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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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

Alzheimer’s and Dementia Resource-National Institute on Aging

Click to download the  book as a PDF or order a print copy.

Click to download the book as a PDF or order a print copy.

Check Out this Easy-to-Use Guide

from the National Institute on Aging (NIA)

If one of your family members or a friend receives a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, this book, Caring for a Person with Alzheimer’s Disease, offers an enormous amount of information and support. It’s organized well, overs a range of resources, and even uses an easy-to-read typeface.

From the NIA Website

This comprehensive, 104-page handbook offers easy-to-understand information and advice for at-home caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease. It addresses all aspects of care, from bathing and eating to visiting the doctor and getting respite care. And it’s filled with resources.

Examples of the Information Provided in Caring for a Person With Alzheimer’s

  • Learn more about caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s with advice on everything from memory issues to holidays to travel to coping strategies
  • Get more specifics about the medical facts.
  • Learn how to seek and find additional help for you and your family member.
  • Find out how to help a caregiver remain healthy and strong.
  • Explore a range of safety tips.
  • Get information about the progression of the disease and the last states of Alzheimer’s disease.

Here’s to the Health of Remembering — Even After Forgetting

If you find yourself forgetting things (and taking more time to remember them than you want), read Dr. Bill Thomas’ post, Tip of the Tongue, over at his Changing Aging blog. He writes about the brain and presents a broad range of research findings that address memory, forgetting, remembering, age, and ageism. As we grow older and despite forgetting, Dr. Bill emphasizes, most of the information is still in our brain as we move toward elderhood, though we are a bit less efficient at retrieving it quickly.

Best Quote from this Changing Aging Blog Post

It turns out that younger brains are good at quickly recalling bits of information (like a name or where you put your car keys) because they have a relatively straightforward filing system. Older people, by dint of long experience, “store” memories within a more diffuse network of brain systems.

brainAt least once a day I have a tip-of-the-tongue experience, and almost always, the thought that I was trying so hard to remember pops into my head sometime later in the day. My parents, age 89 and 85, have the same experience. I do not worry about it, and I encourage them not to worry too much about it, because we almost always remember the information in a relatively short time (or we know where to go to find it).

I stopped worrying about forgetting after I attended a parents’ weekend lecture some years ago at Brown University — in a large lecture hall, standing room only. The lecturer, a professor and brain researcher whose class my daughter was taking (and whose name I cannot remember just now), shared some interesting and reassuring facts using a metaphor of old-fashioned library card catalog.

Important Lecture Points With Some of My Editorial Notes          Continue reading

More on Tracking Devices

Take a few minutes to read, Device Tracks Seniors Prone to Wandering, about tracking devices that use GPS sensors to keep track of people who wander and may get lost. This type of device will be useful for families worried about a loved on with memory loss. Writer Anne Tergesen writes for SmartMoney. The product she reviews, Pocket Finder, comes in versions for people, pets, and vehicles.

Now if they could just figure out creative ways to wear these devices, perhaps in clothing or shoes, rather than making people wear them on chains.

Understand More About Age-Related Memory Loss

Learn more about the book.

Just about everyone — aging parents and adult children — worry about memory loss, though many of us turn our angst into jokes about senior moments. This book looks interesting. While I don’t always learn cutting edge new information by reading these Harvard  health publications, I often find the chock full of information that keeps me well-informed about how I can affect my personal health.

Here are two paragraphs from the book’s description at the Harvard health site.

There’s no getting around the fact that the ability to remember can slip with age. Many of these changes are normal, and not a sign of dementia. Improving Memory: Understanding Age-related Memory Loss helps you understand the difference between normal, age-related changes in memory and changes caused by dementia.

The report also offers tips on how to keep your brain healthy, and how to help improve your memory if you’re living with age-related memory loss. One of the key components of this memory-saving program is to keep the rest of your body healthy. Many medical conditions—from heart disease to depression—can affect your memory. Staying physically and mentally active turns out to be among the best prescriptions for maintaining a healthy brain and a resilient memory.

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