Saturday, January 31, 2009

Valentine's Day past 1

I found this little essay I wrote 17 years ago … no, it can't be that long since my now 26-year-old son was nine years old!!!

It was perhaps the simplest form of love.

My most memorable Valentine’s Day was chaperoning my nine-year-old son as he went out with a girl he called his friend. She was quiet, her voice barely above a whisper when she talked to my husband and me. (Of course, they had chatted non-stop in the car’s back seat.)

“What pizza topping do you want, hon?”
Whisper whisper whisper.
“I’m sorry, hon, which one do you want?”
We caught it this time.
“Pepperoni,” we announced to the waitress.

Her gentleman friend ordered the same before they scurried off to play on the video machine. That was a reassuring feeling, handing over $2 worth of quarters to the pair. That was still fun at this age.

My heart ached and laughed during the evening. In barely four months, my little boy would reach that hallmark of 10. He was sensitive yet caring, quiet yet the socialite, polite yet still a child. He was the blend of our hopes and dreams, and we knew some tough days were still ahead …

More tomorrow

Thursday, January 29, 2009

All About Alzheimer's 4

More about my Wii adventure at the Alzheimer's Association Central Illinois Chapter …

After I had gone through the group a second round, it was Lucky Joe's turn again to bowl. He got up a little easier this time as we prepared to bowl the 10th frame. I told him we had a chance to get that extra throw if we knocked 'em all down. Again, our right hands worked together to throw that ball.

And yes, we got the spare that time and everybody cheered! I was patting him on the back and laughing. Grinning, his eyes got real big when I told him we had one more throw. And we went through the steps again to knock about half of them down. I thanked and congratulated him, saying I knew I had a champ.

So, what is the summary of this, what I consider a beyond-the-Ph.D. experience in interacting with folks with Alzheimer's?

Just be with them, and they'll be with you in their own precious way.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

All About Alzheimer's 3

More on my big Wii experience at the Alzheimer's Association …

Some clients were timid. A couple felt right at home with a little coaching to stir their memories. One showed off her bent fingers from too many years of throwing those big, heavy balls. I believed her. The most beautiful accomplishment they shared was a smile when they heard the crashing of the pins and the applause and cheers of their teammates. The laughter was genuine and deep.

And I absorbed the precious physical connection and emotional bond I had with each to make sure they could play an old game in a new way, and that I could learn a few new tricks, too.

And finally here was my buddy Joe. Let me tell you about this man we affectionally call Lucky Joe. Why is he Lucky? I think that designation came at the support group meeting when his wife Molly told of how she discovered him just in time outside before he completely disassembed the water faucet. Joe may have not thought he was lucky at that moment, but lucky for him, Molly caught him. Actually I think Joe and Molly are just darn lucky to have each other. I know I consider myself blessed every time I see them.

ANYWAY, Joe really didn't want to participate in our little game, though he used to bowl like a pro years ago. In fact, that was one of his earliest dates with Molly, bowling. (She had to have a few lessons ahead of time because it was all new to her, but she liked this guy well enough to learn. Obviously, it paid off.)

It took me a long time to coax him up the first time, but I kept eye contact because I saw the fear and uncertainty in his eyes and "heard" his silence. I acknowledged his fear without words and waited for a "window" of comfort, just something I knew would be there. Then I took his hand and got him to stand up, and he cracked a joke. I knew we were going to be OK.

I told him what WE were going to do together and literally held his hand as he watched everything I did in molding his fingers around the control and how I wrapped mine around his. We did practice swings together as I described how we were going to let go of the trigger. Yes, it took a while, but that was fine with me and everybody else. He and I swung together easier as his arm relaxed a little more each time, that sense of trust coming through. We bowled one frame, two shots, and I think the score was 6 or 7 total, which was pretty good. He got the biggest grin and laughed.

More tomorrow …

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

All About Alzheimer's 2

Here's more of my story about my experience at the Alzheimer's Association support group meeting …

I had a Wii at home so I had been practicing a lot. I had been fascinated by the power of the Wii game system after watching stroke survivors marvel at their newfound abilities to move with greater ease, without the pressure of physical therapy, with the joy of simply enjoying bowling or boxing with arms that had forgotten how to play. It was a beautiful scene to witness.

However, in teaching folks who have Alzheimer's or dementia, I had to learn a lot myself.

Some weren't sure how to hold their hand straight so I could put the wrist strap on them. One kept spreading their fingers apart and twisting their hand because they couldn't comprehend how I was going to slip it on. I gently pushed the fingers together and talked to them softly as I continued and congratulated them when we were done.

Most didn't understand how to hold the controller, how it fit in their hand. I had to carefully coax them as I molded each finger into the proper place. Each hand, its texture and size and shape was different … and my mind imagined everything these hands had touched, grasped, crushed, pressed, captured and freed with that multitude of precise, tiny, mighty muscles over a lifetime. Oh, if our hands could only talk …

Several had no idea what to do when I asked them to push or press or let go of the trigger. One let go of more than just the trigger but the whole controller. I laughed with them and said, "That's why we put it on our wrist." At first, some of them were a little hesitant about me wrapping my hand around theirs to help them move their fingers, but when I looked them in the eye and reassured them with a smile, they quickly relaxed and allowed me to guide them every inch … reminding them at times what was down, up, backward and forward.

Some kept staring at the controller instead of watching the screen to see if they'd made a strike or gutter ball because their minds couldn't connect that the motion of their hands was linked to that big screen on the wall. I told them to look up as I gave a running commentary, "Look, look, look! C'mon a little more! It's getting there! It's going to make it! See, I knew you could do it!"

More tomorrow …

Monday, January 26, 2009

All about Alzheimer's 1

Ever since I started writing and published my book, "Alzheimer's, Dementia & Memory Loss: Straight Talk for Families & Caregivers," the first in the "Help Me Cope & Survive!" series, I have looked at life in a whole new way. I look at and listen to people with new eyes and ears because Alzheimer's changes our world in ways we don't like or understand.

I had the most amazing experience a few weeks ago while attending the support group meeting for Alzheimer's-dementia clients and their immediate caregivers at the Alzheimer's Association Central Illinois Chapter, where I have spent countless hours in the last three years learning much about these brutal diseases. Though my book is done, I'm still drawn to this group and all the incredible individuals — both families and staff — I've encountered and embraced there.

The group stays together for about a half-hour, and then the clients go with one facilitator and the caregivers go with another one. The large conference room — named the Lee Morgan Educational Center in honor of Mr. Morgan who recently passed away — is divided by those handy dandy heavy accordian walls hidden in the outside walls. As they clasped shut, I was seated with the caregivers. I stared at that curtain and suddenly decided I needed to be on the other side of the wall with the clients.

Leaving my notebook behind, I slipped out and over to where staffer Alisha was trying to interest the group of 7 in the new Wii game recently donated to the center by a volunteer group I belong to, the Pilot Club of Peoria. No, we don't fly planes but we do make a difference in our community, as do the Pilot Clubs in nearly 500 other cities and towns in seven countries.

I had been mastering my Wii bowling skills, and Alisha asked if I'd be the coach today. Sure, no problem, I'd love to! And I ended up being the sole instructor.

There were 7 of them. I had to teach it 7 different ways.

I didn't know I could adapt so quickly and calmly and eagerly and patiently. Actually I taught in more than 7 ways because most of them couldn't remember what they did in the first roll of the frame to repeat it the second throw …

More tomorrow on this …