Tag: Alzheimer’s

Finding Courage

Finding Courage

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”  ~ Anaïs Nin 

3823782148A few years ago, a couple of friends and I bought matching silver “tree of life” pendants for our necklaces.  I love the tree of life and it’s representation of a healthy life with strong roots holding to the earth, and healthy limbs reaching for the sky.  Later, I added a small charm with the word courage carved into it, and another love charm later from a friend.  I treasured my jangling trio, until one day recently, I reached down and they were gone.  My necklace turned up at a place I had visited earlier in the day, but all three charms were gone.

I was thinking about my missing charms a few days later while talking with my daughter who was home on college break, and how everything is constantly changing.  It is the transition, the actual act of changing from one thing to another that is often the most difficult part.  At 19, my daughter is transitioning from child to adult and her 22 year-old brother, graduating from college soon, is doing the same.   Managing this transition is a turbulent, unsteady time for me, a time of missteps and discovery which can be exhilarating and a little scary.  I would imagine it’s similar for them.

As my children transition and step up to their adult lives, my mother with Alzheimer’s disease, is stepping out of hers.

When I was pregnant with my children, I was in awe of the women who had given birth before me.  It seemed I noticed the mothers in the world for the first time.  Her and her and her.  Mothers.  They were suddenly everywhere and they became holy members of the “mother club.”  How had I not noticed them before?  It’s like this for me now as I notice women whose children are long gone and who have surely lost their mothers by now.  Her and her and her.  Empty nesters, motherless daughters, carrying on, laughing, living.  I’m intrigued and curious about their lives, now lived without their mothers walking this earth, their children far away, and with smiles on their faces.

As my daughter shared her thoughts on growing up and the changes this will bring, we talked about how the only constant thing in life is change, and how we can DSCN0393_2 (1)open our hearts, unclench our grips, and flow with, not fight the changing currents that come our way.  As we talked about letting go, she shared her realization of how difficult it must be for me to lose my mother to Alzheimer’s.  In this moment, with a pensive look on her face,  I knew she was talking about me — that she was imagining ME with Alzheimer’s and HER saying the long good-bye.

It hit me then — my daughter is watching me navigate my mom’s Alzheimer’s disease just like I watched my mom with her mother.  What kind of message was I sending my children in my struggle to let go of my mother and of them? What were they learning from me about accepting change?  Perhaps more importantly, what message did I want to give them?  In barely a breath, a subtle shift took place and I told my daughter that letting go and embracing change is what we must do if we are to live in peace.

I realized that letting go and embracing change is what I must do if I am to live in peace.

Maybe it’s peace that I see on the faces of the motherless daughters with faraway children who seem firmly planted in their next chapter.   If that’s the case, I like to imagine theirs was a hard won peace that began with a valiant struggle against the strong tides of change, tossing them about, churning up muck, then spitting them out into calm waters once they accepted the flow — and finally let go.

A little lighter, and later in the day, my daughter joyfully tracked me down and announced, “Dad found your courage on the driveway!”  We shared a knowing look, then laughed at the fullness of the moment — my courage had been found!  It was beat up but intact, along with my tree of life and love charms which were also on the driveway.  It turns out, we had been driving and parking on them for a week.

Sometimes I miss things that have been in front of me all along.

**********

Joanne Leonardis
Joanne Leonardis

Joanne’s most recent occupation was as a stay-at-home mom to an active son and daughter.  But due to the recent fledgling flight of her children to college, Joanne’s full-time job was recently down-graded to part-time, with most of her duties occurring during the summer months, Christmas break, and through frequent texting.

When she’s isn’t tending to her far away children, or contemplating what her next chapter will be, Joanne spends a fair amount of time as a long-distance caregiver for her mother who has Alzheimer’s disease, and her father who is bewildered by living alone after 50+ years of togetherness.

Joanne has a B.S. in Human Services Counseling, and has worked as a Social Worker with the elderly and at-risk-youth. She currently volunteers in her community in various capacities including as an Alzheimer’s Advocate.  When not traveling between Virginia and Minnesota to visit her parents, Joanne enjoys gardening, meditating, running, and spending time with her husband.

Joanne writes about preventing Alzheimer’s, navigating mid-life, and letting go of her mom on her website Racing Alzheimers
You can also find her on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/RacingAlzheimers and twitter at https://twitter.com/RacingALZ

“Sundowning”

“Sundowning”

Sundowning is a pattern of behavior that occurs in the evening after the sun goes down in elderly people with dementia or Alzheimer’s.  You may notice that your charge, who may be somewhat lucid during daylight hours, loses ground in the evenings. My mother exhibited this behavior in varying degrees for about six months before she died. I did not understand what was happening at the time and once I did it was easier to handle.

The first time I experienced sundowning was one evening while I was visiting Mom at her apartment in the retirement community where she lived. She had not been doing well and recently had a fall. As we sat together, eating dinner and watching TV, she abruptly turned to me and asked, “Where is your Dad?”

My father had been dead for eight years at the time.  I studied her face trying to discern what information she was looking for. She was quite herself and lucid during the day at that time and I was caught completely off guard. I didn’t know how to respond.  Should I tell her the truth or go along with her delusion? I stumbled my way through it that night reminding her that he had died. She looked surprised and upset that no one had told her of his passing.  The question resurfaced again and again, in addition to others.

Sometimes I merely said, “He’s out” and she would go back to whatever it was she was doing. Other times she would push and prod until I told her the truth and then she would cry, every time it was if she was hearing of his death for the first time. It was painful for both of us.

Dementia is usually caused by illness or mini strokes that have damaged a person’s brain cells. Sundowning is thought to occur due to the correspondent damage of a person’s circadian rhythms, the internal clock that regulates the body’s physiological activities over a twenty four hour period.

There are several things you can do to try and minimize the effects of sundowning.

  • Keep the person active and awake during the day as much as possible. It makes it easier for them to fall asleep in the evening.
  • Plan activities during morning hours and keep the afternoon activities calm and simple.
  • When possible make sure the person receives morning sunlight and increase interior light before dusk.
  • Keep your loved ones life and surroundings simple and uncluttered. A sudden change or move can make it worse.
  • Sometimes confusion can be caused or aggravated by dehydration or hunger. Often the elderly turn away from food and drink, increasing the likelihood of deficiencies.

Most of all, knowing that sundowning exists can be tremendously comforting. I wish I had known then!

 

MEET HOLLY EBURNE ~ Dementia Caregiver’s Coach

MEET HOLLY EBURNE ~ Dementia Caregiver’s Coach

Holly offers group coaching and one on one coaching/mentoring for families and caregivers living with dementia.

Her coaching programs are for those caregivers who are willing to make changes in their life because they believe that they can live a life with less effort. They want someone to listen to their needs and come up with a plan specific to their situation. They know in their heart they deserve to be happy and are committed to finding a way. It takes time and are willing to take the steps necessary to feel more joy and happiness in their life.

Who would benefit most from your programs in coaching and teaching?

Baby boomer caregivers – especially women, who still have children at home or who just left the nest. They are feeling isolated and overwhelmed with juggling work, house, finances, family, and themselves. They want more free time, more energy, and…balance in their life. They are tired of the emotional roller coaster and want to know how to manage their anger, resentment and sadness over the unexpected changes in their lives.

What is unique about your skills as a Dementia Caregiver’s Coach?

I am living a balanced life in the ‘trenches’ as a caregiver for my husband, Dave-diagnosed with dementia almost 4 years ago. Being a younger caregiver (baby boomer) I understand the added challenges of having children at home, and working full-time. I also understand what it feels like to have resentment over not having the life you expected in your ‘prime’ years; and to lay awake worrying about finances, wondering how you are going to pay for future care.

I have 56 years of life experiences as a daughter, sister, mother, friend, businesswoman, and health professional. For the past 2 decades I have been studying and integrating personal growth material- books, courses, CDs, life coach exercises–into my life. This work has helped me through the lowest point in my life 2 years ago. I have found the gifts of living with dementia, without denying the reality. I have reached a peaceful place as a caregiver where I am living with fewer struggles and more joy. I am actually having fun creating win-win situations.

Professionally, I have worked in the medical profession for 32 years. In 1981 I graduated with combined degrees in Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy. My passion is coaching, inspiring and empowering patients to find simple, practical solutions for their wellbeing: physically, emotionally and mentally.

In addition, I have a Bachelor of Physical Education degree and a post-graduate Diploma in Sport Physiotherapy. This has allowed me to travel around the world with the Canadian National athletes. Working with elite athletes, and being a competitive athlete myself, I know how important it is to have commitment, responsibility, patience and belief in self.

Finally, I walk the talk. I only teach the systems and tools that are working well for our family. My daughter Amy thinks our family was tight before, but even tighter now.

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