Smorgasbord Health – The Dynamics of Change – Our Mental Being

For all readers! (You’re not too young for this!) From our blogger of bloggers, Sally Cronin.

Smorgasbord - Variety is the spice of life

dsc_1737In the previous post I looked at the voluntary and involuntary changes to our body during our lifetime and where we can influence those changes for better health and longevity. This time it is our mental being that is the focus.

In this post I am taking a look at the enforced hardware changes in the brain that affect us all. Also the voluntary choices we make during that process that also impact software function, particularly when we do not upgrade certain programmes.

All of us as we get into our 60s notice physical changes that are obvious when we look in the mirror and also when we exert ourselves physically. We are also aware of changes to the facility with which our major organs deal with their own aging process and the effects of a lifetime of dietary and lifestyle choices, imposed or voluntarily applied.

In all my discussions…

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Truth or Mom?

As a college writing teacher, my students were required to write essays that would answer the question: Is it ever okay to lie?

Paper after paper my students would write “Yes” and go on to support their answers. I knew many people who lied regularly. But it was unusual for me to listen to somebody defend their lying.

The situation was often this: The student would have an elderly parent or grandparent who lived far away. Very far away.  Say, for example, the student lived in New York and the elderly grandparent was living in China. The student’s father was ill and nobody would tell the elderly grandparent back in the homeland. Their reasoning was this: That it would upset the grandparent so it was better to say nothing. I always just focused on the students’ writing, their development of ideas, sentence structure and grammar, but inside I was kind of horrified. How could you not tell a grandparent that their son was sick? Or dying? Or dead?

Recently I’ve started lying to my mom. It just happens. She’s elderly and has dementia. So when my husband came home from a business trip with a broken leg, did I tell her? Absolutely – NOT.

Last month I detected a large lump on the back of my head. To the doctor and hospital I went. Did I tell my mom? Absolutely – NOT. The lump thankfully turned out to be just a fatty deposit.

Sometimes I have to get my mom up and walking. She’ll stay in bed all day until dinner unless somebody gets her up and walking. I’ll call her around noon or 1pm and tell her it’s time to take a walk down the hall. She’ll ask, “Can I go back to bed after this?” I answer, “Absolutely!” Then in an hour I’ll tell her that her aid is coming. I don’t mention that her aid will be getting her onto the exercise bicycle.

Last week her home health aid texted me that my mom didn’t want to do a certain activity. She texted me, “I hate to lie to her but sometimes I just have to, to get her there.” To the home health aid I wrote, “You’re not lying. You are honest when you say, “Yes, you can go back to sleep after this. You’re just not telling her that she cannot go back to sleep right after this.””

It’s disturbing to not tell the truth, or to withhold the truth. It’s a line to be very very careful about. I have to decide in each and every case. But it does feel right to not worry somebody who, as part of her medical condition, lacks initiative and needs a little ‘help’ to get moving. I know what the consequences would be of my mom laying in bed all morning and afternoon. They would not be good.

With my husband’s broken leg, what I don’t want to have happen is for my mom to feel that she’s burdening me with taking care of her, on top of taking care of my husband. That could really be bad.

Maybe there’s somebody around and my mom will ask, “Have I ever met her (or him) before?” There was a time when  – without hesitation – I would say “Yes.” But now I hedge. “I don’t think so,” and she’ll feel better. It’s hard enough for her – she knows, she really really knows, that her memory is failing. Badly. But I’m not going to rub it in and feel unnecessarily badly about her condition.

Okay, let’s not call it a lie. Maybe let’s call it less than truth.

The last time I drove home from visiting her, a 7-hour drive mostly in the dark, she wanted me to call her when I got home. It was getting really late. Really late. Like middle of the night late. There was no way I was going to phone her at 3am. I considered lying and telling her I had arrived home, safely. NO I couldn’t do that. What if something actually happened to me on the road after I phoned her? Next idea: I might make her angry, but the call went something like this: “Mom, it’s getting late and I’m not home yet but I’m only an hour away from home. I’m not going to call you again because it’s just getting too late.” And she said, “That’s fine, dear. Thank you and drive safely.”

My religious tradition says one may lie to preserve the cause of peace, not to hurt another person’s feelings, or to provide comfort. One may also lie in a situation where honesty might cause oneself or another person harm.

Honestly, it’s not always so easy to tell what that line is. And dealing with aging parents is difficult enough. Maybe some of my students had this right all along.

 

 

Weight Loss for Seniors (and Others) – It Starts with the Haircut

Most of us at my age are pondering whether or not to begin to take social security payments, or when it’s time to retire. Both of these questions pale in comparison to the big one:

After having snacked and overindulged my way through the 15 years, is this the body weight I want to have for the rest of my life? Do I want to have this blob in my midsection for the next 30 years?

I used to tuck my stretch skirts under the blob that my tummy consisted of, and float my shirt over them. (Know what I’m referring to?) My husband would reach over and pull the skirt up over the blob.  I could grab the blob in one hand. Maybe two. One summer day I tried on a favorite dress, and struggled to zipper it or looked at my profile in the mirror and had to whisper “NO” and start all over. That was one too many times.

You should recognize by now that you don’t have to be over 60 to know what I’m talking about. After years of a little late night snacking here, a second helping of desert there, I borrowed from the Rabbi and sage Hillel the Elder: “If not now, when?”

Now two months into this commitment, I’m offering up my advice – nowhere near as sage as Hillel the Elder’s, but at least worth a few bytes of space on some server – for a successful weight loss journey:

    • Couple your weight loss with something else drastic that you’ve been wanting to do for a while. I had also been wanting to cut my hair short, to how I’d worn it as a child. So one day I went into the salon and said to my stylist, “I’ve been talking about this for years. Let’s do it.”                                                                                                                                                 short-cutsShe lopped it off, and the compliments haven’t stopped.  And I’ve already accomplished step 1 of my look better feel better plan. That has given me confidence to go on with this endeavor.
    • Be prepared for the long haul. The hardest may be the beginning, but this is not going to be short and easy. Say goodbye to the quick and easy weight loss of our 20s or 30s or even 40s. Week 1 will become Week 2, which will become Week 3, soon Month 1, Month 2 and so on. Our metabolism has changed, our muscle mass has diminished. You don’t need a new scale! To encourage you, try looking at how your clothing feels, if it’s looser and better fitting. But be encouraged that while you’re changing your eating habits for now, you’re also creating new eating habits for the long run.
    • Do you have any medical conditions that a change in diet could help with? Consider that and incorporate this into your new eating habits. Are you also pre-diabetic? Or have high blood pressure, that a change in what you eat could also mediate? My breakfast is now two hard-boiled eggs and because I have high cholesterol, I remove 1-1/2 of the yolks (leaving me only 1/2 yolk, to add a little flavor and color). I’m also pre-diabetic, so I have eliminated ice-cream and cake. An orange might be my fruit serving;  juice is also eliminated for the same reason, as one glass of juice is equivalent to 4 or more oranges and is too high in fructose sugars. I’m having some almonds each day for snacking, as recommended by the dietician. We eat more Omega3-rich and other foods, suggested to avoid Alzheimer’s., a fatal disease that currently has no cure and which is the cause of death for 1 out of 3 seniors. I have two small Stella D’Oro Swiss Fudge cookies after dinner as my daily indulgence.
    • Do not accept quitting. You’re a train on a track, and you cannot get off. Stay the journey. You cannot get off the diet tonight, and say “The diet begins tomorrow.” Some diets, such as the 5-2 diet, allow you to be “off” the diet for 2 out of every 7 days. After several months, I do occasionally have some ice-cream. But don’t then get angry at yourself for doing this. Justlove yourself, reaffirm your goal, and jump back into your seat on the train.

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    • Have a mantra. Mine is “Now or never.” (“I really don’t need this cookie” does not work with me at all!) The only other way for me to lose weight is to become very very ill. That is not an option here. This is about improving your quality of life and living well, not shortening it.
    •  Your diet should not be a foreign language. When you see diets others have eaten and the food looks strange, even the names of food are unrecognizable, that is not for you. Quinoa does not work for me. Work with what you eat and love.

For example, see this breakfast online.

If I scrambled 1/2 c. egg whites  with 1 t. olive oil, 1 t. chopped basil, 1 t. grated Parmesan, and 1/2 c. cherry tomatoes in the morning, I’d be stimulating the culinary sensory part of my brain way too much and getting off to a very bad start. My hard-boiled eggs are pre-cooked and shelled; I do six at a time, enough for 3 days. All I have to do in the morning is add the spoon of mayo, some salt and pepper, make a egg salad, and eat. My milk is the half and half in my coffee. As in “Would you like some coffee with your half and half?” My blueberries I save for later in the day, when I need a little snacking. etc. And no toast.

That same website has this dinner one evening:

Dinner
4 ounces grilled salmon
1 cup wild rice with 1 tablespoon slivered toasted almonds
1 cup wilted baby spinach with 1 teaspoon each olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and grated Parmesan
1/2 cup diced cantaloupe topped with
1/2 cup all-fruit raspberry sorbet and 1 teaspoon chopped walnuts

That’s cool with me; we have salmon, or tilapia or maybe chicken, sometimes canned tuna. I dispense with the starches (although serve rice to my husband), except for Friday night and Saturday lunch, when I’ll have some bread. The almonds are my snacking food, for after meals. The spinach is great, and we might have broccoli or mixed veggies, sometimes plucked right from my garden. No sorbet for me. It’s the sugars. For Labor Day, my husband fired up the grill and cooked the chicken outside. Same food but a treat, with the new and exciting flavors.

My snacks may be almonds, a probiotic yogurt for lunch, a glass of milk after dinner.

      •  Exercise, and exercise more.  A friend recently complained because she runs 1/2 hour on the treadmill at the gym each day and she’s not losing weight. Defining your goal as weight loss may be the problem. You want to lose weight, but you also want to slim down. These are two different goals. That 1/2 hour on the treadmill is nice but it’s probably just compensating for all the sitting and driving and sitting and driving that we in this day and age are doing. To LOSE weight, and even importantly to BUILD MUSCLE, you’re going to have to jog on a a track, and go beyond that 1/2 hour on the treadmill. What do you love doing? I love to but only on an outdoor track. I love to play tennis, bike, and swim (mostly outdoors). Whatever you can love doing, do it. Ping pong? Do it, religiously.Why is it important to differentiate between losing weight and slimming down? Five pounds of FAT has much more mass (that is, it’s larger) than five pounds of MUSCLE. If you want to also be slimmer, eat fewer calories but build muscle. (See the photos in this hyperlink.) Don’t have a good way to build muscle? Ask a fitness person at the gym to set you up a program. Walk to the store. Bike, if you dare, and if you can. Don’t just walk your dog; jog with him. Your dog might shed a few needed pounds, and build up some muscle, too.                                                                                                                          9_11_035
      •  Learn from, but don’t be or feel bound by, the popular diets of the day, their pros and cons. Use what works for you, but remember, these diets are contrived, made up. Take the principles of healthy eating, know what is good for you and not good for you, and take it from there. Vegetarians and vegans must also make sure they are not getting malnourished as the days of the diet wear on, into weeks and months. Most of these diets have a reduction in starchy carbohydrates and in fructose and glucose sugars. Most include almonds and some nuts (but not too many). And everybody is agreeing: LOW CARBS!! Take a supplement if necessary, to ensure a well-balanced diet.
      • If you go out to eat, be prepared to leave food, and maybe lots of it, on your plate. Contrary to what you learned as a kid, you do not have to eat everything on your plate. Concerned about food waste? I was at an out-of-town wedding last week, and there was way more food than was healthy even for a male adult who was a foot taller than me. I asked the server to place certain items in a bag for me to carry out and I kept everything cool in the hotel mini-fridge. (I also have traveled using our camping cooler.) This worked out well since I was out of town and needed to eat the next day.
      • The reward for exercising is NOT eating. The reward for exercising is a healthier you, and progress in your goal of weight loss and slimming down (building muscle).
      • Get ready to be admired for your resolve. Secretly all around you are people who wish they could lose weight successfully.  They’ll ask, “How did you do it?” They’ll certainly validate you when you’ve lost the weight and tell you how great you look.

You’ll know this diet is working when you have more energy in the morning, more energy through out the day, that’s great. Protein for breakfast, rather than carbos, has worked really well for me. You may also be surprised that after a few months you’ve lost your urges to snack on carbs during the day and in the evening.

Enjoy on that ride!

And to think this all started out with a cute bob haircut!

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Feminism Among the Plaques and Tangles

senior votingIn the tumult and the excitement of the decades of the ’60s and the ’70’s, my dad insisted that I go to college, and ranted and raved if I indicated any level of disinterest or interest in attending a college that wasn’t on his list. Although I would be the first child, and daughter, to attend college, the word “feminism” was never spoken in our home. I was expected to attend college but, ironically, the notion of women’s rights was taboo.

My mom knew when to keep quiet so as not to raise her husband’s hackles, and quiet she continued to keep for years when he had his temper tantrums — even for years after he, the self-appointed chief of our family’s Thought Police, walked out. It took another 45 years after Dad left home for my parents to be officially divorced, allowing Mom to finally sell the family home and discard as much of the old (emotional as well as physically moldy) baggage as possible, and move into the present. The hallelujah celebration was muted, however. Just a few months earlier, signs of Alzheimer’s had appeared. Mom now finally free from one form of oppression, another toxic and unknown form took its place.

Among all the millions of little details of moving an elderly parent from one home to another, and one year later to yet another, is the change of address for the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. And in that process is yet another question:

If you are a registered voter in PA and are changing your drivers license or photo ID address, would you like us to notify your county voter registration office of this change? Yes or No?

YES!

Sometime later, she received her official new voter registration card, which I put in a safe place.

In a political vacuum, Mom and I would talk about whether she was registered as a Republican or as a Democrat. The ghost of the conversation was always about what party her ex-husband, my father, chief of the now former Thought Police, thought was best. Pennsylvania had a long history of being a Republican state.  Meanwhile, her memory and cognitive functioning were in declinem as was her ease with walking.

And then came Hillary.

Primary after primary I heard my mom talk about Hillary. Mom wasn’t interested in watching the debates on TV.  If the content of the debates was lacking in substance or difficult to follow an argument or a position, the brain disease of Alzheimer’s made it even more impossible for her to follow the candidates. No matter. My mom knew whom she wanted to vote for. Hillary. She also knew whom she hated.  Trump.

“I want to throw things at the TV when I see him.”

The Pennsylvania primary was months off but meanwhile we would just have to figure out how to get her to the polls. The senior community would be running buses to the polling site. My biggest fear was that I would determine she had registered as a Republican and would be unable to vote for Hillary in the primaries. When I had time one day, I checked that out… Nope, Democrat. My other fear was that when she got into the voting booth, she would forget whom she wanted to vote for, or wouldn’t be able to figure out how to actually vote. Or maybe she just wouldn’t want to get up and out of bed on that day.

The Pennsylvania primary was one of the last.

The afternoon before the primary, I phoned her to check in. “Hi, Mom.”

In the most casual voice, she answered: “I’m sitting on the floor. I just fell. I used my cane to pull the phone toward me. My legs are off to one side. “

Okay, I remind myself to not panic. Among all the other thoughts encircling what remained of my brain was: Had she broken a bone? Had she fractured the hip that had been replaced years earlier? Did I need to figure out how to get her to the hospital for evaluation and x-rays?

“Mom, I’m going to call the front desk but they might want you to go to the hospital for x-rays. Would you be willing to go?”

“I’d rather not.”

I phoned the front desk, who got security there right away and a nurse from the clinic to her apartment to assist. The nurse determined that it was most likely a groin pull. That was a relief! Still, the nurse asked me to make a judgement call on whether to get her to the hospital for x-rays, just to be certain. I hate making judgement calls like that. Just to be certain.

The rest of the evening, her aid made a special trip in offer assistance, as did my mom’s sister, with ice, food, anti-inflammatories, over-the-counter painkillers, and love and comfort. Mom’s sister brought the supplies of a democracy: a paper sample ballot for a serious training session.  She had my mother practice picking the candidates of her choice. Also of concern was now getting my mom to the bus to the polls the next day. Mom already was walking slower than a sloth even with the assistance of her walker and making more and more stops along the way to catch her breath. How would she ever make it to the Main Building where the bus was picking everybody up?

The following day, my mom’s aid showed up, got Mom dressed, and fed, iced her knees,  groin area, and hip area, applied Voltaren Gel, and had her take more over-the-counter painkillers and anti-inflammatories. She stayed a little longer, long enough to get my mom into her car and drive her to where the bus would pick her up for the 4pm run to the polls.

At 3:35 I phoned my mom. “I’m sitting outside. The breeze is blowing and it’s lovely here. I’d rather be here than inside.” So far so good. Her sister would be along shortly and the two would take the bus ride together to the polls. Mom was relaxed and calm. I was not. “This is so exciting, Mom!”

“What’s the big deal” my mom asked. “I’ve voted before.”

Later that night I phoned my mom.

Through all the amyloid plaques and the tangles of the Alzheimer’s brain, through the loss of memory and what they call cognitive functioning, through her depression and her desires to stop living, feminism – and Mom’s voice – had finally broken through. Mom had voted for Hillary.

Said my mom a bit later, after she’d had some rest, “She’s a woman. I like the fact that’s she’s married to a president. I like her policies. Liberal woman. Aggressive. Conservative. I think she’ll do what’s good for women. Good for the country. Her husband was a good man and they can talk it over. I voted for a Republican candidate once but I can’t remember who.”  Then she answered the question that hung in the air, which settled this question, “I wouldn’t have voted for a woman if I didn’t like her policies.”

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Haiku Challenge: The Calendar

Reblogged and modified from my blog, “Mom, Me, and Elderly.”

TJ’s household weekly haiku website challenges us this week with the household item, a calendar. The calendar has a unique significance to me. To elderly moms, to elderly dads, to adults who are their parents’ caretakers, I dedicate this haiku:

I summon Mother

to mark this day from others.

Behold! We’re still here!

 

I try to “do the calendar” with my elderly Mom each Sunday. It’s the lightest day of the week, and prepares her for the coming week. She finds her pen and marks a big X on the day that just passed. 

It’s always interesting to see what she’s willing to do if we do the calendar at, say, 9pm and there are only three hours left to that day. She is not willing to X out that day.“I’ll just leave it.” 

I see that as a good sign. There is still time in that day, time to be lived. “Okay, Mom. That’s fine.”  In fact, that’s great.

The ritual usually begins with “What day is today?” and I’m not willing to tell her. I want her to figure it out. 

“Well, Mom, yesterday was your doctor appointment. What day of the week is your doctor’s appointment?” I want her to think this through. want her little nerve endings to fire away and connect. I’ll supply the safety net when the memory fails, which it is inclined to do.

“What day is today?” It could be overwhelming. More than 1, less than 30. Last night when we did the calendar, I suggested she try to find my birthday. She found it, and was surprised when I told her that my birthday was two weeks ago. She X‘ed the days and there were a good number of X‘es but she ripped right through them and landed properly on Sunday the 25th. Last night she also wrote down her 2:45 hair salon appointment for today. While I doubted she’d remember the appointment, or even consult the calendar, when “tomorrow” came, it was important for her to do, for many more important reasons.

Some “advice” blogs tell seniors to mark an X on each day at the end of the day. That makes no sense for somebody with dementia: They can’t remember they need to do this in the first place.

It was exceptional when Mom and I did “the calendar” on the first day of January of this new year. Off the wall came the one calendar, and up onto the wall went another. Something we all do, but for an elderly parent who has dementia and isn’t sure what day of the week it is, marking a new year carries heft.

All the more interesting is this process, because we do it by telephone: I’m 300 miles away.

This is the blessing!