Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering JFK's Assassination 50 Years Later

November 22, 1963
Few Americans that were alive during latter half of the 20th century can forget what happened on November 22, 1963. The assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a critical blow not only to the country itself, but also to its citizens. What happened on that day, 50 years ago today, remains as fresh in the minds of those who lived through that day as if it had happened yesterday. Some say that day marked the loss of America’s innocence and things were never the same afterwards.

A Nation in Shock
The assassination of JFK was one of the most shocking events to Americans that lived through that day and the days following. How unbelievable and unreal that day was to the hearts and minds of Americans can still be captured in the memories of those who remember it. We interviewed six people who recounted that day for us and most revealed how unbelievable the news was. In fact, the news was so unreal that many first believed what they had heard was a joke.
“These things don’t happen in America.” – Lee Ann
Lee Ann, who was in junior high school and lived in Texas at the time of the JFK assassination. She remembered laughing when she first heard about the assassination, believing it was a joke. She said at the time she thought, “These things don’t happen in America” and therefore it could not be true. As the day progressed however and she was to learn that the news was indeed true. At a later class that day, some students were talking about it, and one of the girls who’d seen her laugh at the initial hearing of the news made sure to tattle to the other classmates that Lee Ann had laughed when she first heard about it.
Vera, lived in Los Angeles and was in her mid-20s at the time of the assassination. She was outdoors working in her yard when a neighbor drove up to tell her the news. As this neighbor had always been quite a prankster, she paid no attention to her. But, upon her neighbor’s insistence that it was true, she finally went inside to see the news on the television. Vera said that before the shootings of Robert F. Kennedy and Ronald Regan, events like the JFK assassination were unheard of.
“We were shell shocked.” – Maureen
Maureen graduated high school in June that year and was living in Alhambra, California (a suburb of Los Angeles). She too recalled believing what she’d heard was a joke initially, because her thought her father always made jokes. It took him insisting he was serious and then turning on the television to convince her otherwise. She noted the fact that the 3 days between the death of JFK and his burial were mainly a blur to her, as she remained glued to the television set. She could not recall eating or sleeping at all, she only remembered watching everything unfold on the television. She said, “We were shell shocked” and recalled thinking, “no it couldn’t happen here”. She felt she couldn’t imagine anything ever affecting her that way again. She said of JFK, “His true legacy was that he gave you such hope.” JFK gave the country hope and motivated young people. He had such an aura of optimism that people feel that there was nothing they could not do in this country. She agreed wholeheartedly with her idol, Judy Garland, and what Judy said upon leaving Peter Lawford’s home after the assassination was announced. Judy said, “It’s such a tragedy for the country.”
Cathy was in junior high at the time of the JFK assassination and lived in Arcadia, California (a suburb of Los Angeles). She said the assassination was the last thing on anyone’s mind that would happen. When she heard it in class, the teacher was so shocked and devastated that the classroom went dead silent. It left her with a weird feeling. She felt there was a darkness then and recalled it was a very somber time. Like Maureen, Cathy also recalled being glued to the television set watching everything unfold over the next three days. She recalled it was all you could find on the TV at the time to watch. The event and its aftermath had consumed all the channels.
Robert was in his forties at the time of the JFK assassination and lived in Los Angeles County. He and a sales manager were driving around visiting clients and had stopped for a bite to eat in Canoga Park, CA. The place they had stopped to eat had a television set which was reporting on the assassination. Neither he nor the sales manager could believe what they were seeing and hearing it was such a shock. The news channels did not have a lot of information out yet, and they both drove home for the day to follow the story as it developed. He recalls when he drove home that day how empty the freeways were. People were staying home to follow the news covering all the developments regarding the assassination.
“They stole our dream.” – Nancy
Nancy was in her mid-20s at the time attending graduate school at San Diego State. She had voted for Kennedy, so his assassination was very traumatic. She recalls just wandering around aimlessly about the school as many other students did that day. Kennedy embodied for her and so many others, a feeling of hope that things were going to be different. Kennedy had energized the young people to take part in volunteerism. That magic was gone after Kennedy’s assassination. A friend of hers summed it all up by saying “They stole our dream.”
A Second Turning
The once thought bad joke obviously turned into reality for the nation. “Even if America had not changed on the outside, an irreversible inner change had begun. A new wedge was penetrating the national psyche.” (Strauss, p.171)  The new wedge Strauss speaks of was the “The Second Turning” or “Consciousness Revolution” which lasted from 1964 – 1984. In the 20 years that followed Kennedy’s death, the American spirit become anxious about what would come next.  Although for the sake of remaining in the 1960’s era, this paper will focus on the changes in popular culture and trends that occurred over the 5 years following the Kennedy assassination from 1964 – 1969.
In 1964 began the era, which eroded the confidence in the American way of life and then the way of life itself. (Strauss, p.172)  This obvious questioning of the American way of life became echoed on television, as shows like “The Munsters”, “The Addams Family” and “Gilligan’s Island” all debuted that year. Both “The Munsters” and “The Addams Family” were unusual families in almost every way with supernatural powers additionally. Occasionally, the television show “The Addams Family” featured “guest characters who share the Addamses' tastes, which, along with the fact that the family obviously purchases its yak meat, explosives, etc. from somewhere, implies an entire subculture of people who share the family's tastes.” (Wikimedia) Also in 1964, the American confidence in government, technology and authority was openly questioned in films such as Dr. Strangelove, Fail-Safe and Seven Days. (Strauss, p. 172).
1966  - “a curious mood of…questioning, doubt and frustration” – James Reston
During 1966, the 3rd top grossing film was “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”, played by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton respectively as Martha and George. (Wikipedia) The films was as far from “a 1950s perfect married couple as you can get, alternatively badgering, berating, abusing and loving each other, both alone and accompanied by the naive young married couple that have come over for a nightcap.” (IMDB) The film took the idea of dysfunction in married life and amplified it to reflect one of the best exaggerations of a couple at their very worst.
The film’s success was a clear sign that the mood in American had shifted. Americans were beginning to question the old narrative of the perfect relationship between a husband and wife that the 1950s had imposed upon them for so long. Americans were beginning to want to see a less than perfect view of married couples and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” was a film that illustrated those imperfections and then some.
1967 – An “internal crisis,…extremist politics” and “escapism among young persons”
– James Restin
During 1967 the internal crisis Reston speaks of seemed focused on civil rights and the rejection of authority and the Vietnam War itself. In mid-July 1967, race riots break out in New Jersey and Detroit and a prison riot in Florida leaves 37 people dead. On July 23rd, the 124th Street riots in Detroit labeled one of “the worst riots in US History” left 43 people dead, “342 injured and 1,400 buildings burned”. (Wikipedia) By August that year, race riots had spread into Washington DC.  Civil Rights protesters were so disenchanted with the system in place that they were willing to fight, even against the threat of death to achieve equal rights. By November 15, 1967, their hard work paid off and the Civil Rights movement gained a long overdue victory in the courts as the legal definition of murder was extended “to include the killing of blacks”. (Wikimedia)
The questioning of authority and the validity of the Vietnam War were highlighted by some famous denouncements both. In April of 1967, both Martin Luther King and boxer Muhammad Ali condemned the Vietnam War. Ali refused military service and King vocalized his denouncement of the war during a religious service in New York City. (Wikimedia)
In September 1967, Jim Morrison too bucked authority by defying the sensors of the Ed Sullivan Show by singing the part of the lyrics that say “higher” in the Door’s #1 song, “Light My Fire”, after they had asked Morrison to remove the lyric due to the drug reference. (Wikipedia) This gesture was not only a nod to the drug culture at the time but also a clear statement on how the counterculture at the time viewed authority – they despised it.
1968 - “violence and defiance,…protest and reaction” and “a widespread feeling…that things were getting out of hand” - James Restin
The year of 1968 was known for what got out of hand at home and overseas. At the start of the year, the Tet Offensive, led to over four thousand casualties of US forces and allies, as well as over 16,000 wounded and nearly 600 missing.
Then came the assignations of 1968 with Martin Luther King’s death on April 4th and Robert F. Kennedy’s death on June 6th. Their murders “completed an assassination trilogy that struck many as the tragic if natural outgrowth of unstoppable passion and violence.” (Strauss, p.173) The death of Martin Luther King launched major rioting in several US Cities in the days that followed and, Americans who were following the political career of Robert F. Kennedy as he campaigned for president in 1968 were crushed by his death.
Maureen mentioned her personal experience on the day that Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. At the time, she lived just a short drive from the Ambassador Hotel where Robert Kennedy was shot. She recalls still reeling from the JFK assassination when “Bobby” was killed. (Bobby Kennedy was the first person she voted for in the California primary.) Her girlfriend, Ellie was in attendance that evening at the Ambassador and although Maureen did not attend, she decided to watch the coverage on television. She saw the whole disturbing scene unfold via live coverage and her friend Ellie showed up shortly afterwards completely hysterical. They both cried. Maureen was so overwhelmed and destroyed by Bobby’s death that she didn’t want to think about it and didn’t want any part of it what was happening around her. She recalled having spent the following 2 years after the RFK assassination, as a recluse supported solely by her mother. “It was a devastating time,” she said.
“This is no dream, this is really happening.” – Rosemary Woodhouse
In the top ten highest grossing films of 1968 was “Rosemary’s Baby”. In the film, Mia Farrow stars as Rosemary who is betrayed by her husband as he trades her fertility to the Satan worshiping couple next door in exchange for advances in his career. Rosemary in turn conceives a child who ends up being son of Satan. While Rosemary becomes suspicious as her pregnancy develops further along, she does not learn until the very end after the child is born, who the child’s real father was. In the film, Rosemary is misled by not only her husband, but also by neighbors posing as friends. Rosemary feels alone and that she can trust no one. She fights to try and save her own life and the life of her unborn baby. A lot of Rosemary’s distrust seemed to allude to the distrust Americans felt towards government and authority. After three assassinations of prominent figures in the country, the defeats in Vietnam, Americans were beginning to believe that they could not trust anyone any longer and the “Rosemary’s Baby” helped to highlight that fact
1969 - “frustration, destruction, counter-violence, racial tension and fear” – James Restin
The year of 1969 marked some dark events in the days of Americans. Not only was it was the bloodiest year in the Vietnam War, but “three landmark events – Apollo 11, Woodstock, and Chappaquiddick – dramatized the most poignant contradictions of the Awakening-era America.” (Strauss, p.173) The moon landing was a great step for those who believed in science and technology yet diverted  resources from the poor. (Srauss, p.173) The event of Chappaquiddick that Ted Kennedy was involved in, “exemplified American’s declining standards of public decorum and private virtue – and their flight from the suffocating duties of family life and child rearing”. (Strauss p. 173)
“Transfixed in front of a television screen for unnatural periods of time.” – Neil Postman
During the year 1969 the debut of children’s television series, “Sesame Street” helped to exemplify this flight from child rearing. The show was meant to be both educational and entertaining for its young viewers. (Wikimedia) “Sesame Street” allowed parents to leave their children to watch the television unrestricted as well as relieved parents “of the responsibility of teaching their preschool children how to read--no small matter in a culture where children are apt to be considered a nuisance.” (Postman) These reasons seemed to “justify allowing a 4 or 5-year-old to sit transfixed in front of a television screen for unnatural periods of time.” (Postman)

Friday, June 28, 2013

Funeral Folk Music - Part 1


As funeral directors, music being played at a funeral is one tradition we’re very familiar with. There are many folk songs that are regularly heard at funerals. A few that come to mind are the classical “Ave Maria” published in 1853; the Christian Hymn “Amazing Grace” published in 1779; and the gospel tune (our favorite) “I’ll Fly Away,” published in 1932. (See video below to hear it.) There are other songs of course, but these are the ones we have heard played most often.




Sometimes we think that American funeral traditions are more about familiarity than individuality. One has heard a song before at a funeral, and thus thinks it appropriate to use when planning a funeral for his/her own loved one.

There are the occasional families that find specific songs where the lyrics fit the life story of the one who has died, or simply choose to play their loved one’s favorite music/bands. And while this approach is less traditional than any of the songs mentioned above, these ceremonies really evoke the emotions of the attendees like none of the other songs. We’ll never forget the one 12-year-old granddaughter who played “Comptine” by folk music revivalist, Yann Tiersen for her grandmother’s funeral. (If you haven’t heard it before, click on the video below.) Everyone was moved to tears.


Yann Tiersen - Comptine d'un autre ete (L'apres midi) from scorpinamagda on Vimeo.

We don’t think music will ever cease to be played at funerals, nor do we think traditional funeral songs are going away anytime soon, but we do think our traditions will evolve over time to incorporate more personalized musical choices into our ceremonies.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Paying Grandparents for Child Care


When we were growing up, we and most of our friends had grandparents caring for us as their sole caregiver during the weekdays or workdays. Grandparents made it possible for parents to work, for single and divorced parents to raise families, for kids to make it home safely from school, for kids to make it safely to medical appointments or after-school activities, for kids to have a safe environment to come home to after school and for kids to have good parental role models to learn from.

As of 2009, it was reported that only 8% of grandparents helping with childcare received pay, according to the Wall Street Journal article, “When Granny is Your Nanny.” For some working grandparents the decision to quit paid employment to help out their own family, may not be easy. Financial issues for working grandparents to consider include: “income tax status, health insurance, … benefits associated with employment,” according to About.com’s article on Grandparents as Child Care Providers by Susan Adcox. Additional issues raised in the same article are, missing the social aspects and challenges of the workplace and whether a job will still exist if the grandparent-retiree wishes to return to the workplace.

Accepting payment from children for the care of grandchildren poses additional concerns for grandparent caregivers. According to Ms. Adcox, grandparents must consider their children’s financial habits, consider if accepting payment will make them feel guilty, whether extra expenses would be covered, and whether or not overtime would be paid. Ms. Adcox even recommends putting together a written agreement or contract “before embarking upon this commitment.” On the legal/accounting side, a financial forum discussing payment to grandparents, on FatWallet.com, recommends paying a salary that grandparents can report on a schedule C to pay self employment (FICA) taxes on. This allows the parent to claim a “child care deduction on your tax return for the amount” paid to the grandparent.

About.com did a survey of grandparents to see who would accept payment for caring for their grandchildren. Although only 113 people responded, the results were interesting. A total of 46% were willing to accept payment, while 51% were not. Here’s how the numbers broke down:

·   16% “Yes, I would expect to be paid like any other provider.”
·   30% “Yes, but I would charge a reduced amount.”
·   14% “No, I would feel guilty taking money from my children.
·   20% “No, I feel the privilege of being with my grandchildren would make it worthwhile.
·   17% “No, but I would accept gifts, outing or vacations as signs of appreciation.

From our personal experience, our grandparents never accepted payment for our care. Most of our friend’s grandparents did not get paid either.  Most grandparents lived in the same household, and thus rent and utilities were often included for them by the parents. For other friends we knew who had grandparents that lived nearby, they often prepared and shared meals with the family, which helped to reduce their grocery needs.
In March of 2013, the website Grandparents.com asked its members: “Should grandparents be paid for babysitting?” They summed up many of the comments, saying, “There's a huge difference, many of you pointed out, between doing occasional date-night sitting and providing what amounts to no-cost daily daycare. And while many of you agreed that caring for a child on a regular basis warranted a paycheck, others said that they could never accept money from their kids.”

Some of the most interesting responses of the Grandparents.com survey were:

·   “They [the parents] show their thanks in many ways.”
·   “The pleasure I get out of watching them is worth more than the money."
·   "It seems strange to be paid for a normal family responsibility. It's a privilege.”
·   “I told them I would get paid, but half of my check would go into savings for the baby.”
·   "Our son and his wife wanted me to quit my job and care for their son and insisted on paying my husband and me. As retired people, we needed the income.”

While many grandparents seem to feel it’s their duty to help out their children by being part of raising their grandchildren, the financial constraints of retirees cannot be disregarded. It seems that most families are able to work out childcare financial arrangements, whether actual money is exchanged or gifts and favors are exchanged instead. As children raised primarily by our grandparents, we believe in grandparents being closely involved in their grandchildren’s lives. The time we spent together with our own grandparents created a special bond that will continue to live on in our hearts.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Tale of Two Women, Afraid of Alzheimer’s


Contrasting the lives of two senior women, both of which lost their own mother to Alzheimer’s. Their concerns about getting the disease are valid and each is handling her concerns differently.
            Lily’s Story
Lily’s mother died at age 86 in the mid 1980’s after several years of struggle with a form of Alzheimer’s that involved very difficult and troubling behaviors. Now that Lily has turned 70, her concerns of ending up like her mother have become very real.
What Lily is Doing Right
Lily has started trying to adjust her diet to better manage her Type 2 Diabetes and has begun to take more supplements to support her health, including fish oil and B-vitamins. She reads daily and usually talks on the phone often with good friends and relatives. Lily keeps up with regular check-ups at her Primary Care physician and a Naturopathic Physician. Lily gets on a computer daily and checks-in with family on Facebook and writes emails to them. Lily also speaks two different languages, her native Spanish and second language English, and uses both on a daily basis.
What Lily Could Improve Upon
Lily has not set up any advanced directives, a will, a trust nor has she designated either a power of attorney or healthcare representative to any of her children. Although Lily has saved up some money she would like to will to her children to prevent them any unnecessary burden, she has not set up a trust for them. Without these measures, if/when Lily develops Alzheimer’s, one of her children will need to seek a Guardianship in order to make proper care decisions as well as a Conservatorship to make financial decisions for her. Guardianship and Conservatorship are complicated and costly to process through the court system, which will end up being a burden on her family, which is exactly what she hopes to avoid. 
Lily could benefit by tying up the loose ends pertaining to her estate and final wishes now instead of leaving them undone. Lily could also improve her cognitive skills by playing more games like crossword puzzles and Sudoku. Lily could also focus on improving her psychological state, as she often seems to get depressed and emotional. Lily should also focus on more exercise (which she does not do), as it has proven beneficial for the health of the brain.
Violet’s Story
Violet’s mom died at age 92 after fighting Alzheimer’s for 15 years. Violet is now in her early 70’s. At the end, Violet’s mom did not remember her or her sister. Violet said her mom would simply stare off into space when she visited. Violet never understood how her mother could develop Alzheimer’s after being a bookkeeper for 40 years. Violet does not believe the research that points to keeping mentally fit to avoid Alzheimer’s because her mom kept her brain sharp with numbers, and President Reagan ran the country, and before that memorized lines as an actor, and he still got the disease.
 What Violet is Doing Right
Violet eats modestly and avoids sugars. She walks around her neighborhood daily and gets regular checkups at her Primary Care Physician. (Violet is fortunate to have no underlying diseases that require managing.) She takes part in hobbies she loves on a daily basis including scrap booking, reading the newspaper cover to cover and repairing antique items. She and her son eat dinner together frequently and usually take one or two vacations a year together. Violet meets up with friends on a semi-regular basis for coffee or lunch. Violet often goes to movie premiers to collect autographs. She follows politics and debates ideas with friends and family. She keeps abreast of all the current news and events. Violet also uses a computer frequently and emails friends.
Violet has already completed elaborate advanced directives and instructions for her son. She has inventoried all her collections with descriptions, names and values so he can sell things of value after she’s gone.
Conclusion
Clearly, Violet is better prepared for developing Alzheimer’s than Lily. Although both women are afraid of developing the disease and are close in age, they aren’t working to prevent it as fervently. It’s hard to say why Lily is less prepared than Violet. Perhaps the taboo surrounding open end-of-life discussions is at play. Perhaps making life changes at age 70 feels too overwhelming for Lily.  Nevertheless, Lily and others could all learn a lot from Violet’s choices. 
Does any one have a "Lily" in their life that needs a little guidance or support? 
How did you help?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Improve Memory & Cognitive Function for Dementia


If you're looking to improve memory and cognitive function for someone you love with dementia, here are a few tips.

Supplements to Start Using

·   Add Fish Oil – Fish oil has positive effects on cognitive functioning. There are possible benefits on the brain health and aging according to the researchers at Rhode Island Hospital’s Alzheimer’s Disease & Memory Disorders Center.

·   Add Acetylcholine supplements, or medications that slow the breakdown of this neurotransmitter. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “a decrease in acetylcholine may be responsible for some of the cognition deficits in Alzheimer's disease” and “patients taking medications that slow the breakdown of this neurotransmitter have experienced improvements in memory.”

Supplements to Stop Using

·   Phosphatidylserine – According to Dr. Glen Smith at the Mayo Clinic, the early studies that showed health benefits with this supplement were only when the supplement was derived from the brain cells of cows. Mad cow disease concerns led to developing the supplements form soy or cabbage and the plant-based versions have not been researched enough to prove results.

·   Ginkgo Biloba – According to Dr. Brent Bauer at the Mayo Clinic, a 2009 issue “of the Journal of American Medical Association, found no evidence that ginkgo biloba prevents memory loss or slows the progression of cognitive decline in older adults.”

Therapeutic/Memory Triggering Activities

·   Decorate the place to resemble a past era, like Belfair Gardens did with a 1940s makeover to help Alzheimer's patients go for a walk down memory lane.

·   Play DVDs that focus on past eras, like the Living Memories Archive is making for fostering “The stimulation of the memories of dementia patients, which help to provide new topics for conversation.”

·   Add Music Therapy - According to research by Willamette University posted on the US National Library of Medicine, music therapy has a “possible beneficial effect on symptoms including social, emotional and cognitive skills and for decreasing behavioral problems of individuals with dementias.”

·   Add “training and practice in problem-solving skills, memory techniques, and other cognitive strategies” to help improve their abilities according to “Aging Concepts and Controversies” by Sasser and Moody (page 23).

·   Group people together to let others help “compensate for cognitive losses through a social process dubbed ‘interactive minds’ or ‘collaborative cognition’” (Sasser & Moody, p. 24.) whereby one person helps to fill in the gaps of another person’s memory when recalling things.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Take It With A Grain


            As we understood it, our grandmother had Alzheimer’s for the last 10 years of her life (2002-2012). However, upon researching some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s we now recall behaviors that fit the recognized symptoms of Alzheimer’s much earlier on. In the mid 1990’s our grandmother believed someone had stolen something out of her purse at the grocery store. (This was very uncharacteristic behavior.)
As far back as the mid 1990’s, marked grandmother’s dismissal of important discussions and events with short phrases (most commonly) “Take it with the grain.” Although her usage suggested, “dismiss it – it’s not important” the real meaning of the idiom according to the online dictionary is “to consider something to be not completely true or right.” So, at that point she was already mixing up idioms. Our belief was that her dismissals indicated apathy or lack of interest. However, in hindsight the improper idiom usage suggests something far more serious brewing. The idioms she used quickly ended conversations, and considering another symptom of Alzheimer’s is problems finding words and/or expressing oneself in conversations, it might have been the root cause for her to say such things.
Around the late 1990’s grandma nearly stopped driving. Although she never explained why she seldom went out alone, it seems likely that she was becoming fearful of getting lost in her own town.  When grandpa chose to move them both to San Diego in 2000, grandma never drove again. Considering how she was not confident enough to drive freely in a city she’d lived in for over 30 years, we can only imagine how fearful driving around an entirely new city would have made her.
When looked at through the filter of early-onset Alzheimer’s symptoms, we see that our grandmother’s development of the disease began much earlier than any of us realized.
Statistics on Alzheimer’s
It is estimated that around 18 million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s, according to the CDC’s webpage on World Alzheimer’s Day using numbers provided by the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO estimates the number of people with Alzheimer’s to total 34 million by 2025. Some additional facts as highlighted by the CDC’s website on Alzheimer’s are:
·   2.6 million to 5.2 million Americans have Alzheimer’s.
·   Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death for adults over age 18.
·   Alzheimer’s is the 5th leading cause of death for adults over age 64.
·   Presently, healthcare costs for persons with Alzheimer’s are $183 billion in the US.
Diagnosing Alzheimer’s
According to the Alzheimer’s Association (ALZ.org), “there is no single clinical
test that can identify Alzheimer’s.” For diagnosing Alzheimer’s, ALZ.org explains that evaluation methods include “a complete health history, physical examination, neurological and mental status assessments, analysis of blood and urine, electrocardiogram, and possibly an imaging exam such as CT or MRI.” A 2011-2012 progress report by the National Institute on Aging explains advancements in detecting Alzheimer’s to include genetic markers, insulin resistance and brain glucose uptake; cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) biomarkers; imaging the living brain (looking for cortical thinning); combining genetics, CSF and Imaging Biomarkers; Sensory changes (like loss of smell) and Motor Changes (walking speed changes). [This last marker of gait speed predicting Alzheimer’s was researched by Portland’s very own Oregon Health and Sciences University and announced in July of 2012.]
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
·   Memory (unknowingly repeating statements, forgetting appointments or conversations – and not remembering them later, misplacing items, forgetting names of loved ones or everyday items)
·   Disorientation & Misinterpreting Spatial Relationships (losing the sense of the day of the week or seasons of the year, “getting lost in familiar places”)
·   Speaking and Writing (trouble finding the right words to identify things or express oneself, trouble taking part in conversations)
·   Thinking and Reasoning (problems managing finances, balancing checking accounts, and keeping track of bills, usually attributed to difficulty recognizing and understanding numbers)
·   Making Judgments and Decisions (burning food on the stove, trouble driving)
·   Planning and Performing Familiar Tasks (familiar routines and tasks become a struggle, such as planning and cooking a meal or playing a game)
·   Changes in Personality and Behavior (some people with Alzheimer’s may experience: “depression, social withdrawal, mood swings, distrust in others, irritability and aggressiveness, changes in sleeping habits, wandering, loss of inhibitions, delusions, such as believing something has been stolen.”
Biological Causes of Alzheimer’s
The Mayo Clinic lists the causes of Alzheimer’s as resulting from “a combination of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors that affect the brain over time.”  Alzheimer’s disease “damages and kills brain cells” and with fewer brain cells there are “fewer connections among surviving cells” of the brain leading to more cells dying and “significant brain shrinkage.” Two abnormalities of the disease have been noted, according to the Mayo Clinic as plaques (“clumps of a protein called beta-amyloid…interfering with cell-to-cell communication”) and tangles (the internal system of the brain carrying nutrients and other essential materials depends on a protein called “tau” and when tau protein twists into “abnormal tangles inside brain cells” this leads to “failure of the transport system” which causes “decline and death of brain cells.”)
Alzheimer’s Lifestyle Risk Factors
            According to the Mayo Clinic some Alzheimer’s disease lifestyle risks include: “lack of exercise, smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, poorly controlled diabetes, a diet lacking in fruits and vegetables, and lack of social engagement.” Other factors may include previous trauma to the head, gender (more women than men develop Alzheimer’s), family history and genetics, and age (the risk increases after age 65 and “nearly half of those older than age 85 have Alzheimer’s” says the Mayo Clinic.
Please Share With Others & Add your Comments Below
Our hope is that by sharing and talking about Alzheimer’s experiences with others, we can help to inform those who are less aware so they may watch for symptoms in loved ones and have greater compassion and understanding for others facing the disease.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Tips to Enjoy Activities with a Loved One with Dementia


When engaging in activities with your loved one with dementia, things may or may not go as planned. Here are some words of advice from the book, “Care that Works” by Jitga Zgola.
  • Avoid trying to convince a person to do something they cannot do.
  • He/she must take part willingly. There is no meaning in activities that are forced on a person.
  •  Start the activity and let the person’s natural inclination take over.
  • If the person becomes stuck or loses track of the activity, let it go and start over from the point where the person seemed to know what she was doing.
  • Anticipate and help with decision points.
  • Speak slowly, but do not speak down to the person.
  • Use short, simple phrases, addressing one topic at a time.
  • Narrow the subject down by asking Yes or No questions.
  •  Make sure you give him/her your full attention on the task or conversation at hand. Your attentive energy will keep him/her focused.
  • Use physical expressions of caring, such as gentle touching or holding hands (if she/he will allow this).
  • Find or at least acknowledge meaning in everything she/he says and does.
  • Remember, this activity will not reverse the condition, but it will lift the effects of sensory deprivation, social withdrawal, and functional decline and break the cycle that leads to excess disability.
  • Be aware of your own frustration and back off whenever you start to feel the situation is futile. But do so with sensitivity, allowing the person to save face.

Tips above found on pages 80, 142, 143, 145, 146, 161, 164 of “Care that Works” by Jitga Zgola.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Donate Your Credit Cards For Art

Jimmy Krozel, a local Portland artist makes fine art and social statements through his masterful use of mass marketed plastic credit cards and gift cards. The cards Jimmy uses are given to him by people who have walked into his gallery. People donate their credit cards to him after they hear his story. (For security purposes he never puts the cardholder’s name and card number in the same piece.)

In Mr. Krozel’s piece, “More than a Number” he juxtaposes the font size used to represent consumer’s names on a credit card to the much larger font used to represent the credit card number. “We’re insignificant compared to our number….we’re really only a number, not a name.”

Jimmy explains his use of the cards magnetic strips in the piece. Jimmy says, they “are like a mystery, like government documents where they black out everything…we don’t know what’s being transferred on that strip. They don’t let us know. You don’t know if it’s your credit rating, your account number, your balance, your habits, whatever it is.”

In “Danke Danke Danke,” Krozel invites viewers to imagine life as though behind bars. “Because if you’re paying 21-25% interest rates, your behind bars financially.” Jimmy is disgusted with society’s complacency with only being able to afford to pay the interest and inability to payoff the principle. He notes the inequalities when spending on credit cards versus cash. While it’s clearly more economical for businesses to accept cash for payment, companies instead give customer’s discounted rates for using their own credit cards.

In Mr. Krozel’s piece, “Get What You Want,” he describes his inspiration. He says, that “everyone is being conditioned through repetition to consume more than they can afford”. He uses animals to symbolize how we are being trained to accept gouging interest rates. The more often the ads appear, the more it seems like the normal going rate because that’s what you see. Through repetition of logos and pricing, advertising enslaves society”. His artwork is a statement about society and is why he creates artwork from cards that he shreds after hearing the story of the persons who visit the gallery.

Mr. Krozel is also inspired by the artwork of Mondrian. He notes how Mondrian evolved his artistic style from representation to decorative, and onto the abstract. He looked for the simplest elements of the human visual experience from which to create while also pursing an abstract visualization of sound and space.

Mr. Krozel uses the language of credit cards as a landscape from which to derive both inspiration and form. Both literally though what you see on the card and figuratively in what is written on the policies.

Jimmy’s work is located at Augen Gallery, 817 SW 2nd Ave, Portland, OR 97204 All are welcome to come visit the Gallery. Portland Art Thursday’s run at all galleries until 7pm. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Marketplace for Aging

The Aging Marketplace has a great variety of hope and hype. In the last decade we have seen a huge base of products being developed to improve the lives of aging consumers. There are now cell phones for elders featuring large buttons and simple calling plans. Most stores now conveniently offer products that focus on independent living for seniors, like shower chairs and walkers, including local chain stores like Fred Meyer and Walgreens. An article in Mechanical Engineering, called “New Wheels for Grandma,” focuses on automotive improvements made to aid in the safety of senior drivers. A Lear Corp’s concept car, includes a pivoting, sliding platform for loading golf clubs into the trunk. Low-light color cameras in a Taurus Safety Car allow drivers to see vehicles or pedestrians in blind spots. Ford adds dimples and bumps to its controls to aid in distinguishing by touch alone. Cadillac uses ultrasound to calculate distance of the car from the object behind it. However, along with the advancements in the aging marketplace, there continues to be room for improvements.
Prescription bottles are one source of problems for elders. Firstly, the labels are often printed too small for elders to read. Additionally, as the Huffington Post points out in their July 6th, 2012 article titled, “Drugs & Seniors: Post 50s Overlook Key Warning Labels, “inconsistent design lends to misreading warnings or overlooking important instructions all together.” An additional problem with prescription drugs for seniors, are the bottles themselves. For those with arthritis, oftentimes the safety lids can make the bottles difficult to open. Although there are lids that are easier for senior with arthritis to open, not all are made aware of the options to have those easy open lids used for their prescription bottles. As SeniorCareServices.org explains in their “Prescription Medication: Keeping Seniors Safe and Sound” article, “Ask the pharmacist for easy open caps, large print labels, and sometimes oversize bottles may be necessary.” The aging marketplace has advanced in offering tools that can be purchased for seniors as highlighted by Arthritis Today in their article “Opening Medicine Bottles with Ease.” Most notably is the “PurrFect Medicine Opener Magnet” which is shaped like a cat, and opens a variety of bottles in a variety of ways for a reasonable price of $9.95.
However, the cat shaped bottle opener brings up one flaw with the aging marketplace, that many senior focused products are either designed to be childlike (and thus not very dignified) or are so focused on utility that they are embarrassingly unstylish. Take the GPS shoes that are developed to protect elders with dementia from wandering and becoming lost. The shoe incorporates a sneaker design, which is not very appropriate for most daily activities, except running perhaps. For a sophisticated senior lady wearing a nice dress, the GPS shoes would be extremely inappropriate and tacky. There are bed rails to protect seniors from falling from bed during sleep, but one design appears like prison bars, complete with black metal rails. For this monstrosity, one must shell out $117.40. One would imagine that seniors with sweethearts that spend the night, this would not be an appealing item to decorate one’s bedroom with. Alarm watches made for seniors that vibrate or talk for medication reminders, mostly look cheap and crude. On ModernSeniorProducts.com, a senior alarm wrist watches page shows a small offering of just 11 watches to choose from, of which only 2 look tasteful enough that one would be able to wear the watch to a formal event.
Considering that persons ages “65 years or older numbered 39.6 million in 2009”, a population that continues to grow, according to the Administration on Aging, one would think that products available for seniors would be look better and appeal to dignity. As a Huffington Post article describes it, “Baby Boomers Will Transform Aging in America.” In the same article, Dr. Rhonda Randall, the chief medical officer of united Health Care says, “Boomers also have a "fierce" desire to remain independent, which will lead to an expansion of organizations offering home- and community-based care.” Boomers have a desire to live better. As Ken Dychtwald, president and CEO of AgeWave explains, “a new model of life is emerging”…”They are going back to school at 40 and coming back from illness to run a marathon at 80. They are beginning as late bloomers and hitting their stride in later years.” It’s clear that baby boomers will set new standards for the aging marketplace of the future. Hopefully, along with it will come sensible, stylish product lines that contribute to healthy living and promote dignity.

Have you seen design innovations for the silver market that you loved or hated? 
How about any products that you haven't seen that you'd like to see for seniors?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Book Review: Making An Exit by Elinor Fuchs


Making an Exit by Elinor Fuchs is a book that documents a mother-daughter drama through Alzheimer’s discovery, caregiving woes, and adventures in language. Elinor, while not as close to her mom while she was growing up, draws near to her in the later part of her life. When her mom first experiences a heart attack at 63, and then is found to have breast cancer at age 65, then has a mastectomy and lumpectomies at age 67, Elinor becomes more cognizant of her mother’s mortality. The mastectomy seems to set the stage for how she and her mother’s relationship will progress. “My career as ‘Mother’ – her name for me later when she struggled to place our relationship – may have been prefigured here, the day mother was sent home from the hospital.” A few years later during a trip to Edgartown for Labor Day, Elinor makes the discovery – her mother has Alzheimer’s. It dawns on Elinor when Lil, at age 74, cannot recognize a seagull and asks, “What’s that, a cat?”

The realization of Lil’s dementia and subsequent confirmation of her diagnosis by a gerontologist begins Elinor’s new protection of her mother. She extends their trip together then goes to stay with her mother in Lil’s apartment “watching her like a hawk.” Elinor discovers that her mother can no longer drive (she gets lost), can no longer cook “the fridge is full of takeout containers” and she can’t do laundry. “She used to wash out her stockings every night, but now she just drops them on the bathroom floor.”

Elinor decides to leave her mother in her apartment in Washington DC because there, “she has a devoted brother, a niece, a former business to which she is attached as the landlord of its office space.” Her reasoning is that if she moves her mom in with her in New York, “she’ll lose that support and the familiar surroundings of half a century.”

Elinor immediately decides to hire some household help and a companion “who will come part of every day to organize her life at home and take her shopping or for a walk. I’ll call this person her ‘secretary’– yes a good idea, make a bridge back to her old familiar life.” Elinor is clearly aware of person-centered care as she tries to give her mother some dignity and comfort by using phrases and titles that her mother used in her working life for over 35 years as a business owner. Elinor specifically focuses on hiring someone who is intelligent, interested in current affairs, and will be a good companion for her mother. She specifically says “I want no nurses in white uniforms”; she wants someone who will be fun. Considering her mother traveled the world for her international business, collected art pieces and beautiful clothes, she appreciates her mother’s interest in having a good time.

When the home-care companion agency cannot help Elinor with the type of services she wants to provide her mother like driving her around, shopping for clothes, taking her to the movies, and to the Women’s Democratic Club (something her mother specifically asked to join), she looks elsewhere. Elinor begins looking for people in her own industry the theater for ladies in-between acting jobs. She gets one “secretary” for 10 weeks, then another for a year, and finally breaks down and hires a home caregiver who ends up spending more of Lil’s money than appropriate. As Elinor describes it, “the decline is precipitous, and I am running, running to catch up. We go from fifteen hours to thirty, from five days to seven, from half-days to whole days, and then to nights.” Because Lil’s space does not allow a live-in caregiver, Elinor starts hiring “single professional women and willing grad students” to rotate sleeping on the sofa in the den with ads in community weeklies: ‘Earn Money While You Sleep, Seeking Companion Care for Lively Retired Professional Woman.” 

Somehow even as unmanageable as the caregiver/secretary situation seems, Elinor makes it work to allow Lil to stay in her own apartment for 9 years. She visits her monthly, managing all her mother’s affairs. “I am the link to her internist, her cardiologist, her oncologist, her gynecologist, her dermatologist, her lawyer, her bank, her accountant, her insurance agent, her landlord, the IRS, the Social Security Administration, Blue Cross, Medicare, the Wadhwanis [people who bought her mother’s business], and the helpers. I have left out her piano tuner, her dry cleaners, her hairdresser. The entries in my address book for Mother run to a dozen pages.” Elinor really grows into her role as a caregiving daughter, managing her mom’s care from a distance most of the time and managing it hands-on when she’s in town. “I learn to change my mother’s diaper: a fresh horror that practice will mitigate.”

Eventually the caregiver situation breaks down, if only temporarily, when one of the main caregivers must return to her home country for her father’s illness. This opens the door for Elinor to try assisted living for her mom, something she had decided against early on. Two weeks into her mother’s stay at the assisted living home, she takes Lil back to her old apartment for a visit. She asks her if she knows where she is. She says, “Well, yes, public-address. We are very near…somewhere…” Elinor tries another way, asking if she knows whose things are in the apartment. “Well, yes I do,” Lil answers, “I’ve known these things all my life.” When Elinor prompts her as to whom the items belong, Lil says they belong to her. But when Elinor asks if she wants to live there again, Lil nearly shouts “HELL, NO!”

This part of Elinor and Lil’s story was truly fascinating. It certainly highlighted the ideas of persons with Alzheimer’s experiencing selfhood. It also clearly expresses how well persons with AD can compare their present self to their former self. It also seems to address the guilt one might feel when moving a parent from their home to a facility. If the home is tied to a former successful life, it could be a source of frustration. As in the case of Dr. M in the book, “The Person with Alzheimer’s Disease” by Johns Hopkins, Lil reveals both an intact Self 1 and Self 2. She is aware of the differences in her personal abilities and lifestyle with dementia and is able to compare them with how successful, independent and well spoken she was. She is also able to express anger for the differences between who she is now versus who she was in the past. Elinor realizes this during the apartment visit. She says, “I see that putting down this cumbersome baggage of a life she cannot live would be a huge relief to Mother, a liberation.” To confirm her belief, Elinor asks her mother why she doesn’t want to come back to the apartment she lived in for over 30 years. With clarity, Lil answers, “Why go back in life when you can go forward?”

Lil thrives in the new assisted living home until her care needs become too unmanageable for the hired nurses. When a space in a Special Care Unit for dementia opens up, Elinor moves Lil there. The Special Care Unit is working with new practices in ethical caregiving. They “do not sedate the patients, and try to reduce if not eliminate prescription drugs...They do not restrain patients during the day or tie them to their beds at night.”
Lil loves the new facility. As Elinor describes her first day upon arrival, “Lil is in summer camp and out to make the most of it.” For Lil’s 84th birthday, Elinor, Lil’s brother and Ruth, one of their favorite caregivers, celebrate with Lil. They look through old photos of Lil, finding new pieces of the puzzle on Lil’s former life and former old flames. Elinor teases Lil saying, “Oh Mother. You sly dog you! You trickster!” Elinor then tells her uncle, “The woman led a double life.” At this point, Lil changes the subject and addresses the three of them. She “proceeds to offer a peroration and exhortation from the dais, as it were, reviving perhaps the skills she displayed on the Glenville High Debate Team sixty-seven years ago.” This was a wonderful display on preventing excess disability. By Elinor, Lil’s brother and trusted caregiver all treating her as a person and not a disease, she felt encouraged and strong enough to attempt a speech. Although throughout the book Lil’s part in the conversations are often difficult to follow, her birthday speech is quite special. The best part about her speech is that it’s all very optimistic. Some of the highlights were, “And being smart, and being a happy, that you can say to them – if you want to – that ‘Isn’t it wonderful?'...In a very hopeful way. And I’m awfully happy….We can do it! We can do it!...I’m happy with it!...By gosh I, all I can say is… Let’s try!”

In sharing this speech, Elinor really portrays Alzheimer’s in a very positive way. Though Elinor shares the good and the bad throughout her journey with Lil, she keeps it extremely lighthearted. She also makes interesting realizations of Alzheimer’s that are encouraging. She shares when Lil once kept rediscovering a gift she’d received on Christmas morning, every couple of minutes, asking what it was. When her granddaughter confirmed it was her Christmas present she’d just given to her, Lil would exclaim, “You did? How wonderful!” then repeat it all again a few minutes later. The granddaughter laughed that, “It’s wonderful to give a gift that keeps coming back… You get so much for your money.” Later the granddaughter said to Elinor how much nicer Lil is with Alzheimer’s than she was before. She says, “Mom, Alzheimer’s is good for Grandma.” Elinor also describes the fresh, clean start that Alzheimer’s often provides. “With Alzheimer’s, the clock is reset all day long. We never linger in the past, nothing is as out of date as the past five minutes.”

Elinor also describes the happiness of romance and Alzheimer’s with Lil’s new love interest in the Special Care Unit. “Mother wears the satisfied grin of the Cheshire Cat about this ‘catch.’” Lil later finds a new love interest, one who is married, but his wife, Mrs. Blue, supports the coupling. “My husband has taken quite a shine to her. I’m so happy he’s found her. Anything that makes him happy,” Mrs. Blue says. Elinor also describes how her mother got up and danced when a band once came to play for the residents. One of the staff members said, “Your mom – I couldn’t believe it! She just got up there and danced. She reminded me of Isadora Duncan.”

This book was truly a joy to read. Ms. Fuchs used a wonderful balance of reality and comedy. She never dwelled on the negative. Some of the conversations her mom and she had were absolutely comical. Once when she roused her mom to get up and go to bed, Lil said “Are we going to jop the gizzers?” and Elinor said, “Sure, we’re going to jop the gizzers right now!” Ms. Fuchs also portrays her mother as happy and this is an important thing to share while people are so very fearful of getting Alzheimer’s. We need to see people like Lil, who are happy, always dancing around, pursuing new love interests and wanting to meet new people. I believe that my grandmother found more happiness in dementia than she had before it. She always held back her opinions and thoughts, but with dementia, she was finally able to be candid and say exactly what came to mind. While I won’t say her comments always made my mother happy, they definitely gave us a laugh and made my grandmother happy.

What I liked most about Elinor’s accounts of her journey with Lil’s dementia was how it felt very real, without feeling downtrodden. In a wonderfully refreshing way, Ms. Fuchs made caregiving from a distance seem very doable.  I would definitely recommend this to anyone who wants to know more about Alzheimer’s and I would love to see more books written in this style.

Have you learned something about Alzheimer's you wish more people knew about? Have you read any dementia care books you'd like to recommend? Please share!