Alzheimer’s: When Harsh Words Fly

I work a few days each week as a baker of all things sweet at a beautiful assisted living and memory care home – the very same place where my dear mom spent her last year on earth. The people who reside here are placed for various needs, most of them needing more help than family can provide with matters related to living life with short-term memory loss. In my short time there as an employee I am getting to know and love each resident, but I do have a few favorites. One of those favorites is as sweet as she is feisty. One minute she can be doling out compliments and kisses, the next she’s telling me to stick my mixer where the sun don’t shine.

But I love her to pieces.

I think she holds a special place in my heart because she reminds me in small ways of my mom (pictured here), who also had some bad days as she wrestled with Alzheimer’s in her later years of life.

In the years before Alzheimer’s, my mom was never one to use foul language; the worst I ever heard come from her mouth when I was a kid was an under her breath, “Shhh-ugar!” Yet, in the throes of the later stages of Alzheimer’s, my mom would occasionally make me blush with her language. If she were in her right mind, she’d be truly embarrassed.

Not long ago my new friend had a really bad day — I knew from the minute I walked in the door that morning that it was going to be a doozy when she began swearing at me for just saying, “Good morning.”

When any of our residents are having a bad day, I can’t really help much, as I’m “just the baker” and not directly involved in resident care. However, there is always one thing I can do. As my hands keep busy at the work of baking desserts, I can pray for those caring for the special needs of the residents. On that morning, I prayed for everyone involved in doing what was best for her, each one doing so with compassion and grace. All the while, I fought back tears for this dear woman who was living out one of my biggest fears for my future. You see, I struggle with the fear that Alzheimer’s may one day strip the filters from my tongue and that I might use uncharacteristically foul and abusive language.

So, how should caregivers deal with the foul language issue in their loved one with dementia? To answer that question, let me share a link to a super-helpful article from Very Well Health which discusses this problem and lists many suggestions. You’ll also find some internal links to explore on related issues: Relationship Between Foul Language and Dementia

My personal go-to tactic is the one in this article called “Redirect and Distract”. Where my mom was concerned, I would say something like, “Are you hungry? Would you like me to fix you a sandwich?” My mom loved sandwiches, so I kept a little stash of halved sandwiches in the fridge.

Other times I would distract her with an activity. I’d just walk away from her angry outburst and grab her coloring books and colored pencils and begin coloring. Nine times out of ten, she’d join me in a few minutes.

Coloring cards Momma received in the mail each week from her friend (and ours) Suzy.

Another thing I did on many occasions was to grab my collection of buttons and pour them out onto a towel on the kitchen table. I’d just quietly start sorting the buttons into color groupings, or line them up in rows. Mom could not resist this little sorting activity. Before long, she’d be calm and would join me.

Sorting buttons was a favorite calm-down activity for my mom

I wrote about these two and several other activities in my post Dementia Friendly Activities. The key thing was for me to be quiet and resist the urge to argue or add defensive words. Talking during one of her outbursts would only add fuel to the war of words raging uncontrollably in her head.

My friend at work has a similar calm-down button: her sweet tooth. I can sometimes redirect her downward spiral by offering her a cookie.

Since I’m the baker, I’ll sometimes say, “I need your help. Could you taste test this for me?” My friend also likes a slice of buttered bread with a cup of milk. Paying attention to what she enjoys and asks for in her calmer moments equips me with ideas for dealing with the tense moments.

Proverbs 31 Woman

While I dread the thought of ever having Alzheimer’s, I do trust the Lord with my future knowing that He will provide what I need should this be in His plan for me. It is my prayer that the Lord will keep my tongue sweet and gracious, and that the “law of kindness” will always be on my tongue. (Proverbs 31:26)

A Sunrise Prayer

Being a night-owl, it’s not often that I am up and at ’em early enough in the day to witness the beauty of a sunrise. If I do happen to awaken at that uncharacteristically early hour, I’m blessed to see the glow of early morning light streaming in our east-facing bedroom window. I have every intention of getting up and taking an early morning walk, but sleep usually wins out over my good intentions.

My hubby is always up at that hour, early morning person that he is. Once his eyes open from sleep, he can get up and start his day. In the quiet of the hours before I awaken, he enjoys a cup of coffee or tea while he reads his Bible, prays, and works on his computer on various writing projects and teaching responsibilities.

One morning, not so long ago, I awakened to the early morning sunlight streaming in my window. I could hear Wayne in the kitchen making a cup of coffee and washing the dishes left on the countertop the night before. I can usually fall asleep again when I awaken that early, but not on that morning, so I got up and headed downstairs to make my own cup of coffee. As I passed our gathering room, I noticed a photo that seemed to have a spotlight shining on it.

It was a favorite portrait of the two of us from a few years ago. I probably see it several times a day in passing, but on this morning, illuminated by the sunrise’s lovely rays, I stopped to appreciate it and pray a prayer of thanksgiving for one of God’s grace gifts in my life: my loving husband, Wayne.


This post was written for Five Minute Friday, a group of encouraging writers, with this week’s word: SUNRISE. Our weekly goal is to write for just five minutes, with no real editing or proofing. If you’d like to read other writers’ sunrise posts, click HERE.

Bedtime Prayers

Even on nights when I am weary and tired, I sometimes have trouble falling asleep. Other times, I fall asleep, but cannot stay asleep. My trouble with insomnia probably stems from being on the plus side of 60; but, I think the main problem is that my mind just keeps whirling with thoughts long after my head hits my pillow. In my search for a remedy, I read about a sleep tactic whereby you count backwards from 50, mindfully counting each breath. Breaths are slow and measured – one deep breath in, hold a few seconds, then a slow breath out. I thought it couldn’t hurt, so I tried it. Lo and behold, it seemed to work, as I don’t recall ever getting past the 20’s on my way to zero.

One recent evening, as I completed my requisite bedtime routine of pillow-punching and fluffing, I decided there might be a more meaningful way to spend my countdown to sleep. Rather than pay close attention to the ins and outs of my breathing, I decided to pray about things that were on my heart as I counted forward, rather than backward.

That night, I prayed for the things God brought to mind: a missionary our church supports, my Christian brothers and sisters in Christ who live and serve in India, my children and grandchildren, my brother as he recovers from surgery, my husband’s various ministry endeavors, my pastor, the friends who are looking for work, and several friends with health needs. As I poured the concerns of my heart out to God, I remember taking my sweet mom’s name before the throne as well, asking God to take her gently Home to heaven in His time. Even though I knew I would greatly miss her, I longed for God to rescue her from a body and mind trapped in the clutches of Alzheimer’s.

One by one, my requests were heard by my heavenly Father, resulting in a heart that was quieted by this little bedtime prayer and praise time. Tucked in my bed and nestled under a blanket of God’s peace, eyes closed in prayer were soon closed in sleep. Something tells me my Heavenly Father didn’t mind one bit when His sleepy child fell asleep mid-prayer.

India: Prayerful Preparation

A long over-due continuation of the story of my life-changing teaching trip to India.

More than a year has passed since my life-changing teaching trip to India. I promised to write about it when I returned, but have struggled with finding words to express the impact this trip and the people I served have had upon my life.

If you’d like to read the backstory about what led up to this decision to teach in India, please click the links for these posts: Willing and Enlarging My World.

Friends, you need to know, I didn’t just wake up one morning and decide I would accompany my husband on his next trip to India. The decision to accept the challenge of teaching conversational English as a member of the four person ministry team from our church was a process paved with many tears and much prayer. I do teach in our children’s ministries (AWANA and Sunday School) and an occasional women’s Bible study, but am not trained vocationally as an educator. This opportunity was way outside of my comfort zone. WAY outside. So far outside of my comfort zone that those who knew me best could see it. In fact, during one Sunday morning service, my pastor once asked the congregation to pray for me as I prepared to teach English in India, adding . . .

“You need only talk with Cindie for 5 minutes or less and you’ll see how much she is out of her comfort zone in preparing for her ministry in India.”

Pastor Jeremy Scott, Memorial Baptist Church, Verona, Wisconsin
My Pastor: seminary professor AND baby-whisperer

Hearing Pastor Jeremy say this made me cringe with a bit of embarrassment, but then smile and verbally acknowledge that I did indeed need the prayer support of my church family. The realization that I was giving off a vibe of anxiety and insecurity made me blush, but I knew he was right. While one part of me felt uncomfortable being in the prayer request spotlight, another part of me relished the thought of extra prayers going into my account.

I knew in my heart I needed Divine guidance in preparing for this mission. There was no formal training to take or standardized curriculum to use in this ministry. I traded texts and emails with Dawn, the dedicated woman who had begun this particular ESL program in India. One afternoon we spoke on the phone together and she gave me some good advice and a few tips, but no specifics as to what my focus should be on this trip. I was on my own to come up with a teaching plan and make it my own.

Actually, in my heart I knew I wasn’t really alone in preparing for this trip. God was answering prayer as opportunities for ESL preparation began falling into place.

  • I reserved a few books from the library which had been suggested by Dawn. I read each book cover-to-cover in an effort to come up with a workable plan.
  • Dawn suggested that I contact “Joey,” who would be taking a turn at teaching the class during the Spring session. Once Joey was home from his trip, he very willingly shared his insights with me, along with a PowerPoint of one of his lessons, which served to confirm that I was on the right track in preparations.
  • I spent time on Pinterest in search of English as a Second Language (ESL) “pins” and “boards” and came up with hundreds of good ideas. I created my own ESL board where I could “pin” those ideas for reference.
  • My Pinterest activity led me to a couple of ESL websites and introduced me to Jessica at Everyday ESL Language Resources. What a treasure trove of teaching resources – many of them free!
  • God helped me find a specific book which would help me brush up on my own grammar skills and greatly helped me in creating my own lesson plans. I told the story of that find here.
  • A lovely friend from church told me she had a little time to spare and offered to help me as I prepared. Wendy is one of those enviable people who exudes creativity in everything she sets her mind to, so I asked her to help me think of a fun “warm-up game” or “review game” I could play with the adults. She took that idea and ran with it. I will share more details about that in a future post.
  • I thought it would be beneficial to observe an ESL class in action, but local classes were winding down for the summer months. I mentioned that fact to my workout instructor at the gym and she got me in touch with a good friend of hers who co-teaches a kindergarten class of English/Spanish immersion. I was warmly invited to observe their class in action. Teaching adults would be a different ballgame, but would utilize similar game plans in a class setting where two or more languages are in play.

As I write this from the comfort of my own home well on the other side of my trip to India, I can honestly say that the greatest preparation for this trip was found in prayer.

  • Prayer for the lessons I was creating was often on my heart.
  • Prayer as I brushed up on my own understanding of grammar and punctuation.
  • Prayer as I created visuals and PowerPoint presentations (and back up plans for possible power failure).
  • Prayers for my husband and Pastor Jeremy as they prepared lessons on the seminary level.
  • Prayer for Don, another member of our team (also an India newbie) as he prepared daily devotionals.
  • Prayers for the students who I was soon to meet and come to love as family
  • Prayers for the ministry team scheduled to arrive just as we’re leaving to continue the teaching ministry.
  • Prayers of praise and thanksgiving to God for this amazing opportunity to help them prepare for ministry opportunities in their corner of the world.
Fall 2019

Ten days spent with these men and women of faith opened my eyes to the wisdom in strategic seminary level training of national believers – equipping them to teach, preach and share the Gospel in their own communities. This trip informed my prayers for this incredible group of men and women who sacrifice so very much in order to prepare for ministry opportunities in their corner of the world. God used this trip to open my eyes to a world that is bigger than I could possibly imagine – a world that needs Jesus.

Five Minute Friday: Willing

Hubby asked me earlier this year if I wanted to travel with him to India where he and two other men from our church will be serving in a teaching capacity (I wrote a little more about that in Enlarging My World). I don’t think I answered right away, as I had just placed my mother in assisted living memory care. But there was definitely a tug of willingness and a sincere longing in my heart to travel with him and see firsthand this ministry.

After prayer about the ‘what-if’s’ related to mom’s care while I’m away, I decided to go. God had put the willingness in my heart. Momma was, is, and will always be in God’s very capable hands. 

As soon as I said yes, I learned there was a job for me to do. I would be teaching English as a Second Language (ESL). I’ve been busy preparing for that ministry from the moment I learned what my responsibilities would be. There’s a passport to be obtained (check!), immunizations to be received (done!), shopping for appropriate clothing (dragging my feet on that one), and reading nearly every library book I can get my hands on related to ESL. Most days you’ll find me listening to experienced ESL teachers share their teaching tips on YouTube.

Even with this preparation, I have felt for a few weeks now like I’m spinning my wheels. My foot is on the gas, but I’m getting nowhere, and digging myself into a rut of negative thinking. When I find a great idea and try to incorporate it into a lesson plan, ten reasons why it won’t work pop up in my mind.

I have five lessons to teach while I’m there. Five hours to give the students a better grasp of conversational English. Five lessons and five hours — that’s all. I want to make them count.

I’m finding myself melting into a puddle of anxiousness as I wrestle with what to say, what to teach, and how to do this thing I’ve never done before. This wrestling match has driven me to spend more time praying about this ministry opportunity. I know that all of my willingness and preparation in the world won’t matter one iota if the plans that I’m making are my plans alone. I have been reminded once again that my heart must be willing to seek and rely upon the Lord’s wisdom and guidance. 

Here I am, Lord. Please take my willingness to serve You and guide my steps of preparation in the way I should go. Direct my paths to the resources that will be helpful. Shield my heart and mind from that which discourages. Keep my mind focused on what you want me to teach. Your will, not mine.

Interesting how, once I released my tight grip on what and how to teach this class, the Lord directed my steps by allowing me to find the teacher’s edition of the English Grammar and Composition book I had loved using when I home-schooled my daughter eons ago. I thought the book was long since given away, but the Lord knew it was going to be helpful in the future.

Although I’m a little late to the link up, this post is inspired by the writing community at Five Minute Friday. Each participant writes for just 5 minutes on a one-word prompt – last week’s prompt being “willing.”

Five Minute Friday: Enlarging my World

My world has been relatively small the past few years, staying pretty close to home. Life has revolved very much around taking care of my mother as she battles Alzheimer’s. Over the years, I found myself growing weary and having to stop doing several things I love in order to be able to focus on her ever-increasing needs.

In late March, my sweet momma took up residence in a beautiful assisted living facility devoted to those with memory care needs. I still spend a few hours each day with her, but I can sleep throughout the WHOLE night in my own bed and am no longer fully responsible for her daily care. I’m beginning to feel more rested and able to resume some (but not all) of my former activities and ministries. I can take a little road-trip with my hubby, play in the dirt in my garden, or prepare a Sunday School lesson for the kids at church without interruption. It’s truly a blessing from God’s gracious hand.

With this new freedom, my world will enlarge even more in September when I accompany three of the men from our church (including my hubby) on a teaching trip to India. My responsibility during this trip will be to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) to the students who will be gathering for the purpose of enjoying some seminary-level training. I have never taught ESL, so this will be a huge stretch for me – something which will also enlarge my world as I help this group of adults whose first language is Hindi in their continued quest to become more fluent in their conversational English.

This is my hubby Wayne’s second trip to India (he’s the handsome, white-bearded guy on the lower left of the group photo above), as he traveled with our pastor and another friend on a teaching trip last year. This fall’s trip is a giant leap for me, as I’ve never been out of the country. [Well, unless you count the time when my hubby and I were honeymooning 43 years ago in a rented recreational vehicle and we drove over the Canadian border in the days before a passport was required.] This trip to India will be my first trip overseas, passport, visa, shots, long international flight, and all the cultural adventure that will surely come with that experience.

In the meanwhile, I will need much prayer support as I prepare for my role as a teacher on the other side of the world.

This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Please come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/

Change is in the Air

 

God used last year’s hospitalization to help me see Mom needed to live with us.

Just over one year ago I wrote, “Honoring Your Parents: Nursing Home or Your Home?” (I invite you to read it here.) In that piece I endeavored to describe the process which had guided my decision-making related to caring for my mother as she slipped further and further into the horrible world of memory loss. Countless decisions have been made since moving my mother from Milwaukee to our home in Fitchburg. Each decision to be made along the way was generally preceded by some sort of adversity which required a change. We prayed about each change, each process, and each decision. Our faithful God always answered, shedding light on each uncertain step.

Change is in the air once again.

Mom’s advancing Alzheimer’s and a few recent difficulties have made it abundantly clear that we need to prepare for what the next level in mom’s care might be. There have been many “nudges” toward planning for the possibility of mom’s future care taking place outside of our home setting. But three things in particular:

  • A gentle nudge in the form of a well-timed question from Diane, mom’s palliative care nurse practitioner. “So, have you considered what the next step in your mom’s care might look like?” We had a good chat about that, and she gave me several helpful suggestions.
  • My hubby’s trip to India. I had to ask myself what I would do if something happened to him and he could no longer help me. Even though my family and friends rallied to help me out during his trip, it became very clear that caring for mom on my own would be at too great a risk to my own health and welfare.
  • My own frailty. I took a fall down a short flight of stairs in my own home. Aside from a scrape to my leg, a few sore muscles and toes, the greatest injury I sustained was to my own pride. The fall served as a wake-up call causing me to consider how Wayne would care for mom if something happened to me.

In the past year, I’ve looked at the websites of many assisted living places, have talked with a few representatives on the phone, traded emails with yet a few more, and even toured three that I liked and thought might be able to at least provide some respite care. In each case, I could not imagine my mother living there. After my little chat with Diane, I looked into a newer one she suggested and rated very highly.  BeeHive is a 16-unit specialized memory care facility designed to look and feel very home-like. It is ideally located in Oregon just a few miles down the road from us, and about a mile from the nursing home where my brother resides.

Wayne and I scheduled a visit in early September before his trip to India. I was favorably impressed as I watched staff interact with residents. Compassion and respect were palpably present. We met Gina and Andy, two of the owners, and felt their pride of ownership and desire to serve their residents.

Standing on the sidelines, I watched one sweet lady receiving a hand massage. As the aide gently applied lotion and stroked her delicate hands, she looked into this resident’s eyes and spoke with her like she was a familiar friend. I knew in my heart this was the right place. A puzzle was in the works at a nearby table and I could hear one resident talking to another in friendly banter. Yes, I could definitely picture my dear Momma sitting at one of the tables, working on a puzzle and telling (or re-telling) one of her many tales.

After some discussion and prayer, we decided we would put down a deposit to reserve a place for mom. She is currently number four on their wait list. While it is still my heart’s desire to keep my mom at home with me until God calls her to her heavenly Home, I have great peace knowing I have another level of care reserved for her. My greatest comfort comes in knowing the One who is guarding our steps as He walks before us paving the way for whatever our future holds.

I know in my heart that my dear mother would skip along to heaven tonight if she could. Nearly every day she tells me so. Momma’s greatest comfort comes in knowing that Jesus promised He has a placed reserved for her in heaven.

Five Minute Friday: Balance and “Oasis Moments”

This post was brought to you (a day late, I know) courtesy of Kate Motaung’s blog Five Minute Friday and the word “balance.” Writers set the timer for five minutes and then free write on the word of the week. Check out more great posts and find inspiration for writing here at Five Minute Friday.


Things have been quiet on my blog. Good sleep is rare. Interrupted at best. Most days I live life in a sleepy fog. In my exhaustion, I’m having trouble staying focused enough to write.  A few of my friends have recently heard my silence and inquired as to my well-being.

My friend Sue wrapped me in a big hug on Sunday and told me that she was quite concerned. She had observed that caregiving seemed to be taking its toll on me, noting that I looked really tired. I was not the least bit offended by her basically telling me that I looked terrible. It’s really hard to cover up exhaustion. God knew I needed this confirmation of what I already knew. Sue’s concern and assurance of prayer meant the world to me.

Rita caught up with me a few minutes later and kindly inquired as to how momma is doing. This sweet friend is known for her ability to see a need and step in to help. I have been on the receiving end of her prayers wrapped in practical ministries of help. Her loving and thoughtful ways have often helped me find balance as a caregiver as she sits with my mom while I try to get some sleep, or hangout with my grandkids, or take my brother to a doctor’s appointment, or go out to dinner with my husband. Her kindness refreshes my spirit.

Yesterday I heard the familiar “chirp” of my phone indicating that I had received a text message. My heart smiled when I saw it was from my friend Barb – also my sister in Christ, and former co-worker (from way too many years ago).

“How are you and your momma doing? Haven’t seen anything on FB lately.”

It’s been more than 20 years since Barb and I worked together, but we’ve managed to keep in touch via Facebook, chats via Messenger, and occasional lunch get-togethers at a restaurant somewhere between my here and her there. It has been awhile since I’ve been able to get away and have lunch with Barb, but her little “I noticed you” via text meant so much. It felt good to sit in my favorite chair wrapped in a soft blanket and “chat” for a bit about what’s going on in our lives.

Amazing how a timely word from a friend can bring a little balance to your life when life feels weighed down and precariously listing toward one side.

This morning a message from another friend, Danielle, popped up on my phone.

You’ve been in my prayers a lot recently, especially since I haven’t seen too many posts about your mom. I know I didn’t post much about Tim as things got worse, so I’m assuming things are really hard right now.

She was right. Danielle knows firsthand what life as a caregiver can be like, as she takes care of her father-in-law in his struggle with memory loss. She walks this really hard road a few steps ahead of me and knows how to pray…and she does pray.

It’s not just these four friends who’ve helped me find balance. It’s my hubby who helps in countless ways, the friend who buys me a coffee on a whim, or the one who pops a surprise care package or a sweet card in the mail. Or the thoughtful neighbor who recently rang my doorbell and asked me to point him in the direction of something that needed to be done in my garden.

I’m so thankful for each and every one of the wonderful people God has put in my path. Through your prayers and acts of kindness, God refreshes my soul with “oasis moments” and helps me find balance in my life as a caregiver.