Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Thoughts on Turning 95 
 written by Cliff from, Midland, Michigan

I am excited to share a story from my first contributing author. His name is Cliff. He lives in Midland, Michigan, in an Independent Retirement Community. He has lived in Midland all his life.  Now, at 95 after a long retirement and two very successful marriages, he is taking a writing class that is offered by his community.  His teacher, impressed with his skills,  encourages him to share his thoughts as he approaches his hundredth year.  His writing is clear and simple.  You will enjoy this short tale.

Getting into my thoughts at 95 one realizes I am well above average in age.  I think of Grandma Mapes, who was 96 at death, when no one in her family thought anyone would live that long.  She would say when told of 2 family member’s death that they shouldn’t have died.  It should be her turn.  I experience those same thoughts, and as my children are getting past 60 and having ailments, my concern is for their health.

For myself, I plan on making the best of every day given me.  I attend most events at Riverside (senior  living community), know about 60 percent of the residents by first name, and converse with many daily.  I remember a Mexican guide I was talking to.  I told him I liked Mexican people.  They are loving, happy people.  He remarked, “We like you to laugh with us, not at us.”  Now living with many elderly people some with flaky thinking, funny and with many ailments,  I practice what the Mexican guide said, “Laugh with us, not at us.” That I do with all I meet daily.

A problem I have is very poor hearing, and I miss much of what people say unless they face me and talk to me.  I don’t watch TV except sports where I can watch the action.  Otherwise they speak too fast for me to understand.  I tried the channel for the deaf where they print faster than I can read.  Same with the programs that are here, I miss much.  Anne who conducts the writing class has had to use a microphone; that has been a tremendous help.  It helps not only us who have hearing difficulties, but one member of the class is having throat problems and speaks very low.  He has a keen sense of subject and now can be heard by all.

I gave up my car, which I miss.  I had a couple of minor fender benders mostly caused by my trouble turning my head.  I did not want any of my children saying “Dad you need to quit driving.”   Some in here had that happen to them.  My children and some, who do things for me, are very nice about getting me places: shopping, church and meals out which I enjoy.  They also buy things I need when they shop.

Jenny who gets me started 5 days week gets me to doctor’s appointments and sees that I get there.  She goes into the office with me and talks with the doctor about my needs.  Jenny had nurse’s training and uses it very well.

I am very clumsy dropping objects on the floor.  I sometimes have difficulty picking them up.  Sometimes if the object is flat like paper, I have to go to the closet and find the grabber to retrieve them.  I bruise easily getting dark blue spots the size of a silver dollar and have no idea where or when they occurred.

There are some lapses in memory.  I have to do what enters my mind “right now” because a few minutes later it is gone from my mind unless I write it down.  I have to write future dates on the calendar.

 I like to be active, however I avoid things because of my poor hearing like the Super Bowl party. Last Year I tried the party, everyone was laughing and talking, and I could hear nothing.  I decided not to go this year.

I do not fear death.  I do fear suffering o get there.  I pray for a gentle death.  I do fear falling since breaking my right arm and shoulder ligaments in a fall.  I have good strength with my lower arm, I just raise my arm above shoulder height.  I exercise three times a week, and I do walk short distances, about ½ mile per day.  I have a good appetite, maybe too good.  I do have to watch my weight.  I came to Riverside 11 years ago and weighed 182 pounds.  This week I weighed 183 pounds.  Meals here are good.  We have only the noon meal.  I eat a light breakfast and cook my own evening meal.  I think this is  the right place for me at 95.

I do have a safe link apparatus and have to test in on the 10th of the month.  They respond very fast and call me by name.  I don’t know how they do it. It only works in my room and within 1000 feet.  I get my monies worth every day I don’t use it.

I encourage seniors who wish to contribute their stories to write to me.  I also want to hear from adult children who are willing to talk about their experiences with seniors.  I am confident that if I can create a dialogue with my readers, that I will be able to reach more people to let them know they are not alone in the mysterious process of aging.  I want to make my blog a resource for those who want and need this information.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

I Can Still Remember.....

After a discussion with an associate recently about one of her present residents, I couldn’t help but recall my first resident clinically diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It is a sad, but happy story.

Alzheimer’s, in my opinion, is one of the most devastating disease processes I see in my resident population.  It literally destroys the memory piece by piece (I visualize it as being “Pak-Man” of the brain) leaving only dead ineffectual brain cells in its wake.  In the early stages, patients may be aware of their memory loss.  They become apprehensive and frightened at the capriciousness of what can and cannot be recalled.  As the symptoms escalate, unconscious of the changes taking place inside their brain, they fail to recognize spouses, children, or friends.   It is painful to watch the effects of the increasing dementia.  Adult children are often heartbroken when their mom or dad no longer remembers who they are or confuses them with someone else.  Everyone emotionally involved with a loved one with Alzheimer’s suffers a significant sense of loss.

 Ralph was a delightful soft-spoken, kind gentle man who doctors had diagnosed with Alzheimer’s almost a year ago.  He came to our community as a daily visitor because his wife, Laura, felt she could no longer endure the draining effect of the 24/7 supervision he needed.  During the week, she would bring him in the morning and pick him up after dinner in the evening.  She also hoped the social environment would help Ralph have a more meaningful life; more than just pacing back and forth in the same spot or wandering in and out of the lonely rooms in their house.

 At the time we had very few residents with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, so we were able to keep him safely within the general population rather than isolating him in the secured area that had been renovated for dementia care.  Ralph was a talker, and although it was difficult to understand the drift of his conversation, it was impossible not to be attracted to his cheerful disposition. He suffered many of the effects of Alzheimer’s without losing his charming personality.

Ralph was an engineer, and he had owned his own business designing machines for small independent companies.  His expertise as an engineer was so innate that he never quit working, and we encouraged him to continue with his trade.  Our staff would give him a small, soft fabric measuring tape, and supervise while he measured the furniture, the walls, the doors, the windows, and any and all objects he could reach.  He came to my office once a day, whistling with delight.   He took his measuring tape along the wall behind my desk. He pulled the end as far as it would stretch vertically, then horizontally.   When he finished, I would jot the numbers he gave me on a sticky note and hand the paper to him.  It became our private ritual.

Ralph soon had a girlfriend, Maggie.  She, like Ralph had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  I marveled as I watched the two of them.  They frequently sat across from each other at a round table in the activities area.  They talked and laughed, their heads bobbing up and down in agreement. Occasionally they would reach across the table and touch hands like two teenagers.  Listening, I could not recognize or interpret a word or a phrase, but the conversation between the two was explicit to them.  They had been blessed with their own spiritual means of communication.

Laura, Ralph’s courageous wife, is the heroine of this story.  I never heard her complain.  As husband and wife, they must have been well matched.  Like Ralph, she was always friendly and surprisingly cheerful. I admired her spirit.  She was able to love her husband despite his changes, and she patiently accepted his need to be free to meet the challenges he faced without criticism or interference from her.

Although they had been married close to 50 years, she understood that the person she now cared for was not the Ralph that she married, but a new Ralph; one that did not recognize her as his wife, merely as a helpful friend.  Although her heart must have been suffering, she embraced each change in his personality and allowed herself to enjoy it.  “I’m just so happy he’s happy,” she would say.  “If he can’t join me, at least I can be grateful that he is content in his personal world.”  On Christmas Day, she came with a gift for Maggie, Ralph’s new friend.

I regret not keeping in touch with Laura.  She taught us all a lesson in kindness and generosity.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


I often use the phrase “When is not ready too late?  I invented it after hearing “I’m not ready” from hundreds of seniors who were fearful of taking the vital step of relocating to a senior living community. Then once an unforeseen crisis occurs, it becomes ‘too late.’ The opportunity to salvage some well-deserved time in a safe environment, conducive to the peace and welfare of seniors, is lost.

Many in their middle to late 80’s will intuitively sense that they should not live alone, but they cannot emotionally separate themselves from their homes and cherished belongings. They prefer to sit at home, alone with no social interaction, and wait for intermittent visits from family or friends. Seniors are entitled to make their own choices, but sometimes, fear and distrust, prevent them making an objective choice. 

Susan and Sheryl were trying to convince their Mother, Ethel, to move to Florida for two years.  Ethel had lived in Washington DC for the past 10 years, but when she lost the gentlemen whose house she shared; they wanted her closer to them.  She often called them crying, depressed and lonely, but despite her unhappiness, she would not budge from her familiar surroundings.  Ethyl had a history of falling, which worried the two sisters, so they researched assisted living communities, hoping they could convince her to come to Florida. For months they agonized over what to do.

The crisis came when Ethel suffered an impacted colon and was rushed to the hospital.  She suffered from a lack of fiber and nutrition because she lost her interest in cooking.  As a result of improper eating, she became weak and malnourished.  Cheryl flew to Washington to be with her mom while Susan made the arrangements for Ethel to move into our community.  They were convinced that Ethel could no longer continue you to live so far away.

Ethel recovered from malnutrition slower than expected; Susan repeatedly postponed her Mom’s arrival date.  The doctor sent Ethel to a local rehabilitation facility to regain some strength.  For weeks, she participated in intense physical therapy, again delaying her arrival at our community. During her rehab, Susan and Cheryl took turns flying north preparing for Ethel to relocate as soon as she was physically able. 

Finally, after weeks of frustration, Susan called to say that Ethel had been cleared for travel. The doctor agreed with the two sisters that she would need assistance, and that Ethel was not physically able to live alone.  Despite their Mother’s vociferous protests, the girls continued to make plans to move Ethel to Florida.  Cheryl flew north to accompany her on her trip, while Susan made the final arrangements to move her into our community in South Florida.  Hoping to please her Mom, Susan chose a large studio with a view of the courtyard and decorated it with lovely new furnishings.

Everyone, except Ethel, was ready for the big day.  The nurses, the resident assistants, the marketing director; all of us were prepared to welcome Ethel upon her arrival.  It was not a secret that she was angry about being moved against her will, but the community staff was confident we could win her over and change her mind. 

Ethel arrived in time for lunch.  Exhausted from her trip, our nurse gave her a wheel chair to ease the stress of walking.  Our hostess chose a special table for her to eat with residents who would charm her.  In every sense, the meal progressed better than expected.  Ethel was tired after her trip, but began to relax after eating. She was surprised and honored when we gave her and everyone at her table cream filled cannoli for dessert.  Her daughter told us they were her favorite, so our Dining Services Director ordered them for the occasion.

After lunch, Susan and Cheryl took their Mom to her room to begin unpacking. She had two very large suitcases full of personal items, and the three were hanging clothes and putting them into the closet. About twenty minutes passed when Ethel complained of not feeling well.  Our nurse arrived immediately, and after a quick assessment, she called 911.

Ethel died shortly after her arrival at the hospital. Susan and Cheryl were devastated, and those of us in the community were deeply saddened.  We had anticipated that Ethel would eventually enjoy the time with her daughters who had spent months devotedly trying to make her happy.  It wasn’t meant to be.

There is no right or wrong decision when adult children struggle to do the right thing.  Our parents deserve the same opportunity to make choices that they allowed us when we were young.  Still, I always cringe when I hear the words, “I am not ready,” hoping that a decision will not be postponed until it is “too late.”