Five easy memory tricks

With two of our four parents succumbing to complications due to Alzheimer’s, memory maintenance is of interest to my wife and me. Readers’ Digest ran an article by Andrea Au Levitt called “5 Easy Memory Tricks.” Her intro paragraph follows:

“You know that eating healthy, staying active, and solving a few brain games can help keep you sharp. But these lesser known habits work wonders, too.”

1. Sit tall – when slouching it follows or promotes defeated, anxious and depressive thoughts, which hinder memory.

2. Exercise – once – gains in memory after one exercise are similar to gains after regular exercise (note still do the regular stuff).

3. Limit TV – including online versions of TV, too much screen time can harm cognitive development and maintenance.

4. Doodle – people can remember things better if they doodle or draw a picture of what they are thinking of. Writing the words of the thing is not as memorable as drawing a picture.

5. Walk backward – real, imagined or watched walking backward or even forward, can help remember something. So, in keeping with #2 above, take a walk (and walk backwards on occasion).

Let me take one of the above and break it down more. One of the examples from Malcom Gladwell’s book, “Talking to strangers,” notes that torture is a horrible way to gain information. Why? Under trauma, people remember less than they would normally. The comment about sitting tall in #1 above, notes if we slouch we increase anxiety or depressive thoughts, a mild form of trauma.

Outside of the walking backward, I do the above things. The sitting tall actually helps this tall person with his back. As for doodling, for some reason when I work the various puzzles in the newspaper, I blacken in the circular letters (O’s, D’s, P’s etc.) in the title of the advice section (sorry Dear Abby). Maybe it helps me with the puzzles (or advice).

As I leave you, think of Barbra Streisand walking backward singing “Memories light the corners of my mind, Misty water-colored memories of the way we were.”

A Rose without any thorns

I have written before about three friends whose friendship began for three of us in elementary school with one joining our group in junior high school. Yesterday, I learned the last of our eight parents had passed away during the night. It is fitting that Rose was the last one to go.

Each of our parents were fine people and raised good families. While we used their first names among ourselves, usually referring to a quirk or possible punishment for our misdeeds, we always called the adults Mr. or Mrs. Except for Rose. We all called her by her first name.

Rose was much younger than her husband, so he passed away in his late 60’s over 45 years ago while we were in junior high. So, we gravitated to Rose. She was as approachable and welcoming a person as you could find. She was not unlike my brother-in-law, Joe, of whom I wrote after he passed away in September. This Rose did not have any thorns.

Raised in Pennsylvania as an American of Italian descent, Rose was a devout Catholic. When I think of her, I remember her well-attended Christmas parties before  Midnight Mass. Each year around 10:30 pm, the party would come to a close to go hear the beautiful Mass, which was memorable for its contemporary music. When in town, I would not miss these occasions. When away, I would call around 10 pm to wish her and her son, Merry Christmas.

The other things I remember are her sense of humor and interest in others. The two went hand-in-hand, as she took delight in being teased and telling stories. Her son makes a living off a self-deprecating sense of humor and ability to tell stories, which he learned from her. Being a good Italian-American, we teased her that if you cut off her hands, she could not complete her stories. If you asked Rose travel directions, she would invariably draw with her fingers on the table. She was quite the animated person.

My wife and I last saw Rose three years ago when we were looking for a memory care facility for my mother. We stopped by to see her in her room at one of the places, as she too, was battling a declining memory. She perked up as she remembered me, most likely without knowing my name. But, we carried on a lovely conversation about the past and her son and my friendship.

Dementia and its evil twin Alzheimer’s are horrible diseases. We are glad to have seen her before further demise. Rose lived  a joyous life, filled with friends. She welcomed her son’s friends into her home and gave us all another mother to hug. Bless you Rose. And, as the Father would remind us, Peace be with you, your son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter.

 

A tribute to my mother – may she rest in peace

My mother passed away early on Christmas morning. She was as fine a Christian as we ever knew, so passing on Jesus’ birthday seems fitting for her. She was an elementary school teacher and taught Bible Study Fellowship for many years. She was predeceased by her husband to whom she was married for 54 years after meeting at college. She left behind three children, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

My mom loved her husband who passed in 2006. Their meeting at college was eventful, as our father actually fell into her lap. The story goes he was playing basketball for the college team and she arrived late. As she quickly sat and waited for the action to clear on one side of the court so she could walk around, he chased a loose ball and landed in her lap. She told me of another story where she jokingly pushed him into a pond, when the Dean saw her talking with a male student on the female side of the dorm buildings, as she did not want to be accused of fraternizing.

Mom loved her children and grandchildren. She was an avid reader and shared that love with each of them. When not preparing lesson plans for her students or fellow bible study worshipers, she was avid about her crossword puzzles, sometimes completing three a day. She was involved with the church making arrangements when outreach to people was needed for sickness, funerals, and celebrations.

And, she was devoted to her mother and siblings before they passed before her. She often travelled to visit them during their times of need. She simply was a doer who helped others. As her memory faded, her ability to help others faded as well, although she was an active participant in events at the assisted living facility.

There are two saving graces to her passing. We were told she did not suffer much and went quickly. One of the caregivers said Mom asked her to pray for her earlier that day, when helping her to bed. Also, with Alzheimer’s, my mother still remained the sweet person we knew, so she had not gotten to the point where the paranoia and unawareness causes routine belligerent behavior. She knew we were on her team, even though she was not certain which teammate we were. I am a better person because of my mother. I will miss her. We all will.

I

 

My mother the planner

Last August, my brother, sister and I made the difficult, but correct decision to migrate our mother into an assisted living facility. She was in a Rehab facility after getting a urinary tract infection, becoming dehydrated then falling, not an unusual triumvirate for elderly women. We were  also awaiting test results from a neurologist on Alzheimer’s, a test she had taken a month before.

The advice from several nurses was to move Mom while she could cope with the change. They noted often families wait too long and the parent becomes paranoid . Later, it was confirmed she has a progressive memory disorder, most likely Alzheimer’s. She is doing well, eating better, taking her medicines and staying busy. But, she is definitely in the right place as her memory continues to betray her.

You see, Mom was a teacher. She double majored in Education and Home Economics, so she was quite the planner. She later taught bible study fellowship up
until eighteen months before her hospital stay. And, when the church needed someone to organize meals for funerals or something, they looked to my mother. She had to be very organized to accomplish her duties, work, family and volunteer.

To make ends meet, she would plan her errands and meals. After leaving teaching to raise us (she would later return), she helped my father make ends meet. Since he was paid every two weeks, Mom would buy groceries based on a preset menu following her Home Economics discipline.

Every two weeks, we would eat fried chicken, pork chops, spaghetti, meat loaf, pot roast, etc. and then do it again the next two weeks. She would allow some variation intermixing fried shrimp or salmon  croquettes, and we usually had a treat of take out pizza. Mind you, this was before Pizza Hut, so we had to go get it.

I speak with Mom a few times a week and try to visit once a month from three states away. To see her now, is disheartening, but she is always my mother. She thinks she is in a college dorm room, which is sweet. At times, she talks about her pictures as if they are real. She has been able to mask her memory loss as she is very social, but it is harder now. I visit and call as I don’t want her to forget me. She knows I am on her team, but she has introduced me as her son, grandson, brother and husband.

Alzheimer’s is a hateful illness. If you have a loved one with any memory disorder get prepared for a demise in memory that won’t come back. And, have good conversations before then about how to handle the patient’s affairs.

 

 

Glen Campbell: Good Times Again

Last night, I caught a melancholy show where Glen Campbell took us back to the many guests he had on his TV show. Not unlike, a similar review for Johnny Cash, Campbell had a wide variety of talented performers with whom he sang duets .

Fortunately, Campbell narrates the show which was filmed in 2007 before he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Ironically, one of his guests was Linda Ronstadt who now has Parkinson’s Disease, so their duet of a James Taylor song “Carolina on my Mind” was especially poignant, with it such a reflective song.

He noted he likes harmonizing with female singers. He said he could sing under their voice more easily. In particular, he and Bobbi Gentry were so good together, they cut an album. They sang a beautiful rendition of “Let it be me” where there was obvious affection between the two, be it friendship or perhaps more. Maybe, that was the selling of the song, but their interaction made it special.

He also had memorable duets with Cher (“Just let me be Friends with you“) and Anne Murray (Don’t think twice, it’s alright”). He sang with Ray Charles, Ricky Nelson, B J Thomas, Roger Miller, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash, as well. He noted his friendship with Nelson dated back to when he played guitar on Nelson’s albums. They sang a terrific rendition of “Louisiana Man.”

Additionally, the show was peppered with his own hits such as “Galveston,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Gentle on my Mind,” the theme from “True Grit” and “By the Time I get to Phoenix.” What was especially nice about “Gentle on my Mind,” was he played with the writer of the song, John Hartford. That is very gracious to bring on the songwriter to play and sing with him. He also had a nice story about meeting John Wayne, whose daughter was a big fan. Through this meeting, he was asked by Wayne to act in the movie “True Grit.”

But, when you see him play, you are reminded that he is quite a good guitarist having played as a session musician on many albums as a member of the Wrecking Crew, a studio house band for Phil Specter’s wall of sound concept. He did several guitar licks while singing with his guests or on his own songs.

Since my parents watched the shows when they first aired, it was like stepping back into my childhood. Back then, you only had three choices on TV, so you watched as a family. If you have not seen the review show, it is worth the time. So, give it a peek.

50 First Dates inspiration for dementia patients

One of my favorite Adam Sandler movies co-starring Drew Barrymore is interestingly called “50 First Dates.” In short, Barrymore’s character has recovered from an automobile accident, but with the exception of memories preceding the accident, forgets everything that occurs when she goes to sleep. Sandler woos her over fifty first dates, but makes his message stick when he produces a video with her friends and family for her to watch each morning.

In a terrific example of life imitating art, this concept has been successfully borrowed by Tamara Rusoff-Hoen who produced a video for her mother, Louisa Irving, a 94 year-old dementia patient. Below is a link to the Associated Press article written by Jim Fitzgerald of the Seattle Pi. She opens with a song in the video “Good morning, merry sunshine, how did you wake so soon?”

This song hit home with me, as my wife used to sing “You are my sunshine” to her mother who eventually died from complications due to Alzheimer’s Disease. She is now singing it periodically to my mother who we believe is limited to early stages of dementia.

With people living longer, we are seeing more struggle with dementia and even Alzheimer’s. Both are tough on the patient and the family, especially those closest to them. My mother knows my voice well, but sometimes when I visit from seven hours away, she forgets that I am her son. She is remembering a younger version of me. So, we are struggling with these issues as well, but hopefully not as extreme as with my mother-in-law.

I believe the “50 First Dates” video concept should be shared with everyone, as it is a great idea. In the below article, Robert Abrams, a geriatric psychiatrist notes the assurances this video can give to patients who feel “alone and at sea” and do not fully understand their circumstances. At a minimum, talk with your parents about these issues while they have their faculties. But, also help remind them of who they are and what they mean to you.

I will leave you with one quick story. When a friend dropped in to see her father with Alzheimer’s at a local long term memory care facility, she found him talking in the great room with others. So, she quietly sat down beside him. He eventually noticed her there and got excited and said “You are on our team.”  And, that is what we need to remind our loved ones of – we are on your team.

http://www.seattlepi.com/news/medical/article/Families-make-videos-to-reassure-patients-with-6205606.php