Tag Archives: book

Love Story through Alzheimer's

Chasing Health: Member’s Love Story of Caring for Wife with Alzheimer’s

As a writer, I get to interview all kinds of people about all kinds of topics, and sometimes I come across a story that gives me goosebumps.

Earlier this year, I interviewed Cary Ulrich, a member who lives in Washington, for the spring issue of House Calls, one of our Medicare newsletters. This former drafter and current fire photographer was kind enough to share his heartfelt story with me.

Cary’s wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years ago and passed away after we published this article. But for nearly three years, Cary was her primary caregiver, a tough task for a person watching someone he loves suffer from a disease that does not yet have a cure.

I don’t know if I could handle it, but Cary did. And he even found a way to make something positive out of it. Today, Cary leads caregiver support groups and is writing a book to capture how grateful he is for the time he spent with the love of his life.

November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, and with Thanksgiving coming up, I think it’s the perfect time to share Cary’s story of being grateful while making sacrifices. Maybe it’ll inspire you to join the cause to end Alzheimer’s or thank a caregiver.

Take a Minute to Care about Caregivers

Cary Ulrich, a second-year Health Alliance Medicare member, likes a challenge. The one-time drafter and surveyor at an engineering firm went from designing layouts for Wenatchee Valley’s buildings and subdivisions to taking photos on the frontlines of wildfires.

The toughest challenge he faced wasn’t learning the art of drafting by hand before the drafting world went digital, and it wasn’t going out on his first fire call to take pictures of people putting their lives on the line to save others. It wasn’t even a challenge he enjoyed, but it was his most important, being a caregiver for one of the people he loves most, his wife.

Sharon Ulrich was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s (a type of dementia) after showing some confusing symptoms, like having visions of everything from Old English-style visitors to spies and people trying to break into her home.

At first, doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Was it depression? Dementia? And if she had dementia, what kind was it? At 63 years old, she seemed too young for that.

While doctors looked for answers, Cary stayed by his wife’s side. From her earliest symptoms and first diagnosis in March 2010 to moving her to an adult home in February 2013, Cary was a caregiver. And he quickly learned that being a caregiver can take its own toll.

“I was on the outside going through everything,” he says. “I was very frustrated and angry at the situation, not at her. I had all those feelings, and no one seemed to care about me.”

He watched his wife’s health get worse while knowing he couldn’t help her get better. The woman who’d walked past his back-row church pew almost two decades ago, the one he thought was way too classy to ever even talk to him, now needed him to be her caregiver.

Cary and Sharon

“It’s a hard process,” he says. “I don’t exactly know how I did it, but I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve had to let go of what was and just totally accept her for the person she is now.”

Cary never backed down. Instead, he used his experience of caring for a loved one with dementia to help others do the same, turning his negative situation into something positive.

Today, Cary helps run two caregiver support groups, one specific to dementia at the Grief Place of North Central Washington and a more general one at Aging and Adult Care of Central Washington in East Wenatchee. In both groups, Cary gives support and tips to other caregivers because he believes it will help them feel better and make smarter choices about their own loved ones.

“The more you know when these things happen, the more you can kind of accept them,” he says. “You know you’re going to have to change because your loved one has changed and can’t go back the other way.”

He also talks to nursing classes at Wenatchee Valley College and to first responders in different fire districts to help them know how to work with people with dementia and the family and friends who care for them.

Cary takes on other challenges, too, like helping put on the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Wenatchee. Last year, he lined up sponsors, set up, and took photos for the 2-mile event that raised money and awareness.

Wenatchee's Walk to End Alzheimer's

Cary’s selflessness shines through in everything he does, and the man who likes to take on challenges and still goes out on fire calls hopes to make caregivers’ lives less challenging in the future.

“As a caregiver, you have the memories of what was, but all you have is what is. It’s a very difficult place to be. I know what these caregivers are going through, though. And I want them to know they are valued and can still enjoy life.”

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Fresh Beginning

My Healthy Journey: Beginning Fresh

I don’t normally make resolutions for New Years. But this year, in the spirit of My Healthy Journey, I’m beginning fresh with goals that I both think I can succeed with and that would make me really happy for 2015.

  • Try yoga. It’s good exercise, and can help my back, which I have some problems with. Plus the meditation and stress relief would be great. Starting small with podcasts and free videos counts! I want to get comfortable doing it before I consider being seen by innocent people passing by.
  • Cook at home. I’ve gotten much better about this the last six months, but I want to keep it up, so it is definitely a big goal for 2015.
  • Finish writing my book. I have been working on a novel since my junior year of college, and I’m about half way done with it. Now that I have a job where I have a set schedule and free time, I’m determined to finish it in 2015. (This is one that is such a personal goal that I know it’s hard to see in your own life. But think about something you’re passionate about that you want to do or finish this year. Finish knitting a blanket? Learn to build furniture? There’s so many possibilities for you to make this sort of goal your own!)
  • Read more. In college, I got to read fiction all the time. I still take in news all the time, but I don’t get around to books enough. This year, I need to read more!
  • Spend less time on my phone and computer when I’m not working. All I do at work is look at screens, websites, and social media. When I leave work, I still spend about an hour of my time reading my own social media feeds each day. I really want to cut this back, and replace it with things like the books above.
  • Be active with my dog. I can swear this won’t happen until it’s warmer out, (because I am cold when it’s 70 degrees in my house.) But once we change seasons again, I really want to get out there with my dog. She would love it, and it will help me get off the couch and keep us both healthy.
  • Save money from every paycheck. While working at Starbucks, I started saving my tips, about $40 a week, and after 9 months, I had the down payment for my car. I never really noticed not spending that money, but it added up really fast! I want to continue this good habit.
  • Mark one thing off my bucket list. I saw this idea online, and I think it’s a great one. I can’t promise you which thing it will be, but this year, I will go somewhere or do something I’ve always wanted to.
  • Use my food tracking to eat healthier. I want to build it into a habit that helps me make healthier choices based on what I’m actually doing.
  • Treat myself! I spend a lot of time running around, working, being stressed out, and then trying to recover by cuddling with my dog in my bed. But this year, I want to make a special effort to boost my mood with special things, even if it’s just making an effort to get my favorite coffee once in a while.  For example, in January, I have plans for how I’m going to make my bed super cozy (all courtesy of this Buzzfeed article,) that I am really looking forward to, so I can improve my dog cuddling time.

See my other post Resolutions You Can Actually Do to get some fun and useful ideas for your own resolutions.

Wedding Day

Kick Wedding Stress to the Curb

Wedding Stress

Stress (including wedding stress) can cause headaches, high blood pressure, and much more.

Planning a wedding is a happy, fun time, but it’s also very stressful. I’m getting married this August, and wedding planning has been one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done. I’ve been lucky, though, because my fiancé, Shane, has made planning a wedding a partnership, not a solo gig for me. If you feel like your fiancé isn’t helping enough, or might wrongly assume you want to call all the shots yourself, speak up right away to get everyone on the same page.

I hope these tips help you keep your sanity while planning your wedding.  They’ve definitely helped me keep mine!

Plan according to a timeline.

When I began my planning, I went to a chain bookstore and bought a planning book. It was nothing terribly fancy, just something that offered a timeline and helpful hints.

The planner helped reassure me that I wasn’t forgetting something or waiting too long to do it. You don’t need to spend money on a book or planner to stay organized, but I think it’s important to find or create some kind of timeline to keep you on track.

Knock out the big things first.

Once you tell people you’re engaged, the next words out of everyone’s mouth (after congratulating you) are, “When’s the big day?”

First things first, pick a date and create a guest list, even if it’s a rough one. You’ll need this info when you seek out ceremony and reception sites. The sooner you can find (and hopefully book) a ceremony site, reception site (if different from the ceremony site), photographer, bakery, and band or DJ, the better. The rest, like wedding colors and flowers, will begin to fall into place after that.

Shane and Kristy
(Photo Credit: Seth Carpenter) Shane and Kristy pose for an engagement photo at Lake of the Woods in Mahomet, Ill.

Another big thing to keep in mind is the honeymoon (if you’re taking one). If you’re traveling somewhere out of the country, you’ll want to make sure to give yourself plenty of time to get your passport if you don’t already have it and to shop for deals. Booking our honeymoon is where Shane excelled. He kept his eye on deals for the flight and hotel to make sure we got the most out of our money. He also laid out options he found as to when and where we would fly out and when we would return. I recommend shopping around a bit to get the best bang for your buck.

I’m also glad to have Assist America on my side to lessen the stress of being out of the country. Assist America can help me get medical referrals, replacement prescriptions, hospital admission,s and much more, no matter where I’m at in the world. Visit HealthAlliance.org to learn more about Assist America.

Take a break.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the details involved in wedding planning. Even if you have a small bridal party and guest list, there are still a lot of details. I don’t think I realized the scope of it until I started planning.

In my moments of immense wedding stress, when the planning ride was getting bumpy and I wanted to scream, I took a break. I told myself I wasn’t going to think about it for the next couple of days. After that time off, I jumped right back on the wedding planning horse for a calmer ride.

Ask for help.

Although this is true for most stress, it especially rings true in wedding planning. If you’re struggling with any part of the planning, for example, finding a band/DJ, let someone know. You shouldn’t suffer in silence! Your significant other, bridal party or parents are usually happy to help. That’s what they’re there for!

Delegate.

This tip goes along with asking for help. As hard as it can be to let go, you don’t need to do everything yourself. Surely you can find a few things to hand off to someone else, no matter how large or small the detail. Again, your bridal party, fiancé, parents, and future in-laws are usually more than happy to help out.

Follow these tips, and you’ll be less stressed about your wedding. Best wishes to all the soon-to-be brides and grooms out there!