Tag Archives: family members

Life in Grey Dementia

Vantage Point: A Glimpse into Dementia

“It only takes 20 minutes,” Melissa Knott, community relations coordinator for Highgate Senior Living in Wenatchee, told us as she invited Erin Cass, Mary Brandt, and me to participate in a sensory experience called the Virtual Dementia Tour.

Little did we know that the simulation, which helps family members and caregivers understand the overwhelming effects of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, would be an unforgettable and personally revealing experience.

Since I’d learned about the tour beforehand, I thought I knew what to expect as I was outfitted and given instructions, but I was not prepared for my brain to go into survival mode as I entered the room. I hunched as I felt my world shrink, and I tried to look purposeful, even though I’d instantly forgotten some of the simple tasks assigned to me. I felt no impulse to smile, interact with Mary or Erin, or feel anything but a narrow, tunnel-like focus.

It was hard to imagine that just the night before, I was riding a rocket of a horse in a community parade, outwardly waving and laughing. That extroverted person was gone, and in her place was someone who shuffled instead of walked, set the table with a towel instead of a tablecloth, and asked for help but ignored the answer.

Afterward, the facilitator went over how the simulation enhanced each of our unique character traits to give us an intimate, introspective glimpse into what our own life might look like if we were diagnosed. I realized the effects of the disease could make a once big world feel very small, and for someone who’s normally independent and active, how depressing that could become.

Thanking Melissa, the 3 of us started to leave, but Erin turned back. “I need to go see my grandma,” she said, and I wished I could hug mine, who passed long ago from the disease.

As a community liaison for Health Alliance, I have participated in both the Wenatchee and Moses Lake Walks to End Alzheimer’s that advocate a cure and honor loved ones. Much like my virtual experience, these events generate empathy, inspire, and give us the energy to make a difference.

It’s not too early to form a team for a walk in September. Visit alz.org/walk to find a walk near you. And for more information on the Virtual Dementia Tour in North Central Washington, please contact Melissa at Highgate Wenatchee at 509-665-6695 or Laurie at Summerwood Alzheimer’s Special Care Center in Moses Lake at 509-764-1900.

 

Shannon Sims is a Medicare community liaison for Health Alliance, serving Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan counties in Washington. She has four sons and two grandsons. During her time off, she performs as part of a rodeo drill team on her horse, Skeeter.

Pre-Planning for the End of Life's Stroll

Vantage Point: Pre-Planning Is Key Part of Life’s Stroll

There is nothing like a summer evening stroll—the sounds of people reminiscing on front porches, American flags flapping in the warm breeze, birds chirping, and children’s laughter. Smells of barbecue and freshly mown lawns tickle the nose as eyes feast on the sights of gardens overflowing with flowers and kids riding bikes as their wet swim trunks leave a trail of water from the city pool.

I think back to summers past and family celebrations. These are the nights I want to remember when the days turn shorter, darker, and colder. Walking past the town cemetery, I think about a recent visitor in our Health Alliance office. A distraught spouse tearfully informed us of an unexpected passing. She seemed so lost, not knowing what to do next, and looking over the tidy headstones, I decided I don’t want that experience for my loved ones.

Reaching out to Beth Pent, continuing family care and pre-need counselor at Jones & Jones-Betts Funeral Home, I learned funeral planning can be a lot like wedding planning. There are seemingly unlimited choices to reflect your expressed wishes and unique style, and planning ahead provides peace of mind. Everyone will need to have final arrangements someday, and if you don’t take care of it, the burden of planning and funding it will fall to the grieving next of kin.

Even if you choose not to have a service, there is still a long checklist of responsibilities and state- and county-required documents survivors must take care of, in addition to the transportation and handling of the body. Some choices require authorization, so pre-planning can record everything you think the executor of your estate will need to know to carry out your wishes.

Consulting with a trusted resource, like Beth, not only helps you determine your pre-made decisions, such as final resting place, but it also helps relieve family members from having to guess and possibly argue over what you would have wanted. Pre-planning encourages you to consider your loved ones and is a way you can help them through their grief.

Funerals can be a celebration of life, and I want mine to serve as my last gesture of love by taking care of everything I can ahead of time. I want it to feel like a midsummer-evening stroll that evokes a sense of family, friends, and community.

 

Shannon Sims is a Medicare community liaison for Health Alliance, serving Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan counties in Washington. She has four adult sons and two grandsons. During her time off, she performs as part of a rodeo drill team on her horse, Skeeter.

Your Home's Thermostat

Long View: No One Wins in Thermostat Wars

When I was little, I loved visiting my grandparents in the winter. There was always lots of snow, and my siblings, cousins and I would play outside for hours. Our folks would slap a stocking cap on our heads with a pair of woolen mittens and any available coat. Then off we would go. The cold didn’t even bother me then. We usually came in when our cheeks and fingers were numb, but not before.

Things have changed, to say the least. I now own every thermal article of clothing known to mankind. If it’s cold enough, I have been known to wear gloves to get the mail, and the letter box is on my front porch. Winter weather is no longer the joyful playground of my youth.

My grandmother lived with my aunt and cousin until she was in her 90s. I remember the “thermostat wars” every winter. Grandma was never warm enough and would flip the thermostat up to 85. My aunt would be “roasting to death,” as she would say, and turn the thermostat down to 65 degrees. They went back and forth until spring.

So what happens to transform cold-tolerant kids into shivering adults? Dr. Stephen Belgrave is a medical director at Health Alliance Medicare and a family practice physician. He puts it this way.

“Peripheral vascular disease affects many of our older patients,” he said. “This can slow circulation, and this often affects temperature sensations. It’s important to protect older people from extremes in temperature because of these types of sensory deficits.”

Ah, there you have it. It seems I now qualify as an “older patient.” But the question is how can caregivers help their mature friends and family members?

Here are a few suggestions:

• Be more tolerant when someone complains about being uncomfortable. Even if you think the temperature is cozy, that may not be true for older people.

• Make sure your loved ones have protection from the cold when they go outside. Check and see if they have a cold weather emergency kit in their car. If they don’t have one, it makes a great gift.

• Offer rides (in your preheated car) to the store, appointments and errands during colder months. Removing snow and warming up a car can be a serious hurdle to older adults and people with peripheral vascular disease.

• Finally, find a comfortable, temperate middle ground. Do not engage in “thermostat” wars. I can say from personal experience no one ever wins.

*This piece first ran in 2009.

 

Patrick Harness is a community liaison with a long history of experience in health insurance. If you ask him to pick a color, he always chooses orange, and he is known for his inability to parallel park.