Tag: Dementia

The Book Charmer Book Review

Every once in a while I want a book to escape in, so I can leave stress behind. I found The Book Charmer perfect for my needs. This delightful novel by Karen Hawkins provided an afternoon of pleasurable reading. The characters were easy to like and the plot straightforward if predictable.

Multiple Back Stories

There are three central characters in the book. Sarah Dove and Travis Parker are life-long next door neighbors in Dove Pond, North Carolina. The third character, Grace Wheeler has arrived in Dove Pond with the intention of staying just a year. All three neighbors form bonds albeit with reluctance on Grace’s part.

Key to the formation of friendship is dementia. Travis’ dad passed away from the disease and Grace’s foster mom is rapidly deteriorating. The two grudgingly work through initial dislike aided by this common ground. Furthermore, Grace’s orphaned niece brings the battle-scarred vet and overwhelmed guardian together.

Book Charmer

Sarah Dove is the book charmer. She brings a touch of mysticism to the story. Books talk to her and she listens.

As a member of the founding family of Dove Pond she has strong ties to the area. Unfortunately, Dove Pond is in decline. When a book whispers to her that Grace can save the town, Sarah does everything she can to entice Grace to stay beyond the short term.

Contemporary Topics

In addition to the backstory of dementia, Hawkins touches on the state of the foster system. Grace’s determination to raise her niece stems from her own experience as an orphan. Back flashes explain how and why Grace is so attached to her own foster mother, Mama G. Thus her willingness to leave her city job for small town life in hopes of easing the confusion of dementia makes sense to the reader.

An additional topic that is touched on is the overdose death of Grace’s sister. But, despite all of these difficult topics, The Book Charmer leaves the reader in an upbeat mood. The efforts of Sarah, Grace and others give Dove Pond the spark it needs. Plus, the development of friendship between the characters showcases the power of relationships even among those hiding or running from the past.

I loved reading The Book Charmer. Readers can escape for a few hours of pure fiction. This was the first Karen Hawkins novel I have read but it certainly won’t be the last. I look forward to more in the series.

 

Dealing with Dementia: Changes on Many Levels

Dealing with Dementia

Today I am focusing on the many challenges of dealing with dementia. For anyone looking for a scientific based posting, this is NOT it. Instead, these are my personal reflections of coping with the dementia my loved one faces. Thus, I am writing anecdotally, but perhaps you will find my experiences helpful.

Brain Changes

As a layman, I find the workings of the brain fascinating. The brain is the control center for our bodies. Thus, we cushion the heads of babies, wear helmets if playing football or riding cycles, hard hats on construction sites and numerous other activities in the hope of preventing damage to the brain.

The brain can be impacted by other factors. I have read several of Dr. Daniel Amen’s books on the brain. His books, Change Your Brain Change Your Life (1996) and Change Your Brain Change Your Body (2010) were life changing for me as well as one of my offspring. Amen details how diet and exercise can affect the brain in addition to brain injury. Click here to visit his website.

Personality Changes

I have a hard time grasping the science behind how changes to the brain affect changes to one’s personality. But, I believe this to be true. My family member has not gone silent like so many. However, her sentences are non-sequitur at best. Under the worst of circumstances she makes absolutely no sense and gets frustrated if you cannot follow her thoughts. I get frustrated too. And very sad.

On the other hand, she still has a great smile and she smiles often. Furthermore, she continues watching TCM and the old movies with enjoyment. Recently we watched the version of Seabiscuit with Shirley Temple. She was fully engaged to the point of skipping the ice cream hour. She always enjoyed going to the races at Tampa Bay Downs so she connected to the movie.

Other changes revolve around games. Board games and card games were favorite past times. The whole family could spend hours playing Spinners and she belonged to multiple bridge clubs. But now the attention span needed to play is gone. Participation is limited to games where she can be guided.

Role Reversal

Individuals who are dealing with dementia in a parent also deal with a role reversal. This is my case. I have the power of attorney and am second in line as health advocate. Care decisions are stressful. As a result, I am already planning for my future. Just in case.

Slow Dancing with a Stranger Book Review

Today is the longest day of the year. The Alzheimer’s Association uses this day to generate awareness for the disease. The topic of Alzheimer’s is a tough one for me to write about. I have a close family member suffering from this memory thief. So, I thought a book review of Meryl Comer’s Slow Dancing with a Stranger: Lost and Found in the Age of Alzheimer’s was an appropriate choice.

Personal Story

Slow Dancing with a Stranger tells the story of Dr. Harvey Gralnick, the husband of Meryl Comer. An extremely intelligent man, Gralnick was able to compensate for the disease at work for quite some time. However, behavioral changes at home signaled to his wife that something was off.

Some of the details shared by Comer hit home. She shares her frustration of a doctor ignoring her concerns and diagnosing the problem as a combination of stress and depression. In essence, the medical providers stuck together. {Fortunately, when my family member was assessed, it was by a panel. She charmed the pants off the eldest male in the room. (She minored in drama.) He found her vivacious and felt the problems with memory and mobility were natural aging. However she scored poorly on the tests.} Thus I could emphasize with Comer.

Caring for Alzheimer’s Patients

A good amount of Slow Dancing with a Stranger discusses the difficulties in caring for an individual with Alzheimer’s. Comer discusses the many types of care she sought out for her husband. Her shared experiences are valuable to others. The decision on the best way to care for a family member with dementia is incredibly hard. It helps to read about another’s experience.

The decision on type of care may change as the patient progresses through the stages. Comer tried a variety of approaches. This insight is perhaps the most helpful part of the book. While no two patients experience the disease the same, it is helpful to understand the different steps in the deterioration of an Alzheimer’s patient.

Advocating for Alzheimer’s

Comer focuses on advocacy for Alzheimer’s in the latter pages of Slow Dancing with a Stranger. I found this part of the book uplifting. Since she was a former television journalist, Comer was contacted by the PBS News Hour to spotlight her struggle caring for her husband. After much soul searching, she agreed. The airing of the segment spotlighting Alzheimer’s re-opened doors for Comer. Friends and strangers alike reached out. The end result was non-profit work focused on early recognition of Alzheimer’s as well as ways to delay if not prevent the onset of the disease.

Since all proceeds from Slow Dancing with a Stranger directly support Alzheimer’s research I strongly encourage each of you to purchase a copy. Then buy a second copy and give to a friend, family member or to your local library. If you have a friend or family member suffering from this difficult disease, reach out to them and their caregiver today; The Longest Day.

 

 

Econogal’s Florida Observations

Often when people meet, a common question is where are you from? For my husband, it is an easy answer. We live about a hundred miles from his birth place and with the exception of his college years and the first years of our marriage he has always lived within an hour or two. On the other hand, I lived in six different places by the time I was 18 and 10 places by the time I married. Thus, my answer varies. Sometimes I say the East Coast, but most often my reply is Florida.

My residency in the Sunshine State was divided between Gainesville and Daytona Beach. One of my fondest memories is of the bus driver detouring through Greek Town during Homecoming week. As a first grader I loved seeing the decorated floats and chanting for the Gators. But just before third grade we moved to Daytona Beach. New memories were made.

Now I live in a land locked state. Fortunately, the open plains remind me of the ocean. The rippling “amber waves of grain” do give me a sense of home. Plus I make frequent trips to Florida. My family lives there.

Birthday Celebration

This week marks the 81st birthday of my Mom. She currently resides in a nursing home in Central Florida. My Dad visits her every day. Unfortunately, her physical and mental condition are such that she needs more care than can be provided at home. On the plus side, she still enjoys leaving the nursing home on occasion to eat out.

Since one of her favorite food groups is Bar-B-Q, we took her to a nearby restaurant specializing in this Southern delicacy. The food was great. Perfect for a birthday celebration. The place quickly filled up. Unfortunately the table behind us turned over during the meal. Unfortunate because a family with an unruly child occupied the table as we were half way through the meal.

Dementia

Dementia in its various forms changes the personality of the individual the disease strikes. In my Mom’s case, we are pretty sure she has Alzheimer’s. Loud noises can be quite confusing. So, the screaming toddler was not ideal.

At first, I felt bad for the mom behind us. She was holding down the table while her husband and older child waited in line. But that changed once he joined her. Neither one could quiet the kid. Nor did they take him outside. (The standard procedure at one time when dining in public was for one parent to take the unhappy child outside until they could behave.) Moreover, they made little attempt. So we cut our dinner short and took the dessert back to the nursing home.

To be honest, my Mom handled the incident better than I did. She was a little snappy at the restaurant, but regained her birthday glow once removed from the situation. A benefit in this case of short-term memory loss. Unfortunately, my mind kept replaying the scene for several hours. I am not a confrontational person, but I sure would like to figure out a nice way of telling someone to take their unhappy child out of a restaurant for the times when this situation occurs. Does anyone have a proven technique or suggested comment?

Handicapped Access

The only other problem with the dinner out was getting out. My mom is wheelchair bound. The restaurant had tables that were placed fairly close together. Not a problem when empty as it was when we arrived, but tough once seats are pulled out. We made it through, but if there was an emergency, like a fire, the process would be a bit scary.

A good tip for arranging tables, whether in a restaurant, setting up for a conference dinner, or even when planning a wedding reception centers around chairs. Pull the chairs out from nestling under the tables. Then walk through the aisles with one arm extended. This creates a space wide enough for wheelchairs, walkers, canes and strollers to get through.

The downside to the business is less seating. But, in the long run the customer service created by the set-up is beneficial. Handicapped access is one of the key things we consider when taking Mom out to eat. We do this often. So those restaurants that make a point of getting in and out less stressful receive repeat business from us.

Since Florida is a magnet for retirees, it is not uncommon to see wheelchairs and walkers. In the city of Mickey Mouse, strollers are also abundant. Businesses definitely need to consider accessibility for all. And not just because of the legal aspect. It is good business too.

Daydreams of the Aging

You’re So Very Welcome

I can’t quite remember the quote about bravery and aging, but the gist is that growing old isn’t easy. Nor is watching someone with dementia or like condition. I am not there yet so I can’t give a first-hand account. But something I witnessed today at a nursing home put a new spin on aging. For the short-term, a differentiation between the sexes based on the experiences of yesteryear.

It was a beautiful morning and several of the residents were enjoying the open air of a back porch. Among the group were a pair of 80ish folks. Each was accompanied by a family member. And each dozed off and on. But here the similarities ended. In my opinion the differences hinged on sex. As in male or female.

DayDreaming

I do not know the background of the gentleman. But he is certainly of an age to have experienced the draft. Therefore, from what happened I suspect he saw battle. The solitude was abruptly broken with a cry of “he has a knife, watch out.” It took his family member some time to calm him down. He gradually became aware of his surroundings. But we all experienced his terror albeit briefly. From the conversation, it seems these day terrors were recent, after a fall.

On the other hand, the second day dreamer I know a great deal about since I belong to her. She is suffering from dementia, most likely Alzheimer’s. She did not comment on the outburst from her co-resident. Instead she drifted back to sleep.
But the next time she awoke she too spoke out into the quietude: “You are so very welcome.” These pleasant words were accompanied by an infectious smile. I truly hope when I reach this stage my daydreams are similar.

Much is known about the aging process, but there are still mysteries. I am very interested in the aging of the brain. However, until today I had not considered how the sex of the individual might predispose the symptoms. I am sure there are studies but I have not looked for the research. If any of you know, please share in the comment section.

Women: From the Maternity Ward to the Battlefield

Of course there are instances of women in the midst of battle. The review of We Band of Angels discusses the story of the nurses caught in the Philippines during World War II. The late 1970s ushered in an era of women and matriculation at the military academies. So it is possible that instead of a bias from gender, one needs to look at experience. But some experiences do come with a gender bias. Men may be present during childbirth but they still do not undergo labor.

All in all it was an eye-opening day. PTSD is present long after the stressful experience. How this affects our brains as we age and the triggers, such as a fall as we get older is something I plan to research. I also wish to find scientific studies involving gender and aging. Even though it may be redundant, I still hope my aging has daydreams ending in “You are so very welcome!”

The Case Against Sugar Book Review

Gary Taubes presents a case for sugar as the cause of many of the Western World’s chronic diseases including diabetes, obesity, cancer and even dementia. He examines the intake of sugar by looking at the history of this much-loved sweetener. His examination includes a look at the views of medical and nutritional sciences. The two branches of science have not always been on the same page. Thus The Case Against Sugar may have readers siding with one view or another.Book surrounded by sources of sugar.

I began reading The Case Against Sugar as a request. The individual who recommended the book found the information in the book compelling enough to stop eating sugar. Unfortunately, the work by Taubes had the opposite effect on me. I craved sugar.

Taubes begins by defining the different types of sugar. Glucose is sometimes described as the blood sugar of the human body and occurs naturally. Sucrose which is refined white sucrose and one of the culprits in The Case Against Sugar. Fructose which is naturally found in fruits and honey. Then there are combinations of fructose and other sugars resulting in High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) which many see as the fall guy. Indeed, many of the soft drink companies are introducing products made with cane sugar as opposed to the HFCS. This is in part to counter the backlash against HFCS.

History

Roughly the first half of The Case Against Sugar is a very interesting history of sugar. This includes sources of sugar, trade and production (mention of the slave trade), legislation and research. Taubes obviously spent time exploring existing work in developing his thesis.

Since my knowledge of sugar was limited and in some cases erroneous, such as the origins, I found the historical sections interesting. For example, I did not know sugar was added to tobacco in the making of cigarettes. Furthermore, I had not contemplated sugar addiction as a side-effect of Prohibition.

Quite a bit of time is spent on contrasting the nutritional and medical fields’ approaches to sugar as a cause of many of the chronic diseases of the Western World. Furthermore, within each respective field, scientists and researchers differed on viewpoints. Some believed the onslaught of modern health problems come from multiple sources. Taubes however posits that sugar is the root of the decline in health which is becoming prevalent whenever an area adopts the dietary habits of the West.

Insulin Resistance

Taubes transitions from past to present as he begins presenting his case against sugar. Insulin resistance is discussed at length. A quick search of my own on insulin resistance led me to this website placed by the U.S. government. Thus, a confirmation of the author that mainstream belief centers on obesity and physical inactivity as the culprits of insulin resistance.

However, The Case Against Sugar does much to outline an opposing view. Taubes presents anecdotal evidence that increased sugar consumption is really the cause of insulin resistance. He cites multiple cases of indigenous populations developing insulin resistance. In each case, sugar instead of physical activity or intake of fats seems to be the one input that does not vary. Then Taubes connects insulin resistance to the many diseases of modern westernization. These include obesity, diabetes, cancer and dementia.

Diabetes and Cancer

The theory also suggests that insulin resistance can start in the womb as sugar crosses the placenta. Since I am familiar with gestational diabetes, I could agree with Taubes’ arguments. A generational change in insulin resistance stemming from prenatal diet seems plausible. Thus the younger generation is predisposed to greater rates of obesity, if strict diets are not followed in pregnancy. Since obesity and Type II diabetes have such a direct correlation, I could accept the direct sugar link.

But, not all of the author’s arguments made sense to me. In fairness, I may not understand all the science. The tie to cancer was hard for me to accept. I still believe cancer is genetic as much as environmental. However, I will concede the possibility of sugar triggering environmental caused cancers.

Link to Dementia

One of the last diseases Taube discusses in respect to a sugar causation is dementia. I have done quite a bit of personal research on this topic. I can see how sugar can indirectly affect some individuals in a way that predisposes them to dementia. For example, large waist lines have a correlation to dementia and I believe sugar contributes to obesity.

However, I believe a great amount of the increase in dementia can be attributed to other causes. First of all we now enjoy a longer lifespan. Most often, dementia does not become apparent until a person reaches their seventies. While women reached an average lifespan of 70 back in 1948, men did not achieve that pinnacle until 1979. Those of you interested in the numbers can click on this link.

Secondly, I believe genetics is a major contributor to this disease. Taubes does discuss genetic dispositions, but he stuck by his theory of sugar causation. He believes the state of dementia will be attained sooner by those with a vascular impairment. He suggests sugar accelerates vascular deterioration.

Final Conclusions

Taubes ends The Case Against Sugar with the question of how much sugar is allowable. Reading between the lines, I believe his answer would be none. He directly parallels sugar to tobacco. Moderation is not a component.

Many of the ideas posited in this book I fully embrace. I long ago cut colas out of my diet. I quit cold turkey much the way Taubes suggests is needed for all sugar. However, I must side with the opposition. I truly believe in moderation. I think reducing sugar is a better answer. Additionally, I believe other factors are also contributors to the dietary problems of the Western World.

I would love to believe sugar was the single culprit. I know I could cut all sugar out of my diet. Not only have I permanently given up colas, I have gone without all added sugars during Lent. My weakness is dairy. If Taubes is correct, I no longer need to limit my cheese intake and I can revert to whole milk from skim. Unfortunately, I do not believe this is the case.

The Case Against Sugar is worth reading. I learned quite a bit about the history of sugar. The theory of removing all sugar from our diets is interesting. Let me know in the comment section what you think.

Brain Health

Book Review of Complete Guide To Brain Health: How to Stay Sharp, Improve Memory, and Boost Creativity

National Geographic’s release Complete Guide to Brain Health is a comprehensive study of the brain. The book is also the catalyst for this blog. As I shared in my first post, An Original, brain disease is well established on my mother’s side of the family. I bought this book out of curiosity and read it cover to cover.

Complete Guide to Brain Health is divided into three sections. In the first section, author Michael S. Sweeney concentrates on the anatomy of the brain. He posits that brains can be changed. Further he draws a direct correlation between healthy brains and longevity. Anecdotes of individuals are given as examples. An additional writer, Cynthia R. Green pens “Brain Boosters” throughout the book.

Various scientific studies are discussed in laymen’s terms. Then, each is used as an example of how brains function. The study on the Nuns of Mankato had a great impact on me. In this multi-decade research, scientists studied individuals in the cloister and then examined their brains upon death. The autopsies provided a comparison diagnosis from the physical appearance of the brain. Most of the time there was a match. However, sometimes an individual who showed no signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s prior to death did have the physical signs present in the autopsy. This gives me hope.

Practical guide to Brain Health

While the first part of the book explains how the brain works, the second section is more of a how to guide. Defining Brain Health, Chapter six, gets you started planning a course to change brain health. A Brain Booster entitled Brain Healthy in Ten Steps provides guidance. Some of the steps are easy for me, yet one or two have been elusive.

The second section includes many tips. Some are mental, such as games you might find on Lumosity, and others are related to overall health. Sweeney stresses throughout the book how closely mental health is tied to overall physical health.

The chapter The Art of Remembering is excellent. Both Brain Boosters and Brain Insights are intertwined in a chapter full of information on how your brain remembers things. Different types of dementia are also outlined here. The author is realistic and indicates that limitations exist.

Finally, the last section focuses on the future. The use of chemicals and electricity to alter the brain is discussed in successive chapters. Robotics and artificial intelligence are also briefly covered.

The importance of creativity is the greatest take away for me. Econogal, the website is great for my brain health. It is a nice addition to my other activities since it is stimulating the language portion of my brain.

I strongly suggest buying a copy of this book to anyone concerned about their brain health. The text is informative and well written with plenty of graphics for visual stimulation.