Do you ask yourself “What can I do to help find a cure for Alzheimer’s?” One easy way is to become an advocate. When you sign up at alz.org they will e-mail you when a bill is before congress so you can easily e-mail your representatives and encourage them to support funding Alzheimer’s research. Here are the facts from the just released 2014 statistics:
These are the facts, but even more important is the impact a cure will have on the millions of people diagnosed with AD and their caregivers. We know what a devastating illness this can be as one loses their abilities to function when they lose their memory. We observe the deterioration as our loved forgets how to remember ideas, then people, then how to prepare a meal, get dressed, how to walk and talk, and finally how to swallow nourishment.
A group of nearly 900 advocates will be calling on their elected representatives later this month, on March 25, 2015. I have been invited to attend by the Alzheimer’s Association and to work to get representatives to join the Alzheimer’s Task Force, which currently has 180 members from both parties and from both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Task Force is active in securing funding for Alzheimer’s research and in raising the awareness of Alzheimer’s disease.
Please consider joining me in Washington D.C. Registration is still open.The Association will train you in the two days before we meet with our representatives so you will know exactly how to proceed.
If that’s not feasible for you, do sign up and e-mail your representatives, especially between now and March 25, to let them know youare counting on them to help. We need to impress on them the immediacy of this need to find a cause and cure. Thank you for stepping up and being counted in this endeavor.
It’s the beginning of a brand new year. The time we reevaluate our life and think of resolutions we can make which would improve it. One way to make your caregiving life easier is to learn to embrace the present moment.One quote that has great impact in my life is from the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu:
“If you are worried, you are living in the past.
If you are anxious, you are living in the future.
If you are at peace, you are living in the present moment.”
It can take some time to release the worrisome knowledge that your loved one with Alzheimer’s will never return to the way she was before the disease. It can take effort to not be anxious about what the future will bring in the way of lessened abilities. Instead of focusing on the past or the future, I invite you to learn to embrace the present moment, especially when interacting with your parent with AD.
Think about this. Perhaps your parent is at the stage where she no longer can clearly remember the past, nor be able to envision the future. Therefore, by necessity, she lives in the present moment. By joining her at that level, you are able to open up a whole new world of experiences that the two of you can enjoy together.
This shift in my awareness brings me to an appreciation of all that is happening around me. When I focus on my blessings (the good parts that still exist), they grow and increase in importance in my mind. As I look for the good in the situation, I choose to keep my mind and heart open wide to experience the present moment. As I allow myself to relax into the present time and place, all else fades away.
We live in a state of gratitude and appreciation when we simply allow the present moment to unfold just as it is. The simple willingness to look and listen and be aware reveals whole new worlds of possibility.
As I quiet the noise of the outside world, I more clearly hear my inner wisdom... guiding my steps, whispering to me how to embody the blessings of each moment. As I attune myself and listen to my intuition without judgment, wonderful ways of living in the moment are discovered and embraced. The sound of traffic fades away as I focus my hearing on the melodies of the birds cheerfully singing their praises. They are living in their now moment and fully embracing it. Each time I hear bird song now, I will remember... to breathe... listen... and Be in the now moment. When I focus my attention on what my parent and I CAN do, I find that we CAN DO more. There are lots of ways that we can still interact together, sharing joy and companionship.
I expand the way I look at situations in order to see through the eyes of understanding. New visions of how to appreciate each moment flow into me with great clarity. I perceive the beauty expressed in each precious moment as I move through this mystery of life.
I turn my focus away from any appearance of lack and practice focusing my attention on the good which is in my life, right here, right now. An easy way to start is to embrace the magnificence of the world of nature that surrounds me. When I watch the opulence of the sunrise - as its luminous colors unfold before me - I will remember... When I watch the day’s sunset - as vibrant hues splash in dazzling contrast to a darkening sky - I will remember... Each sunrise and sunset I will remember to acknowledge that beauty surrounds me, as I center and anchor myself in the exquisite moment.
As I allow myself to become fully present in the moment, I set my intention to let go of directing my thoughts and instead choose to be guided by my inner wisdom, my intuition. When I make this conscious decision, I am filled with peace. I may no longer have the past or the future to share with my loved one, but we can both experience joy in our moments of connection. When we feed the ducks at the park we are totally absorbed in the charming interaction. Although mom may not remember it tomorrow, she is thoroughly enjoying the experience while it happens. For although there are periods for her when time seems to stand still, at other times her eyes can shine with delight as she revels in the joy of the moment. Focus your attention on creating these moments of joy to share. Join her there in the moment and life will be more rewarding for both of you.
Sherry Lynn Harris’ new book “Adapting to Alzheimer’s” is being released November 4, 2014. "In this remarkable book, Sherry Harris takes the reader on a gripping, emotional journey. She has described many coping strategies forged from her own experiences. It is truly the ultimate survival guide," Ron Pellet, Alzheimer's caregiver.
A book signing event will be held on Friday night Nov. 14 at 7 pm at Unity West, 650 Via Cristina, Newbury Park, for friends and members of Unity. A book launch event for the general public will be held on
Sat. Nov. 15, 9 am – 1 pm at Senior Concerns, 401 Hodencamp, Thousand Oaks.
Free memory screenings are available by calling (805) 496-0189 and appointments are offered at intervals between 9-10 am and 12-1 pm. From 10:15-11:45 Sherry will be speaking on “What’s Next? and How to Adapt” and Viki Kind, Bioethicist, will be speaking on “What I Wished My Father and I Had Known.”
Sherry will be selling and signing her book, which details unique insights and storytelling that offer hope and inspiration and describe how the caregiver can support themselves. It is based on the 18 years Sherry spent caring for her Mom with Alzhiemer’s and how they survived – and thrived. “A must have for anyone caring for a loved one with dementia. Beautifully written, tremendously practical,” Andrea Gallagher, 2013 President, Life Planning Network. The e-book is currently rated Five stars at amazon.com and is also available at Nook, iBooks, Kobo, and Google.
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Volunteering at the “Walks to End Alzheimer’s” such an uplifting, joyful experience. I met Pansy, the bubbling, effervescent dynamo who inspired a whole team of people to walk with her. She has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and no one wants this bright shining light of hers to fade.I met Wanda, gently holding her blue flower pinwheel, which spins softly around and around, as the wind twirls through the petals. The blue color signifies she has Alzheimer’s disease. She was
joined by her loving husband who knew that, while she might not have the stamina to make the 2 mile walk, she could certainly join the fun riding their unique bicycle built for two. I watched while he sweetly and carefully sat her in the back position and attached her feet to the pedals with Velcro and then took up the front position to provide the real pedal power. We handed out purple “Walk to End Alzheimer’s” t-shirts to every person who raised $100 in donations, and t-shirts emblazoned with “Champion” for those who raised over $1,000. Cheerleaders with pom-poms provided youthful energy, and a rousing send-off for as participants walked under an arch of purple and white balloons.
The walks are in lovely areas, often around a lake or a lush green park lined with trees wafting a light breeze to keep participants cool and refreshed. Each walker chose a flower pinwheel to carry, purple if they have lost a family member to the disease, yellow if they are a caretaker, blue if they have Alzheimer’s, and orange if they are there to show support in raising funds for further research. How vibrant and colorful it looked when we all raised our flowers to the wind – an ocean of so many people who are dedicated to improving the lives of those with Alzheimer’s.
Join in the fun and contribute to finding ways to diagnose and treat this disease, which is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Walk for Alzheimer’s. Walks are scheduled in different geographic areas from September through November. Input your zipcode at www.alz.org and locate the ones closest to where you live. Here are some examples for California:
Oct. 4 Oceanside
Oct.11 Oxnard and Monterey
Oct. 18 San Luis Obispo and Long Beach
Oct. 25 Thousand Oaks
Nov. 1 Huntington Beach
Nov. 8 Santa Barbara
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Adapted from a talk by Molly Rockey based on www.heartmath.org
A powerful way to improve mental, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being is to invoke and sustain sincere appreciation. Appreciating yourself, a loved one, friend, pet, even a cherished place or memory also quickly establishes a connection to your heart. The greater your capacity for sincere appreciation, the deeper the connection to your heart, where intuition and unlimited inspiration and possibilities reside.
Appreciation connects you with your heart and can transform your attitudes about life.
Try HeartMath’s Appreciation Tool and exercises:
Take two or three appreciation breaks each day, ideally in early morning, at work or school, while returning home or before bed. Simply follow the steps above. It takes as little as two minutes to achieve mental, emotional and physical balance.
Make a list of things you appreciate such as people, places, activities and pets and choose one or two each morning to hold in your heart during the day. Choose one to hold in your heart throughout the night while you rest.
Keep your Appreciation List close by all day, perhaps in a pocket or purse, at your desk or computer. In stressful moments, choose something from your list that can quickly evoke a feeling of appreciation: It can transform a long and stressful day into one that flows – amazingly in 30 seconds or less.
No caretaker is likely to love your parent as much as you do. In being an advocate for your parent, accept the responsibility of showing the nurses and other caretakers, through the way you lovingly care for your parent, that your mother is an important person who is loved and valued for who she is. By your demonstrations of devotion, you are encouraging them to view your mother as an individual; by making a connection with them at a heart level, you can inspire them to want to take excellent care of your loved one.
Once you have made a true connection with each of her caretakers, it allows you to take time for yourself away from your mother, knowing she is in good hands and that the best care possible is being given. In this way you have expanded the people who are interested in her well-being, effectively multiplying the number of people who want to make her life as pleasant as possible. This is a wonderful way to lighten the load you carry.
Look for other ways to delegate. Perhaps there is a child or grandchild who can visit regularly, or members of her church or former clubs. Enlist her friends to visit. If she is living in a place which offers group activities, read over the calendar with her to decide which events she would like to attend and be sure she gets signed up so the staff knows to include her.
If she is living with you and is highly functional, look into classes she might enjoy attending at your local Senior Center. BALLROOM DANCING has been shown to be particularly effective in retaining brain function (New England Journal of Medicine). When she needs more supervision, look into the possibility of an Adult Day Care Center, which gives you several hours at a time when she can be safely entertained by others. She gets the opportunity to make new friends, to socialize, to be involved in light exercise and art or craft projects while you can use the time as a welcome break. Remember that it is simply human nature that the more appreciative you are of the staff, the more likely they will be to be attentive and appreciative of you and your parent.
Try to keep in mind that all of the responsibility need not weigh on your shoulders alone. Find ways to involve others in your parent’s care and reap the benefits. It can give your loved one a variety of mental stimulation, allow others the opportunity to enjoy interaction with your parent and effectively lighten your load.
There are many benefits to both the caregiver and their loved one with Alzheimer’s disease when they take time to simply be surrounded by nature. The information in this post is adapted from the Feb & June 2011 studies of Health and Well-Being Benefits from Texas A & M University http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/faculty/hall/publications/JEH%2029%282%29%2096-103.pdf
These studies show that being surrounded by plants, flowers and nature has positive effects on an individual’s concentration and memory, reducing stress, improving energy, empathy and compassion, and having a positive effect on overall mental health.
“The calming influence of natural environments...increases a person’s abilities to concentrate on the task at hand. The influence of plants can increase memory retention up to twenty percent, stimulating the senses and improving mental cognition and performance."
“Natural aesthetic beauty is soothing to people, and keeping flowers in and around the home is an excellent way to lower levels of stress and anxiety. People who keep flowers in their home feel happier and more relaxed."
Gardening and landscaping activities are “an effective way to reduce levels of stress. Studies have shown that people who nurture plants and gardens have less mental distress than others. Gardening provides people with a positive way to channel their stress and frustration into something beautiful that provides them with comfort and joy. Part of the effects of gardening come from the satisfaction people get from nurturing and helping a living thing grow.
Plants and gardening soothe people because they help them turn their stressful feelings into something positive which gives them pleasure. By helping them transform their stress into a more positive emotion, gardening also gives people an excellent coping mechanism for their daily frustrations. Nurturing plants reduces stress levels and gives people a way to cope with their negative feelings.”
Studies have shown that “extended exposure to nature and wildlife increases people’s compassion for each other as it increases people’s compassion for the environment in which they live. In short, being around plants improves relationships between people and increases their concern and empathy toward others.
Spending time in nature gives people an increased feeling of vitality, increasing their energy levels and making them feel more animated. Their performance levels are, in turn, increased by this improved state of mind. Natural environments induce a positive outlook on life, making people feel more alive and active. Plants can help people to improve their performance at work and at home by increasing their perceived vitality and giving them more feelings of added energy.
People who spend more time outside in nature have a significantly more positive outlook on life than people who spend a great deal of time indoors. Living in naturalized settings increases people’s feelings of vitality and energy, and consequently has a large positive effect on their overall mental health.”
Think of ways you can help yourself and your loved one spend more time in nature, simply soaking up the beauty and healing energy from plants and flowers. Make sure your loved one can see a view of nature out their window, even if it is only a window box with flowers blooming there. Take walks in the park or anyplace that provides a beautiful natural setting. For example, if you have a garden, spend time sitting there together, enjoying the touch of the breeze and the sound of the birds singing.
If your loved one has the ability to garden, help her plant some flowers and/or vegetables. Studies show that “People who keep flowers in their home feel happier and more relaxed.” When it is time to pick the flowers, let her arrange them in a pretty container and set it in a special place, like the dining room table, and be sure to have everyone praise her for her efforts. Or when it’s time to harvest the vegetables, make sure everyone knows that Dad grew them himself, and praise how delicious they taste.
If you need a simpler way to garden, try an herb garden grown by your kitchen window. Again, be sure everyone praises how the delicious herbs she grew added to the flavor of the meal. She will feel she is making a significant contribution to the family and you will be pleased that together you found another way to share good times.
While I was caring for my mother with Alzheimer’s, trying to feel happy sometimes seemed beyond my abilities. So often we think that we must have the feelings of the emotion before we demonstrate it; that is, we should feel happy first, and then we will subsequently act happy. This is not the case in actuality. The truth is, when we act as if we were happy, those actions contribute to creating a sense of happiness.
If you feel you need help in order to act happy, first relax by taking deep breaths. No one ever taught me how to breathe – I just did it instinctively. Imagine my surprise when I found out I was not doing it correctly! The appropriate way is when we take a deep breath, our stomach should protrude outwards and when we exhale, it should go back down.
Try lying down on the floor, right now. Relax your body and begin to draw in a deep breath. You can find your pulse with your fingers on your wrist, or on the side of your neck. Try breathing in to the count of seven of your heartbeats, and then breathing out to the count of seven. Pay attention to how the tummy rises when the breath enters, and how it recedes when the breath exhales. By repeating this several times, you become successful at slowing down and focusing your attention on your breath. As a result, you are now no longer focusing your thoughts on any outside concerns; instead, you are focused in the present moment, and this is a huge step forward towards achieving a relaxed state.
Once you feel fully relaxed, stand up with your feet flat on the ground and continue to breathe slowly, watching the breath come in as the tummy rises and seeing it recede as the breath leaves the body. Next, you can increase your positive energy with some exercises in visualization. We know that the core of the center of the earth is molten magma. Visualize your feet growing roots down into the earth and see this hot golden energy rising up from the depths and penetrating into your body, growing in intensity as it moves up through your feet. Now raise your hands over your head, as if you are reaching for the stars. Picture yourself gathering up the energy of all the light in the cosmos – the stars, the sun, the moon - and visualize that revitalizing white light flowing down your arms and into your body. Within your tummy, the healing white light from above mixes and melds with the force of the golden magma energy coming up from below, filling your body and imparting to you a feeling that combines peaceful energy with powerful energy.
Now that you have accessed your calm, peaceful yet powerful energy, think about something or someone that makes you smile. For many, thinking about the unconditional love of a pet brings on a grin. Philosopher Thich Nhat Hanh says scientific studies have shown that by arranging your mouth into a slight smile, you start to feel better, encouraging a feeling of happiness.
Why is it important to find happiness? It is not just so that you can feel better – it is also so the world can be a happier place. Your attitude affects everyone you come in contact with, and you have the ability to lift someone up or to drag them down, simply with your behavior.
One of my favorite bumper stickers says “Look for the good and praise it.” When you turn your attention to looking at the brighter side, finding those things that support you and help you, you can find the world a kinder, more pleasant place to be. It all starts with turning up the ends of your mouth in a slight smile, and seeing where this exercise can take you.
Memorial Service for Loved Ones
If your loved one is at a stage of Alzheimer’s where they can still communicate their desires,
you may want to consider talking with them about how they would like to be remembered.
For example, before my mother-in-law passed on, she said she had given considerable thought to this question and decided she would like to be remembered by this phrase “She cared, and she shared.”
Your loved one may have a certain poem, reading, phrase or Bible verse that has been important to them which they would like you to include at their Memorial service. So by all means, if you feel you are able to, ask their opinion on this - it will be a comfort to you later on.
The information provided here will give you some ideas on this subject as well as some samples you and your loved one may want to consider.
A lot of basic "how to" information is provided in Chapter 24 “Preparing for Transition” of the book “When Your Parent Becomes Your Child” by Sherry Lynn Harris. In addition to the information provided there, below are some specific readings and you may find one that sets just the right tone for what you want the Memorial service to communicate.
The ceremony will most likely focus on who your loved one was before the final stages of the disease and on what is the legacy they are leaving behind. For example, determine what was of vital importance to her: perhaps she was dedicated to serving her family delicious home-cooked meals. We’ve had someone whose recipe for her best-known dish was included in the Memorial Service Program. Another way to honor her legacy would be to serve one of her best-loved recipes at the reception following the service.
If he loved camping and was very close to nature, you may want to honor that by holding the service outdoors, perhaps in your back yard or at a park or nearby nature preserve.
If he had a favorite song, it's nice to include that in the service. Songs which are often used include “Amazing Grace,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “I’ll Be Seeing You,” and “The Lord’s Prayer.” Live musicians are great, but if that is not available, you can still create a lovely mood by playing a recording of their song.
If you have creative relatives who wish to contribute, they can put together a photo collage or slide show or, if they are technologically savvy, even a movie of your loved one’s life, using their favorite music as a backdrop for the photos.
If there are children involved, you may want to ask them if they would like to participate in a simple way. For example, each child could come up to light a candle and say what one thing they will always remember about Grandpa (i.e. his bear hug, or when they went fishing together).
Decide what you want the function of the service to be. Do you want it to be a celebration of their life? Do you want it to provide an opportunity for the family to heal together? Let the person who is leading the service know, so they can do their best to achieve what you desire. Keep your goal in mind as you choose what selections you want read.
If your loved one was a reader of the Bible, you may want verse read from it. Traditional selections from the Bible include“The Lord is My Shepherd” (23rd Psalm), “For Everything there is a Season” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8), or “The Beatitudes” (Matthew 5:1-12)
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters.
3 He restores my soul: he leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil:
for you are with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies:
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.
2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build up,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to throw away stones and a time to gather stones together,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to seek and a time to lose, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to sew, a time to keep silence and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.
The Beatitudes (Matthew 5)
Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him,
2 and He began to teach them, saying:
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.
If you are looking for readings from other sources, there are many which may resonate with you, such as the following:
This reading is from a Native American Chief
I want to lie down in dappled leaf-shade
In quivering shadows of quivering leaves –
Be they oak, be they maple
Be they elm or birch.
I want to rest in the play of shadows
Over my reclining form.
I want to be caressed by shadows
Of wavering leaves,
Soothed off to sleep
Feeling the gentle breeze.
Looking up at the rustling
After all is said
After all is done
This, this is the way
I would choose to say goodbye.
Right here, in this chapel, on this hill.
In The Next Room
Death is nothing at all:
I have only slipped away
into the next room.
I am I and you are you;
Whatever we were to each
other, that we are still.
Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me
in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference in your tone:
Wear no forced air or solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the
little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting
for you, for an interval, somewhere very near,
Just around the corner. All is well.
There Is No Death
I am standing on the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength, and I stand and watch her
until at length she is a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.
Then someone at my side says, “There! She’s gone!”
Gone where? Gone from my sight is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side,
and she is just as able to bear her load of living weight to destined harbor.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just as the moment when someone at my side says
“There! She’s gone!”
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout,
“There she comes!”
If you would like to include a prayer, one of these is often chosen:
The Prayer For Protection (by James DIllet Freeman)
The Light of God surrounds me.
The Love of God enfolds me.
The Power of God protects me.
The Presence of God watches over me.
Wherever I am, God is!
The Prayer of St. Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Sherry Lynn Harris is a trained Prayer Chaplain and experienced in conducting Memorial Services. If you are interested in engaging her to lead your Memorial Service, please fill in the form under the “Contact Us” heading and she will get right back to you with care, comfort, and experience to help you through this process of healing and closure.