Grandma by Jessica Shepherd: A Book Review


Grandma book

Recently I discovered a children’s book, Grandma, that tells a story, from a child’s point of view, about a much-loved grandmother who develops dementia. As an educator, I’ve often thought about the need for books that help children understand the disease while illustrating how to continue to love and support a family member who experiences dramatic memory changes. Only now, years after my family lost my husband’s mother to this terrible brain disease, are children’s books that address dementia beginning to appear.

Grandma, an easy-to-read picture book written and illustrated by Jessica Shepherd, fits the bill. Young Oscar shares his thoughts about his grandmother, describing the fun they have, the fond ways they interact, and the changes that have come about since she “started forgetting a lot of things.” He describes how she lives in a new community, with caregivers, and tells about his visits.

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GPS in Shoes: A Product that Makes Sense and Helps People

Take a look at an article, George Mason Professor Champions Shoes with GPS Tracking, that describes how Professor Andrew Carle developed the idea of using GPS chips in the shoes of older adults who tend to wander because of brain diseases. According to the Washington Post report Professor Carle contacted a shoe company that produces GPS children’s shoes and proposed using the same technology in shoes for elders who have Alzheimer’s and dementia.

GPS Shoes

Visit a company that sells GPS echoes.

The February 25, 2014 article, by Tom Jackman, describes how the shoes, which cost around $299, can help families, caregivers, and police locate an older adult who has wandered away from home or is lost. The newest technology puts the GPS device into the insole of a shoe, allowing it to work in different pairs of shoes.

To be used successfully by an individual with dementia, a family needs to arrange for a cell phone plan and a way to charge the GPS device each day. The cost of the shoe combined with these extra expenses puts the shoes out of reach of many family budgets. However, the advantages of the device combined with technical advances and the sheer number of patients who will suffer from brain diseases in the coming years may make this technology more affordable to greater numbers of people.

Check out the article and take a look at a website that sells the shoes.

Other Links on GPS Technology and Shoes

Senior Moment or Alzheimer’s?

As the adult children of aging parents most of us are used to hearing friends and colleagues make the “senior moment” comment. Often when a person over 45 or so has difficulty remembering something, he or she will comment, “…oops, I’m having a senior moment.” I began noticing this in my late 40′s and now, a few years later, it happens at least once a day. I make the comment, too, though I am trying to stop saying it.

Part of this is joking about the normal changes occurring in our brains as we grow older, according to a February 9, 2010 Washington Post article, Memory Lapses Are Common and Increase with Age; When Do They Signal Alzheimer’s? As we get older, our brains become less efficient and we store information less effectively.

My husband's mother would throw her toothbrush into the wastebasket or put it in her sewing box.

My husband’s mother would throw her toothbrush into the wastebasket or put it in her sewing box.

However, now that I have watched the steady decline and eventual death of a family member with dementia I feel my forgetfulness more intensely. As my mother-in-law’s continued experience  more severe dementia symptoms, we found dozens of friends and acquaintances who were experiencing or had experienced the same disease in their families. Just about every person occasionally worried about the potential for dementia in the future. When my husband and I had a moment to think about ourselves during that time, and it was not that often, we wondered how we might prevent dementia from occurring in our lives. It doesn’t feel like a joke that the senior moment comment implies.           Continue reading

Should Physicians Ask Fragile Elders About Guns in Their Homes?

Some time ago I read a newspaper article written by an elderly man who was caring for his wife, who had Alzheimer’s disease. He was doing much of her care at home, and his article spoke of their history, how they had met, his family, and much more about their life together. He was sad but upbeat. A few months later, in the same paper I read an obituary for that man who had shot his wife and committed suicide.

The two articles, juxtaposed, made me feel great sadness. It drove home to me just how helpless and depressed people become — especially those who had great control over their lives — when confronted by a family member who has one of the dementia brain diseases.

The July 9, 2013 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine features a journal commentary, Geriatric Patients, Firearms, and Physicians, recommending that physicians evaluate an elder’s firearms risk just like they evaluate other risks such as driving and living alone. The author, Marshall B. Kapp, JD, MPH, points out that the “use of firearms, has become the most common suicide method for both geriatric men and women.”

The Recommendations in the Article?                Continue reading

New Yorker Article on New Models of Long-term Elder Care

This is the issue where the article appeared.

This is the issue where the article appeared.

If you can locate a copy of The New Yorker May 20, 2013 article The Sense of An Ending by Rebecca Mead, it’s well worth reading because of its focus on new models of providing care to fragile elders with dementia illnesses in nursing homes. The article extensively describes the Beatitudes Campus in Arizona, but it also mentions The Green House Project and the Pioneer Network. The Beatitudes model and The Green House Project  share many approaches.

So I was excited during dinner with friends last month when one of the people at the table, a neurologist, mentioned The New Yorker article, saying how excited he was to learn about new models that completely change the way we deliver care  to fragile elders, especially those with memory impairments. After he spoke at length about the article — which I had not read yet — I shared information and my blog posts about the new Woodland Park Green Houses in Harrisonburg, VA. Our physician friend seemed really eager to learn a lot more.

I”ve spent the past several years learning as much as I can about The Green House Project, primarily because my parents live at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community (VMRC), where the Woodland Park community recently welcomed new residents. However, I’ve been so focused on this small Virginia project (but huge in spirit and dedication) that I’ve not thought much about how people can share information on the amazing changes that are taking place in long-term nursing care.

Certainly educating neurologists — the physicians all over the country who provide medical care to people with dementia and Alzheimer’s and who may, in the long run, be asked for their thoughts on the types of memory care that are available to families is a path to consider.

Musician Amy Grant on Caregiving for Her Dad

Amy Grant

Visit Amy Grant’s website.

If you help to support an aging parent and also like listening to folk music with strong spiritual themes (also called Christian pop), take a few minutes to listen to singer Amy Grant talk about caregiving for her aging father, a retired physician, and how these experiences influence her music.

During the program, broadcast via AARP radio, Grant also speaks about her mother, who had dementia. Grant’s newest album, How Mercy Looks from Here, came out this past spring (2013), and the music is shaped, in part, by the time she has spent supporting her parents.

In a short NPR story Amy Grant talks a bit more about the inspiration for her newest album. Read her Wikipedia bio. Grant offers a few of her caregiving tips on this YouTube video, and a Huffington Post story, Caregiving Can Be Such a Lonely Process, links readers to  Grant’s 2012 conversation on Katie Couric’s program.