me for that. Lot’s of emotion swirling around in her head as she tried to sleep left her fidgety and awake until almost four am. Even the big new bed did not help.

Carpe sad Diem. An opportunity to make a memory was lost to anxiety and anger. But tonight we will make something together. I will do better this time.

She is sleeping late today.

Carpe Diem … again.

Support Group

Last night at support group which is a joint support group, by that I mean some care partners, some Parkinson patients, the conversation was centered on care partners and the difficulty of that activity.

We often start by introductions. We had two new people, Teresa and her husband, Dale who has PD. Dale was recently (a couple years) diagnosed and they as a couple have been dealing with symptoms and life altering changes. Recently they downsized and moved closer in to the city and source of their medical care. They happily discovered Parkinson Community Fitness (PCF) was just a few blocks from their downsized house. Teresa has had psychological therapy to help her deal with her husband’s disease. When she revealed this fact she exchanged info with Jackie who had been pondering the same thing.

It is wonderful to see people helping each other through a difficult time. Life is a journey. Sometimes it is helpful to ask for directions. It is why this group exists. Cheryl originally started it. John and I took it over as her dementia worsened and she could no longer keep up with its organization.

Five questions — all open ended.

These questions are stolen from the Davis Phinney foundation and its theme of every victory counts.

What’s the best way to approach difficult coversations with my person with Parkinson’s or care partner? Take a deep breath and get rid of your anger. Remember your partner is not doing or not doing something to annoy you on purpose. Parkinson’s disease interlaced with dementia is complicated.

I don’t want to nag, so how do I encourage my person with Parkinson’s without harping or nagging? This of course is a source of friction in any marriage that can be made worse as one partner cares for another with a chronic disease. Most care partners were okay with nagging if it proved useful. I know I am. it is the guilt that shows up later that bothers me most.

How can I tell if I’m expecting too much/too little from my person with Parkinson’s? Care partners often maintain expectations of their previous life before PD entered their partner’s life. We can see the slow movement issues. We do not always understand that mental processes slow also. Decision making can be challenging. Menus in restaurants can be extremely challenging.

How can a Parkinson’s care partner live well today? Find time to do things that you as a care partner want to do. Find and do things that are yours and yours only that you can do away from PD and caring for your partner.

How can a Parkinson’s care partner be loving and supportive but also honest about how they are feeling? Most couples are open with each other. It is hard to stay married for long without talking.

Melanie spoke about feelings of grief as she and her husband began to recognize how life changing this disease can be. For Cheryl and I, we have noticed that it can be a very real sense of loss. It is hard to be upbeat when life beats you down. It is for us a one day at a time thing.

Hence my theme “Carpe Diem” which I say to myself over and over lately merely reminds me to look for the good things now. Take advantage of when she is feeling good. Forget about lamenting what could have been. develop a network of helpers to be with Cheryl occasionally so that I can be with myself.

I have not added Edie Kynard’s prayer ( modified) for a while but looking over my notes from last night and writing this piece this morning caused me to find it back.

Carpe Diem.

Punding

The need to do something, anything even if it is a mindless thing is referred to as punding. Parkinson seems to generate this need in many of its participants. It is generally harmless until it gets in the way of other things. Here is more from the Davis Phinney Foundation website.

Cheryl does this at different times. It used to drive me crazy and sometimes it still does if she starts up immediately before we are going somewhere. She often does it in the car with the purse of many pockets.

Carpe Diem.

How Many Things Change

It occurred to me this morning as I was reaching for the Cheerios that lots of tiny things have changed in our life together. Not all of them are Parkinson changes. All can seem associated with Parkinson. I will stop using the possessive and leave Parkinson by itself.

Starting with Cheerios, Cheryl rarely ate Cheerios until recently. The why of that thought is unknown. It may or may not be a parkinson. Before Cheerios she was a huge fan of Life cereal. So much so that I was buying Life cereal in the four box collection from Boxed Up online. For several months perhaps a year and a half it was Life cereal, some dried cherries on top and orange juice. Then it suddenly switched to Frosted Mini-Wheat cereal but only for a couple weeks. Sticking with the heart healthy ideas I bought some Cheerios for myself on day as I passed through IGA shopping for the other things on my list. They were quickly adopted by Cheryl as a breakfast option. Cheerios is the current choice virtually every morning now.

A Partial List of Changes:

  • cars
  • house
  • travel
  • motivation
  • dementia and support
  • bicycles
  • relationships
  • Morning routine
  • Sleeping routine
  • Sleeping
  • Memory
  • Intimacy
  • Me and tea
  • showering and hygiene
  • keeping track of meds
  • adjusting meds
  • Exercise
  • Daily chore responsibility
  • Plumbing
  • handholds around the house
  • Emotional response to songs
  • Financial maintenance
  • Falling and fainting
  • Writing
  • and on and on…

As these changes occurred in our life together I did not take notice of them, I merely rolled with it at the time. I admit to being initially annoyed and sad to see something change away from what it was. Old people like to keep things as they are. The past tense is disappointing but the Beatles broke up in 1970. People move on.

Parkinson symptoms are treated with powerful mind altering chemicals. It is the doctor’s call as to what will help. It is the care partner’s call to observe and listen and respect and help with those drugs. The doctor is global and strategic. Day to day caring is tactical, down-to-earth and immediate.

Carpe tactical Diem.

Shower Mats?

Cheryl fell in the shower this morning. Slid down the wall is probably a better description. I heard no thumps. It is always our discussion – I’m going to take a shower. Okay, I will listen for thumps. Thanks. And then she goes to the big bathroom to get cleaned up. Today I thought I heard her futzing with her walker but she was occasionally bumping the shower door as she tried to reach the hold bars to pull herself back up.

I ordered a shower mat from Amazon. I told her from now on we put the bench in there with it. A few weeks ago I had the plumber put in the really fine hand held shower head in preparation for this day. Several times I have suggested that she use the bench. Resistance to infirmity is great. No bench she insisted up until now. I will insist but I want her to maintain as much independence as she is able.

The shower floor does not seem slippery to me but I could be wrong.

One foot in front of the other. One step at a time.

Carpe Diem.

Lists, Wishes and Trips

Today sitting in Anna’s house chatting, Anna told her mom that today was June the fifth. Did Mom know whose birthday was today. I thought, shit, I forgot to write that detail on the white eraser page that I put on the kitchen table in the morning. And I had lost that fact also. I have been so focused on Cheryl and getting some activity for her each day I lost track of my own son’s birthday.

Cheryl always wants to make a list so she does not forget something. How does one even begin to write a list of things or events not to be forgotten when one cannot remember what is to be on the list?

That is a tricky question. It is hard to remember what you have forgotten or maybe did not know at all.

Another subject for a list is the places and people we need to visit . Maybe we have not seen them in person for awhile. there are many people that we have not seen in person for at least two years. I did travel to see my sister about a year ago. We attended my nephew’s wedding in California. It was hot. It was fun. My brother-in-law, my nephew’s father, had brought along his fiance to the celebration and for some arbitrary reason she blew up and their wedding is not happening. Cheryl is working on a list for visiting folks. My nephew and his new wife are expecting a baby very soon.

Should she ever get her list together I will make every effort to figure it out. Planning trips is hard. Cheryl needs a lot of extra equipment these days. The new U-Step walker, although it folds, is better transported by a pick up truck. She is much more steady behind it.

Carpe Diem.

Weighing Future Options

Cheryl’s Parkinson’s disease interlaced with dementia has taken a turn to the negative over the past three months. It is tough but necessary for us to explore extra help and other options to our living situation.

I feel a sense of sadness. It is not exactly that I have failed because I recognize in my heart that her disease has a progression. I suppose it is a progression that I had not anticipated.

I also feel a sense of relief, an acceptance of the fact that I cannot do it all alone anymore. I recognize that we have to do something different. That first recognition came when I decided to buy a new bed and change our sleeping arrangements. At least, I thought a split king would keep us from awakening each other at night.

We drifted off to bed about 10 PM after watching a couple of her favorite shows on television and visiting with her sister for a couple hours. We probably eventually fell asleep about 10:30. Overnight I got up to go to the toilet twice and the second time around 3 AM she got up with me and seemed as though she wanted to stay up. I had prepared to sleep on the sofa bed we had and then she came out looking for me. We had our often discussion about church and I suggested we lay down for two more hours and then get up. She got up at quarter til noon.

I got up around 8:30. It was bliss.

I took the time to call the assisted living facility nearby that had housed both of our mothers at the end of their life. I still refuse to believe that we are here yet BUT it does not hurt to find out about various options to move forward from here.

I also set up a couple doctor appointments. She is having problems hearing occasionally. And I wonder about a UTI.

Carpe Diem.

More steps on the journey