Tag Archives: Alzheimer’s

Pet Heirs

Preparing a will isn’t what most people consider a fun thing to do. And even for those who do, it still takes a lot of time and thought to Dad with my animalsget it right. You don’t know when your will is going to take effect or what the circumstances around it will be so you have to balance specificity and generality so it can be satisfactorily fulfilled.

If you have pets you need to think about them. Just leaving it to hope, or even a promise, that a family member or friend will look after Fluffy, isn’t enough. The belief that everyone loves Fluffy as much as you do may be only in your own head. And a promise might be meant sincerely when it’s given, but you want to get it in writing – literally. Circumstances change and, after you’re dead, there’s nothing you can do if promises aren’t kept. So think about it very carefully and talk to a lawyer about it.

I initially thought of setting aside an amount of money for each animal based on health, age, size etc. The animals would bring their legacies to their new carer. My lawyer said no right off the bat. “Next day, they say ‘too bad, cat got hit, thanks for the money’.” So we came up with a plan where the executor would hold the pets’ money in trust and dole it out accordingly. More cumbersome, but better assurance that the animals will be cared for and their new people properly recompensed.

But my kids love Skippy!

When volunteering at a St. Thomas shelter, I answered the phone once right at closing. A guy said “My dad’s gone in a home and I’ve got his dog. Either you people take it or I have it put down.”  Yes, I asked enough questions to learn the father had dementia and neither knew nor approved of his son’s actions. The shelter had no space, but I was new there and hadn’t yet had hundreds of such calls. I couldn’t let this dog’s blood be on Maggie July 2000 pets in willmy hands, even if a so-called caretaker could. So I told him to bring the dog by. He seemed like a perfectly nice guy. He didn’t hang around long, which was fine by me.

I took Maggie home. She was a sweet elderly Miniature Poodle. She found a home with another couple and their teenage daughter. All three seemed as smitten with Maggie as she was with them.

Maggie’s person hadn’t died, and already the son was getting rid of her. This brings up another important point: your power of attorney, generally prepared with your will. If you are incapacitated mentally or physically, you need someone you trust to act for you. The person, legally, becomes you. If you still have your mental faculties and realize that person is not acting in your best interests or doing what you wish, you have the right to give your power of attorney to someone else. If you are mentally incapacitated, however, you can’t.  As well as control over your banking, home, personal care and medical decisions, that person also has control over your possessions and assets, including your pets. So choose carefully, based on a person’s integrity rather than sentiment.

Will Planning for Pets

will planning for pets book by Barry Seltzer Amazon link
Click for Amazon link

There’s a book that can help with planning for your pets’ life after you are gone. Co-authored by Toronto lawyer Barry Seltzer, Fat Cats & Lucky Dogs can help you plan for your pets. There’s also an article here about the topic.

The top photo is of my Dad, my dog Jack and cat Elsie. All are now loved in my memory. The other photo is Maggie. This post was originally published on my St. Thomas Dog Blog on Nov. 23, 2012.

Therapy Visitors

“A woman was here today, a long time. I don’t know who she was. She had a dog. I don’t know if she was lost. But she sat right here, with the dog, talking and talking. I didn’t want to be rude, but I had things to do.”

mom and charlie dog 2012My mother told me this one day at her assisted living home. She didn’t have anything she had to do. She had Alzheimer’s. I doubted that this woman and her dog really existed. But to be sure, I asked the nurse if anyone had been to see Mom. “Today is the day the therapy dog comes,” she said.

I told Mom the names of the dog and woman, and explained. She kind of remembered. But why were they coming to see her, she asked. “He was a cute little fella. But I’ve got my own dogs!” She meant mine who came with me.

Another time, Mom was even more distraught. “A kid was here all morning. I don’t know where her parents were. I thought maybe I was supposed to be babysitting her. But I’m too old for that.” I asked where the kid went. “A nurse took her, thank heaven.”

The nurse told me what I suspected, after the therapy dog incident. School kids visiting nursing home residents. It’s good for the kids and good for the elderly.

Therapy or confusion?

I’ve seen the joy dogs can bring to nursing homes. The residents in Leo being therapy dog at Glendale Crossing 2012Mom’s home were always so happy to see me. When I went alone, I found out who they really wanted to see. ‘Where are the dogs?’ Those who usually smiled and came over, even if they couldn’t speak, didn’t even notice me. It was the dogs they wanted.

Bearing in mind Mom’s opinion on unsolicited visits, I kept the dogs away from residents who kept away from them. For Mom, the staff made notes on her preferences. She did not mention any more perplexing visits.

Social contact is good therapy for people in long term care. It breaks up their daily routine, the boredom, keeps them connected. Staff do their best but they have the nuts and bolts of care-taking to do. So waverley-resident-cat-2009visitors, of all ages and species, help. But they can also be confusing, especially for those with memory loss. Like for Mom – wondering who is this, do I know them, why are they here.

“Do-gooders!” Mom spat when I told her why the young girl was with her, “why don’t they ask you first?” Words to keep in mind. Maybe they did ask and explain, and she forgot. Alzheimer’s can cause memory and perception of reality to wander. Frequent cues might help lessen confusion, at least for the moment, about the “who” and “why” of visitors.

That Good Night

I have always loved Dylan Thomas’ exhortation to his dying father:  Do not go gentle Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Nightinto that good night.  Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas on cover of poetry bookYes, I thought, “old age should burn and rage at close of day.”  But Dylan Thomas knew something I didn’t, I think, even when he wrote those words.  He was still a young man, but he knew something that becomes apparent with age:  sometimes it’s time to hang up your hat and say goodbye. Evidently, he never showed the poem to his father.  He wrote it for himself – the child pleading to, and for, the father.  He knew, maybe, that what his dad wanted was to go peacefully and quietly.

Mom holding dog Feb 2012Four weeks ago my mother, my remaining parent, died.  I know in my sensible brain that it’s good that her death was quick and peaceful.  But there’s another part of me that says no, you should have fought to stay, you can’t leave me.

It doesn’t matter how old you are, when you lose your final parent, you feel orphaned.  What will you do without parents?  Driving through our hometown, my brother tried to remember the name of people who used to live in a house near ours.  “There’s nobody to ask now,” he realized, “I’m the one they’ll come to now for answers and I don’t know.  Mom knew.”

You lose your family’s corporate memory when your parents die, all the little bits of information about whose house was whose, where the neighbours moved to, what their dog’s name was.  Does it matter?  Ruby-1939-Pine-StYes, in the history of a community or family.  No, in the continued existence of that community or family.  Other families become the old neighbours who moved away, the next generation become the family elders.  But, like with photocopying, with each generation there’s a loss of the depth and colour of the original.

My mother had Alzheimer’s for the past few years.  She still knew us but didn’t remember many other people.  I hated the disease.  I hated seeing her sharp mind shut down; cried, after leaving her, when she asked “who’s X?” when X was a family member.  Cried even more when she stopped asking, stopped trying to figure out who people were.

However, as she accepted her dementia and came to terms with it, so did I.  Often I’d wonder about something and think I’ll ask Mom, then would remember she wouldn’t Ruby Grace Burwell Anger obitknow any longer.  After her death, I caught myself taking pictures because “Mom will want to see this,” only to remember she was gone.  But it wasn’t the huge shock to me that it would be if she’d had her mental faculties intact.

Maybe that’s a gift that Alzheimer’s gives survivors.  You’ve had to come to terms with losing your loved one before she or he is actually gone from this life.  It is a gradual process, thereby maybe gentler at the ultimate end.  Maybe, as Dylan Thomas’ dad knew, that’s what we all wish for at the end, going gentle into that good night.  My mother went gently, and for that I’m glad.

Coronation Street Scene of the Week (Apr. 29/12)

Paul’s relationship with Eileen and Lesley.  A story interspersed with the arrival of Robert Vaughn as Milton, the drama of Carla and Peter sneaking around, Frank’s trial Paul kisses Eileen goodbye in the morningand the fallout of Tracy’s trickery.  But it was there, in bits and pieces, growing all the time.  Just like Alzheimer’s does.

Paul has put Lesley in a nursing home for two weeks’ respite care.  He is free to stay with Eileen, and she has decided to not worry about his marital status for now.  Through the week it developed with Eileen’s family and community putting their oar in.  Jason accepted his mother’s friendship with Paul and apologized to them both.  But it was a different story when he realized Paul had spent the night with her.  Eileen decided to go public and that didn’t sit well with Norris or Julie.  Eileen had crossed the line, Julie said.

The story they are telling is so very important, one Paul has explained well.  With Lesley in a nursing home, he feels guilt about leaving her to others, relief at not having to worry about her every second of every day, and guilt at feeling relief.

Eileen has said the right things:  that he needs a break and he’s not abandoning Lesley.  It’s easier for her to say that, especially without the reality of Lesley’s presence, than it Jason accepts that Eileen wants to help Paulis for him to accept it.  What will it be like when Lesley returns home from the nursing home and Eileen’s pretend world goes back to Paul’s ‘normal’?

When this story started a few months, I was impressed that Corrie would tackle the issue.  It was one, I thought, that needed telling.  People in the real world, caring for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, need to know that they are not invisible, that someone sees how hard what they’re doing is on them.  We saw Alzheimer’s with Mike Baldwin, but that was told more from his point of view.  Well-done and powerful it was, about a character we had known for many years.  This one is different:  Paul and Lesley are new with this storyline being their entry to the show.  We haven’t shared their backstory as we had with Mike.  The emphasis here is on the caregiver more than the disease.  That’s what I like about it, showing the ravages of Alzheimer’s for the person who has it but also showing how it can ravage his or her loved ones.

Norris indicates disapproval of Eileen and PaulAt the beginning, Eileen pushed Paul away.  Alzheimer’s or no, she’s your wife, begone and shame on you.  The honourable response, yes.  But one that doesn’t take him into account.  She came to see that, that he is more than Lesley’s caregiver and that he needs something in his life outside that role.  And that having another life doesn’t detract from his love of Lesley.

But there is another aspect of it.  At the time it aired in the UK, there was a call to stop or change the story.  A petition was started by a daughter of a woman just starting on the road of Alzheimer’s.  Seeing what was happening on screen greatly upset the woman with Alzheimer’s – the fear that it might happen to her too, that those she loved might find other lives and loves while she was still alive.

Hayley, Julie and Dennis in Rovers discuss Paul and EileenTurning the tv to a different show isn’t an option, the petitioner explained.  Routine and familiarity is extremely important for people with Alzheimer’s.  If the routine includes Coronation Street, well, what are you going to do when the story hits too close to home?  A difficult situation for Coronation Street:  an important topic with two very painful sides to it.

“Look at Bingy”: Alzheimer’s and Distraction

Frustration is part of Alzheimer’s and other age-related memory loss and dementias – frustration for the person themself and the people caring for or interacting with them.  warning on dementias ward doorOften, an Alzheimer’s person will believe something totally contrary to “reality” – it may be a big thing or a little thing.  But explaining, usually, will get you (the non-Alzheimer’s person) nowhere.  At best, your explanation will be immediately forgotten. At worst, it will create an argument and distress for both parties – really over nothing that can be resolved.

It’s very hard coping with “it’s white” statements when you know that, in fact, “it’s black”.  You can reason, you can scream, but nothing is going to convince that person.   It’s especially hard when the person is a parent or grandparent, an individual you respect and who expects respectful behaviour from you.

I’ve read that the best thing is distraction, and I find it works better than any long-winded explanation.  But you can’t be obvious about it.  Someone might have Alzheimer’s but that doesn’t mean they don’t pick up on patronizing behaviours.  So you have to distract Bing the dog, in service stationto something equally interesting or at least off-the-wall enough to command attention.  With luck, the attention paid to that new thing will last long enough for the problematic thing to be forgotten.   I call it the ‘look at Bingy’ strategy.  Thinking of it that way helps me as much as it does the person with whom I’m dealing.

‘Look at Bingy’ became a family catchphrase for distraction after my mother invented it out of necessity.  A guy had come to my father’s business to see him, but only my mother and the dog were there.   The guy thought Mom was a fine looking woman and put the makes on her.  She didn’t want to offend, but wanted to stop him.  So every time he’d start with ‘hows about it’ type things, she’d say “oh, look at Bingy!”  He’d turn to see what the dog was doing.  This worked for Mom at service station windowher several times, until he said “Bingy be damned!” in that Bing wasn’t actually doing much of anything.  However, it bought Mom time and Dad soon returned.  After that, whenever you were in a sticky situation and didn’t know how to get out of it, ‘look at Bingy’ was a reminder to play for time.

So, with Alzheimer’s creating belief that “I don’t live here” or “I don’t have any food, I need to go shopping”, the ‘look at Bingy’ approach can forestall pointless argument.  Saying ‘you do live here, remember when you moved in?’ or ‘you have your meals in the dining room’ means nothing to someone who can’t remember where the dining room is.  Start talking about something else – the dog or cat or someplace you went on the weekend.  Just pick places and people that you think might ring a bell.  Dogs and cats are especially good.  I’ve found pets are remembered more clearly than many people, and not being able to remember them is less upsetting.

You’re not going to cure Alzheimer’s, you’re not going to bring the person’s memory back, you’re not going to ‘teach’ them anything.  The best you can do is listen, acknowledge and, yes, sometimes distract.

Excellent posts that are no longer online it seems: …death of the mind… (a particularly valuable point a way down the page is “if you argue with an Alzheimer’s patient, you get exactly what you deserve”; Alzheimer’s Assoc. Online Community, in which a poster (Dec. 31/10) gives this advice “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That is how the light gets in.”  Using Leonard Cohen’s words in this context is inspired –  so lovely, so true.

Seeing the world the Alzheimer’s way

woman walking in hallway, alzheimer'sWith Alzheimer’s, how is space and time perceived within your head?  Take walking 20 yards down a hallway, from your room to the dining room.  Halfway through, you can’t remember where you’re going.  How can you not remember what takes maybe a minute to do, even at a walker-assisted pace?

I got a clue from something my husband said when we were trying to puzzle this out.  “Well, when you’re a little kid, a hallway can seem enormously long.  Then when you see it as an adult you realize it’s not at all.”  I said “yeah, but kids are little so they walk slow.  It takes them longer to get down the hallway  so maybe it would seem really long.”  And then the penny dropped for me.

If you’re old and incapacitated, it takes you longer to walk down the hallway, just like it does when you’re a child.  Add in loss of short-term memory, and maybe you indeed are empty tv room in nursing home at dinner timeon a long and winding road.  Someone with Alzheimer’s can forget what was said or done five or 10 seconds before.  Walking those 20 yards to or from the dining room takes longer than that.  So halfway down the hall, that person may have forgotten where they’re coming from or where they’re going.  They’re likely to find their way to their immediate destination because if they keep going straight, they’re going to run into it.  But an hour or two later, trying to find their way back?  Or even that there is a “back” to which to go?

It’s frustrating, also flabbergasting: “your room is down the hall” – “what hall?”  Maybe it’s a little easier to understand if you think of it as a very long walk, like a two hour trek nursing home roadway in winterfrom point A to point B through the woods.  When you reach the end, you probably can’t remember every detail of what the starting point looked like.  You’d have to go back there to refresh your memory.  With Alzheimer’s, maybe walking that hallway is more like a trek through the woods.  The staff are the signposts along the path, pointing out to walkers the right way to go.