Alzheimer’s – Sensitive Topics

Sometimes I wrestle with whether or not I should write about something related to caring for a loved one with dementia. Some things just feel too private, too personal. In writing about an especially sensitive topic, I wonder if I will dishonor my mother in some way. I’ve wrestled earnestly with today’s topic for these reasons and more. However, as I speak with others who are caring for a loved one suffering from memory loss, many of them are dealing with the same thing. So, for the sake of those who need to know they’re not alone, here’s the topic:

Swearing.

As Mom’s battle with Alzheimer’s dementia intensifies, so does the bad language and harshness of the tongue. Those who help provide her care each day assure me she is still incredibly sweet – they love, love, LOVE her to pieces. They tell me that when her tongue gets sharp, she almost immediately apologizes and layers on the salve of kindness.

Before Alzheimer’s, Momma would never swear at someone. In a moment of frustration, she may think a curse word in response to a frustrating situation, but she would never say it out loud. She would quickly reign in her frustration and replace it with graciousness.

With Alzheimer’s, the filter on the tongue is missing. My sweet mother’s ability to reign in her emotions and frustrations is broken. With arms flailing, out come the curse words when her caregiver tries (sometimes in vain) to help her shower or get dressed. She’ll even blurt out curse words at me, the one who provides daily love and care for her.

It hurts my heart to hear her swear and say ugly, mean-spirited things.

Before Alzheimer’s Momma’s tongue held kind words, not critical and harsh ones. Her tongue reflected her actions and her love for her Savior; she was gracious and benevolent with both. She’d never blurt out what she thinks. She’d just smile and keep her thoughts to herself.

I know it’s the result of this disease. But, I also see very clearly that the curse of the sinful nature we are all born with is uncovered and revealed by this relentless and wicked disease. I know in my heart how much my mother loves Jesus. And I know how immersed she was in the Scriptures and what a prayer warrior she was before this disease stripped her mind of the ability to recall the things she has learned.

I always hoped that she would defy the odds of this disease and never forget the Scriptures she has learned. But now, it seems, she cannot understand what she is reading and tells me that the Bible I keep on her nightstand isn’t hers, even though it is filled with her own handwritten notes, prayers and thoughts.

I always hoped that music and the great hymns of the faith would be a help and stronghold for her in her later years. But she is usually quite ambivalent to it – although her poor hearing might play a role in that.

I always hoped she wouldn’t forget that she is a child of the King. On this last unfulfilled hope – she has forgotten, but God has not. She is His child and He knows it. He remembers her and will never forget – never forsake.

Someday, when all is made new, music will be restored and she will sing a new song in heaven. Best of all, she will meet the One she read about in Scriptures and has trusted by faith – Jesus – the living Word.

Sharing is Hard!

Each day after lunch, Mom and I usually sit quietly together in her room watching all the goings-on outside of her window. There is so much to see: cars and trucks as they drive in and out, people who come and go, the construction happening next door and (best of all) the birds at the feeders just a few feet away.

Today sweet Carol stopped by for a little after lunch visit. Without a word, Carol took me by the hand, urging me to rise from my chair and take a walk with her. I have taken many such walks with Carol, so gave Momma a quick hug and told her I’d be right back. Carol gave my hand another insistent tug and off we strolled hand-in-hand. As I left the room Momma suddenly addressed our friend Carol in an obviously jealous tone of voice blurting, “Hey! That’s MY Momma!”

Here’s a photo of a sweeter moment for Momma and her friend Carol.

Photo credit: Kathleen Zelinski

My Experiment with ‘Radical Wheatectomy’

I recently figured out how to use Libby – an app that allows me to borrow audible books from the library. (I know, I’m late to the party…but I made it!) I spend a fair amount of time sitting with Momma when she needs company, but doesn’t necessarily want to talk, so I’ve begun listening to books. It has been a great way for me to keep my brain stimulated, to learn new things, and to find enjoyment when doing solitary things like gardening, sewing, or household cleaning.

Today, I thought I’d share my review of two books I read earlier this month: “Wheat Belly” by William Davis, MD, and “Grain Brain” by David Perlmutter, MD. I picked these two off the virtual library shelf because I’m interested in learning more about how today’s genetically modified wheat purportedly contributes to inflammation in our bodies. I’ve been having a great deal of arthritic-type pain in my hands (and swelling to the point where I can no longer wear my wedding rings). The pain in my legs (especially my knees) makes me feel like a little old lady, limping and gimping along. And don’t get me started about how much my hips hurt. If something doesn’t change, I’ll be using a cane (or a walker) very soon.

Truth be told, the scariest problem I’ve been noticing lately is foggy thinking. I have noticed great difficulty in my ability to concentrate on reading or writing. Staying focused on a task was becoming noticeably harder. This scares me. Given my family history of Alzheimer’s, it scares me a LOT.

I have read that inflammation is at the root of many physical ailments. Research has suggested it is involved in diabetes, arthritis and even Alzheimer’s. I was already aware that over-consumption of sugar was involved in so many inflammatory health conditions. Could there be something to this premise that the consumption of wheat also contributes to inflammation?

I listened to “Wheat Belly” first. I actually listened to it twice because there was so much to absorb in this book. I read “Grain Brain” because Dr. Davis referenced it in his book. After ingesting the information they both provided, I concluded that what they were suggesting was worth an experiment in my own diet. I decided to cut wheat out from my diet for a period of one month and see what happens.

  • I changed my morning breakfast ritual. I stopped eating my slice of whole-grain toast with peanut butter and jelly each morning. Instead, I substituted a smoothie which I made with spinach, frozen berries, and a bit of protein powder.
  • I stopped eating the “protein meal replacement bar” I had been consuming almost every day at lunch. I started making myself a salad with a bit of protein in the form of chicken, tuna or an egg, and a small handful of raw walnuts for a dose of healthy fat.
  • I made a habit of saying “no thank you” when offered the complimentary bread basket at our favorite neighborhood restaurant. If I ordered a sandwich, I’d ask for a lettuce wrap or ask them to omit the bun. At the local pizza buffet, I would eat a slightly larger salad, then choose one piece of chicken and one piece of pizza – removing the skin on the chicken and eating only the delicious toppings on the pizza.
  • I began scrutinizing the ingredients listed on food labels, looking for wheat (in all its forms). Check out this article for a good list of what to look for on labels. I went through my pantry and quarantined anything with wheat.
  • I’m being careful not to eat gluten-free this and that’s just because they are gluten-free. I could literally pig-out on the GF donuts, breads, cakes, pancakes, cereals, muffins, bagels, protein bars, pizzas, desserts, and myriad treats that are available in my grocer’s specially dedicated aisle. To do so would spell over-indulgence and certain disaster in any efforts of mine to lose weight and thus reduce the load on my old knees.

So, you ask, “How’d it go?” Well, I’m glad you asked! I must report that I began noticing subtle changes in how I felt within a few days. My legs were less achy and the puffiness around my knees seemed diminished. I wondered if it was working, or just a fluke…or a figment of my imagination. Now that three weeks have passed, I don’t think those changes are placebo. I think they’re very real and significant.

  • I have more energy and ability to focus on tasks.
  • My fuzzy brain has cleared up significantly. I’ve even begun blogging again.
  • My headaches have disappeared.
  • I wish I had measured my knees at the start, but I can tell you that the puffiness has gone WAY down.
  • My left knee still clicks, but my legs and knees don’t hurt. I can walk and use stairs without pain. This is a very significant and welcome change because, quite honestly, they hurt to the point of tears.
  • The excruciating pain that I experienced when getting in or out of a car is gone. Not just better. Gone.
  • It literally hurt to pick up my coffee cup. I had to use two hands, or risk dropping my mug. I am encouraged to note that I can move my thumbs and grasp a coffee mug without pain again.
  • Interestingly enough, I can zip the jeans that were hard to zip, and less of me seems to be spilling out over the top of those jeans.

While I have had some good results and undeniably dramatic reduction in the pain I believe to be associated with inflammation, I’m not totally convinced that “radical wheatectomy,” as Dr. Davis calls it, is right for everyone. In fact, he purports that all grains are suspect in the inflammatory process and should be eliminated. There are plenty of articles out there (written by physicians) which warn that this diet is not healthy. Here’s a link to just one of many that are worth consideration. This particular author believes that the Wheat Belly/Grain Brain diet is just a backdoor approach to the old Atkins Diet.

So, here’s my conclusion: It is my personal theory that it is the over-consumption of carbs in the form of grains that is primarily suspect. Once I began taking a closer look at food ingredient labels, it was clear to see that wheat is hidden in SO many foods. Add that to all the breads we knowingly eat, we very unintentionally over-consume wheat and stress out our bodies. Another consideration – when I deliberately cut out wheat, I also dramatically reduced my sugar consumption, and a host of unpronounceable chemicals and additives found in the food I eliminated. Definitely not a bad thing.

So, what am I going to do with this information? For now, because my body is feeling better, I will continue my wheat-free diet to give my body a chance to heal. Somewhere down the road, I will likely reintroduce wheat – in moderation, of course – to see how my body will respond.

Simple Blessings: Attending a Grandchild’s Concert

The simple blessing of being able to attend my sweet granddaughter’s symphonic band concert on Wednesday night was not lost on me. My husband and I could both go to the concert. Together. We didn’t have to take turns going to these special events anymore. We didn’t have to hire a caregiver or ask a friend or family member to come spend a few hours with my mom. We could just go.

As we waited for the concert to begin, I looked down our row of seats in the high school auditorium and was caught up in a beautiful moment of realizing I was sitting here with my daughter and her family. I could sit next to grandson Charlie and give his back a scratch while we waited for the concert to begin. I could ask him during the concert what his favorite instrument was – percussion, if you’re wondering too. During the concert, I watched Henry, seated at the end of our row, totally taking in the music. I remember comparing Henry’s silhouette with that of his mother seated next to him – how fun to notice the similarities in their facial features. It made me smile. Even sitting next to wiggly George and helping him cover his ears during the loud or “scary” parts of the music was a special blessing to my grandma-heart.

Our flautist. (Such a strange word.) How fun to see Violet seated next to Izzy, her friend since kindergarten.

Of course, I relished watching Violet play her flute. When did she grow up to be such a poised and beautiful young lady? The obvious enjoyment she had in making music with her friends just thrilled my heart. The music was amazing – I could not believe this band had been practicing together for only two months.

Being able to attend this concert was a grace gift – a hidden blessing of having my sweet mom in memory care. My heart was reminded that I need not regret our decision to place mom in assisted living memory care earlier this year – it was an act of love – for her, for me, and for my family.

Best-Ever Cookies

Did you ever lose a favorite recipe? You know the kind I mean: the recipe card that has been in your recipe box for years and is now a bit tattered and stained from years of use. Well, I recently wanted to bake a batch of cookies I’ve been making since my kids were little, but couldn’t find that handwritten recipe card anywhere. It was one of those recipes copied from someone else with my own “tweaks” scribbled in the margins.

Bummer!

I searched a few of my recipe books and found a similar recipe. It had all the right ingredients, so I mixed up a batch and baked them for my mom’s friends who live with her in assisted living memory care. The cookies baked up a bit thin and crumbly. The ingredients were right, but were obviously not in the right proportions. My friend Lola’s husband is one of the residents who REALLY liked the not-quite-perfect cookies. She heard my lament about losing my recipe card and went home and searched through her cookbooks in an effort to find the recipe for me. Imagine my delight when she surprised me yesterday by bringing in a church cookbook with a recipe that looked to be closer to the ingredient proportions of my tweaked recipe. Unlike my lost recipe, this version had nuts and didn’t have chocolate chips in it (but that problem is easily remedied).

YAAY! I couldn’t wait to give the recipe a try.

Now, imagine my excitement this morning when I stumbled upon a forgotten blog draft I had created back on July 9th when I had last baked the cookies for my friends at BeeHive. Someone had asked for the recipe, so I had actually typed out my tweaked recipe with the intent of posting it on my blog.

Well, here it is!

Best-Ever Cookies

Ingredients –

  • ½ c. butter (1 stick, softened)
  • ½ c. shortening (or another stick of butter, which I prefer)
  • ½ c. corn oil (or canola oil)
  • ½ c. coconut oil (I use solid, but oil would work too)
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • 3 c. flour
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 t. cream of tartar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 T. vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ c. regular oats
  • 1 c. flaked coconut
  • 2 c. Rice Krispies
  • 2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips (variation: use a combination of semi-sweet, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, butterscotch chips)

Directions –

In a large mixing bowl, combine butter, shortening, corn and coconut oils, brown sugar and granulated sugar. Beat with electric mixer until creamy. Beat in flour, salt and cream of tartar, adding egg and vanilla extract until well combined.

Stir in oats, coconut, cereal, and your choice of chips. Stir until blended. Chill dough for a couple of hours. Scoop chilled dough (~ 1 T of dough) onto ungreased or parchment-lined baking sheets, leaving room between cookies for dough to spread a bit.

Bake at 350 ℉ for 12-14 minutes – until lightly browned on edges. Let set on baking sheet to cool for 10 minutes – cookie will continue to bake and set-up a bit. Remove from cookie sheet to cool completely, then store in air-tight storage container.

Note: the dough freezes well. I place the rounded scoops on a cookie sheet, then place in the freezer until hardened. I then put the frozen dough balls in a ZipLoc bag and freeze until ready to bake.

There is a lesson for my life in here somewhere. Sometimes my life contains all the right ingredients: church, family, personal Bible study, friends, prayer, ministry, housekeeping, gardening … and the like. But oftentimes the proportions are just not quite right. When I start feeling a little spread too thin and “not quite right,” nine times out of ten, I find the time spent in personal Bible study and prayer have diminished over time. Putting those ‘ingredients’ in the proper proportions in my life allows all the other priorities to meld together into a life that is truly satisfying and sweet – God’s ‘Best Ever’ for me.