An Image as a Metaphor for Dementia

alz.quiltWatching a much-loved family member’s gradual memory decline brings with it great sadness. We observe vast amounts of knowledge and personal connection — the inner light of an individual — disconnecting and disappearing.

Recently I spent a morning looking at an amazing quilt exhibit at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community (VMRC).

The quilter, Anne Miller, created exquisite patterns, and images, and I walked up and down the hallway looking at them over and over. One quilt especially caught my attention created in response to the her husband’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. I snapped a picture of it — I was so moved by its light and color shooting out in all directions — and I wrote to Anne Miller asking if I might use my picture here on AsOurParentsAge.net.

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Just Where Is That Fountain of Youth?

Yale University Museum

Fountain by Hans Vredeman de Vries, Dutch,  1527 – ca. 1606 Yale University Museum

Have you noticed how large pharmacies devote more and more aisle space to diet supplements, pills to fix this problem or that, anti-aging products, and vitamins that “can fix” almost anything? I’m also confronted by colorful catalogs and continuous ads, all encouraging me to try one product or another.

Jane Brody has just written an excellent article on the New York Times Well Blog, For an Aging Brain, Looking for Ways to Keep Memory Sharp, Published on May 11, 2015, Brody’s piece focuses on the ways that marketers are taking every opportunity to make us think it’s possible to do something to slow down, or even stop, the aging process, but most have no data to prove the claims.

Read the entire article, but here are two of the best sentences, succinctly summing up Brody’s thoughts:      Continue reading

Alive Inside: This Movie Is Extraordinary!

ec9acd50595499364a6994542e145924_largeYou know a movie speaks to the audience when people just sit there as the credits start to roll rather than getting up and moving out. That’s what happened this evening when my husband and I went to see Alive Inside, the Sundance award-winning documentary about the role that music plays in the lives of elderly people who experience brain disease and loneliness. At first, no one got up to leave.

The other day I described how we watched a preview of Alive Inside at one of Dr. Bill Thomas’ Second Wind events last March and how we were moved to tears. That only begins to describe the reactions in the movie theatre tonight. The people in front of me were tearful and talking about a relative. The young people behind me were sniffling and whispering about their grandmother. I was thinking about my family members.

As I looked around, I observed individuals with hands on their faces, hands folded in prayer, and people with eyes riveted to the screen as we all watched person after person, mostly elders, smile, move, talk, remember, and transform — as the music played. We saw exuberance, animation, even joy come on to faces that, only moments before were vacant.

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Alive Inside: Music Brings Back Memories and Dignity

Music&Memory3

Note: If after reading this post you are interested in seeing the movie, please check out my Alive Inside movie review.

I discovered Alive Inside, the Sundance award-winning documentary film that demonstrates the power that music can exercise over memory loss, a few months ago when my husband and I shared an amazing experience attending the Second Wind Tour. This nationwide  extravaganza that travelled over the country helped Dr. Bill Thomas to launch Second Wind, his new book about aging and the importance of living in deeper and more thoughtful ways, included a partial screening of Alive Inside (check out the trailer below), and I left the event in greater awe of music than ever before. That’s saying a lot because I’m a lifelong musician.

Alive Inside

Find a way to see the movie!

Alive Inside, Michael Rossato-Bennett’s documentary film, tells the story of a man’s determination to try a new kind of therapy with patients experiencing severe memory loss. Dan Cohen gives iPods personalized with music to people with severe memory impairment, and then watches how they listen and respond.The results, you see them right there on the screen, are astonishing.

The fragile people, mostly elders, listening to the music begin to react, interact, and even talk about experiences that the music reawakens. They associate the music with memories that often come rushing back and often with each individual’s ability to talk about the memories. Cohen pursues his projects against considerable odds — namely a healthcare system that treats aging as a medical problem rather than a time of life. Continue reading

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.