Dropping the Ball….Again.

Brad and Jim working on a puzzle. Jan 2016

Brad and Jim working on a puzzle. Jan 2016

The one part of being submerged in the Alzheimer’s world I never get used to is the amount of time I seem to waste on the phone or searching for answers online.

When Jim was first getting tested and diagnosed, I did research online because the doctor didn’t tell us much other than he had Mild Cognitive Impairment with the probability of advancing to Alzheimer’s Disease. I had no idea what that really meant.

Then when I asked during a follow up visit about support groups and the doctor recommended a group sponsored through his hospital for head trauma victims, I went back online and found The Alzheimer’s Association and their support groups. And I found a new neurologist.

I turned to the internet to read up on the latest treatments and research. Then I stayed up countless nights searching in vain for a clinical trial for Jim to participate in (he was too young and ended up being part of a diagnostic study).

Throughout the years, there have been times where I needed to understand so much more than I felt capable of without any help from a more knowledgeable source. I still feel this way; inadequate and dimwitted.

Filing for Social Security Disability for Jim took hours. Applying for Medicaid took hours. Filling out the Aid and Attendance paperwork, meeting with attorneys, social workers, government and veteran organizations….hours and hours and hours.

This past summer, I spent Jim’s last months at home on the phone probing for answers that never appeared. I made call after call, desperate for help with his care, assistance transporting him back from Connecticut, dealing with the VA, looking for a new home for him and trying to get some answers about what all of our options are (or in reality aren’t).

Now, I find myself back at my desk, searching online and making calls. This time to fulfill Jim’s wish to continue helping find a cure. He wants to donate his brain/body to research when he passes away. Sounds simple enough. I am sure there are many options and I can just tell his doctor and they can set it up. Wrong again.

In order to donate your brain tissue for research, you must be participating in a study before you die. You need to go to that location, have them evaluate you and become enrolled in the research program. If you wait until you can no longer travel, it is too late. The ironic part of this is of course that for many years Jim was too young to participate in trials. Even though he is the perfect research specimen, having no other medical issues other than Younger Onset Alzheimer’s and he was willing and able to participate,  possibly assisting a researcher somewhere to understand something that could change the course of this horrific disease, no one mentioned donation after death. No one asked if he would participate later. No one told me the timeframe and what needed to be done.  I didn’t ask.  And now I have failed him. There are only a limited number of brain banks around the country. Most are not even close to us, which is another problem. Several places would not take him because he is too far away. One study needs another family member to be involved in their program. One study, in New York, needs him to come in person to be evaluated. Maybe if he was having a good day, we had a private plane and the stars aligned just right.… It is so difficult to just accept “not possible” as an answer.

So, I tell you all of this to educate. If you or your loved one wants to donate brain tissue, start working the process now. It is not as simple as making a quick call. I am feeling like I have not fulfilled Jim’s wishes and wasting what his atrophied brain could teach. By not doing this last year, when Jim was capable of traveling and verbalizing his desire to participate, I have let him down and I have let down many others, including our children. Again.failure-is-success-if-we-learn-from-it

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (16)

Happy Today

Brad, Jim and Frances celebrating Jim's 53rd birthday. April 2015.

Brad, Jim and Frances celebrating Jim’s 53rd birthday. April 2015.

It sounds so easy. Take your loved one to a place that promises to watch them and care for them and allows you to go home and relax and focus on other things. How difficult is something so needed and so good?

We were given a 30 day respite through the VA this month. I was elated. The kids and I would be able to do the whole back to school routine, we would get to go to family camp for the fifth year, we would have time to get stuff done around the house (Ok, now you know I was really dreaming) and we would get to just breathe a little.

If you have never been to an assisted living type facility before, you have no clue what I am about to tell you, and it will most likely sound like something that should be shut down. But, if you have, you know what I am about to write.

You know the absolute guilt and heartache that come with the very first step through the doors. The smell of urine permeates through your whole body and clings to your clothes. The shock of seeing person after person almost in a comatose state either in a wheelchair or a bed. The horror of thinking how awful this place is and that you should be turning around and running back through the doors….yet you stay. You unpack clothes and try to seem happy about all of this. You see the dirt, the grime, the locks on everything, , the coded doors, the list of simple activities you can not believe that your husband would be happy to sit through….. It reminds you of a horror film but you are living it and you don’t leave. Well you do leave….alone.

You leave and cry and cry all the way home. The perfect sad song comes on the radio and you turn it up and cry even harder.

When your children go to visit the next day, you cringe again as you walk through the doors and see it all anew through their eyes. The moans from a bed as you pass, the loud daytime TV shows, the medicine cart, the food cart, the alarm going off when the door is opened incorrectly, the wandering, lost souls down each hallway. And they tell you what you already knew: Dad should not be here. This place is awful. We cannot leave him here! Yet, he remains and you return to the home you shared and the bed you no longer share. And you must kick into super awesome Mom mode. Think fast even though you agree with what they say.

“Was Daddy happy?”

“Yes.”

“Did he ask to come home?”

“No”

“Did he say he didn’t belong there?”

“No”

“Did he ask when he could leave or seem sad when we were leaving?”

“No”

“Well, we have to understand that Dad is content and likes where he is. Maybe he wouldn’t have a year ago or we wouldn’t want to stay there, but where he is right now mentally is what we have to think about. And he is fine. They are nice, they are looking out for him, he is laughing and we are getting a break.”

And there is the click. The change. The acceptance, the understanding that no 11 year old or 14 year old should have to fathom until they are old and grey themselves.

Jim is happy. He has a routine. He has activities. He has people to talk to.The staff watch out for him and know his signs.  He is satisfied in his own little world and is happy we can join him sometimes but has not asked once to come home. He has called to tell me he misses me but he doesn’t ask when he is leaving. He hugs me and I hear from the staff he talks about me all the time (and the dog and the kids) but he is contented to just be where he is. And where he is is a locked unit an hour away with patients much older and much further along. But he has progressed enough with the disease that none of this connects in his riddled brain any longer. And it is sad. It is sad to leave him. It is sad to know he accepts this new home (albeit temporary) and it is sad to witness his behaviors that mirror the other patients who don’t seem to acknowledge the world around them.

Did he really go into someone else’s room and take their photo album and put it in his room? Did he really get agitated because he was outside too long? Did he really not want to participate in a group activity? His changes cause our changes. His decline is our decline.

This short reprieve has been so, so wonderful for the kids and I on just about every level and in every aspect imaginable. The laughter and the carefree conversations make us acutely aware of how tremendously stressed we were without even realizing it. To acknowledge this is hard. It feels as if I am somehow betraying the love of my life. But when you are living your life, the best thing you can do is be honest about what is happening, what eases your burdens, what brings a smile to your face and what causes the stresses to disappear.

Life doesn’t get magically perfect because Jim is out of the house. I still worry a great deal about him, about finances, about the kids, about all of the things I worried about before but without having to keep a constant watch over him. Without the children fretting about him getting agitated or misplacing something they need or all of us keeping an eye and ear on guard for whatever is about to happen next.

None of this is easy. None of this has a good answer or a happy ending.

I spoke with my Dad tonight and we were discussing finances and planning Jim’s care (a typical conversation these days) and he asked me, “What about a year from now?”

And for the first time in my life I really understood myself in a clear and concise way. I told him ,”I can barely think about the rest of today or tomorrow. The most I am going to hope to even fathom thinking about and planning for would be six months from now. There is no way a full year would ever come into my radar.”

I am so grateful for this short break from the daily task of Jim’s care and I do wonder what we will do in a few  weeks. But I cannot dwell on it and ruin the time we have right now. I am good. The kids are good. Jim is good. And that is all I can ask for today.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (12)

A Broken System Will Not a Broken Woman Make

For the first time since I started this endeavor I am writing directly on my blog without taking the time and energy and forethought to edit and proofread and ponder over my words before putting them out for the world to read. I am too tired. Too overwhelmed. And frankly, too frustrated and mad. Mad at our system.

Don’t get me wrong. Our friends, neighbors and even strangers have reached out over the past week to offer guidance and help in many forms. I am grateful beyond imagination. They have saved us and I really, really am humbled. But ultimately, our family is still left hanging on a ledge and hoping a huge gust of wind doesn’t blow through.

Jim is home. I know you have been worried and you have been praying and you have sent me your advice. Thank you. His sisters were able to drive him to Delaware and a very special friend rode with me for the 11 hour round trip to pick him up and bring him home. We didn’t know what would happen and I am pleased to tell you the ride was fine. He is fine.

Well, he is hard to understand. He needs help with showering and shaving and getting dressed. He needs verbal cues with washing his hands after using the restroom. He is confused many times and still insists he had to “beat the shit out of two guys”. But he is calm and his usual passive self. Obviously, I cannot leave him alone. Which is why I had to have a friend come stay with him the short time I needed to leave to go visit my counselor. Who listened and then stared at me, momentarily speechless (I don’t think this is a good sign).

I am going to try to do a quick overview of the past week and why I am mad and frustrated and feeling our system is broken. While Jim sat, many hours away, in a psychiatric unit, I called and begged for a way to get him safely home. At the time I started this process, we weren’t sure him riding in the car would be possible and an airplane ride was definitely out. Insurance would not cover a medical transport. So, he had to stay much longer than he should have. And I am ashamed to say I had very little time or mental capacity to really focus on him, how he was and where he was and think of him emotionally. I was too busy being focused on the paperwork and the problem of figuring out what to do. If he had had a stroke or a heart attack, I would have been able to rush to him, focus on his care, his recovery and not think twice about what to do about care when he was back in Virginia. There is nothing I could ever put in writing that will evoke for you that guilt of knowing I was more worried about other stuff than about him. I didn’t rush to be by his side because I had to think about what to do when he came home. This will haunt me for a very long time.

Once I realized I would have to get him home with no financial help, I had to decide what to do with him when he returned. Would he be ok at home? Would he get violent again? Is this the time to put him in a home, making it an easier transition? There were endless questions constantly running through my mind. All the while, our 11 year old son sat idly by waiting for me to get off the phone or off the computer so we could spend some of the quality time I had promised him weeks ago. Time that unfortunately didn’t really happen. Again, the guilt and the sadness cannot be conveyed.

Knowing Jim is retired Air Force, many have suggested the Veteran’s Administration. Jim unfortunately thought that too. It was always his understanding that if he put his 23 years in, he would be taken care of later. Granted, he always thought it would be when he was much older, but he always told me when he got too old and cranky for me to take care of to just stick him in a VA home. How I wish this was so easy to do. Jim does not qualify at this time (that I can find) for ANY VA help. His disability is not service related. He is not over 65 years old. He did not serve in Vietnam. He is not a Gulf War Veteran. Our family makes over $26,000 a year. I checked, re-checked and then checked again. If anyone knows anything different, please feel free to share the magic pass code. I could really use it about right now.

I also applied for Medicaid. Although I haven’t gotten the official word back yet, our chances of getting approved are pretty slim due to our income. Please don’t think we are living high on the hog. We are a paycheck to paycheck family. We own one car. One 1,600 square foot home. One TV. Yep, I splurge sometimes and get Starbucks and I have an iPhone that I bought for my job at the time almost 5 years ago and we’ve taken some nice vacations over the past couple of years. Trust me….this does not mean we can afford care for Jim. Unless we take EVERY SINGLE PENNY that we have coming in each month (I’m not even sure that will eventually be enough), then we could afford his care. Of course, at that point, there would be nothing for myself or the kids. And by the way, I will also have to spend almost all of the retirement and savings we have. So that whole rule about having 6 months salary in savings in case of an emergency? Gone.  Then we could have the state pay for our healthcare, our home, our food, our heat and even our children’s braces. And, I will not have money saved for my own retirement therefore I will also need assistance when I am older. So, to keep from using the government to help with Jim’s care in one program, our family will be reduced to using multiple government programs to stay alive. Then I see that our government is trying to cut disability payments next year by 20%? Really? And I am supposed to stay calm, cool and collected?

I cannot possibly explain the amount of frustration this causes me. I do not feel we are a family who is trying to take advantage of the system. We are in a unique situation, but because of rules, regulations, guidelines and black and white protocols, we are stuck right in the middle. We don’t make enough to pay for care, yet we make too much to receive aid. The programs currently in place are for retired people who can sell their homes and use up savings and retirement to pay for care, or they will then qualify for government assistance. It is not set up for middle aged families who may need that retirement later and who have young children at home and cannot sell their home to pay for care. As a disclaimer: Medicaid does allow us to keep the home and the car. The previous statement is in reference to who the people had in mind when they wrote all of the guidelines for the program.

Let me give you an example of a conversation I had this week. It will hopefully show you how much I feel like I have been a hamster in a wheel…..

While at the VA hospital, meeting with a Veteran’s Representative, I was asked for a letter from when Jim retired. It was his disability rating letter. I didn’t have it. The very kind gentleman told me I would need a Power of Attorney in order to get a copy. I pulled out my copy and tried to hand it to him. “No, you need a VA Power of Attorney,” he says to me. I look down at my copy and in bold, capital letters at the top of the very first paragraph it says MILITARY POWER OF ATTORNEY. So, I try handing it to him again and tell him it was done on a military installation and is a military POA. “No. It has to be a VA Power of Attorney. That one won’t work.”   Are you kidding me? This, while Jim sat in Connecticut, waiting for me to figure out something to help him. After all the years he served and thought he would be ok and not a burden to his family or anyone else. After I sat and cried for a moment, I asked the same kind man how I could raise my family on the $26,000 a year they expected in order to quality for Aid and Attendance? He very quickly told me that combat war veterans were coming back and living on $8,300 a year.

And what could I say to that?

Now I am just treading. Keeping my head barely above the surface and hoping all of the red tape, regulations and bureaucracy doesn’t pull me under. How am I expected to take care of two children and Jim with no help? If I was independently wealthy, no problem. But I am not. We are a middle class family trying to find a needle in a haystack.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (26)

Elusive Answers

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 8.07.37 PM Because life is NEVER simple or easy when you are dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease I am at a crossroads with no uncomplicated, direct answer.

Jim rode last week from our home in Virginia to visit his family in Connecticut. He was excited (when he remembered he was going) and went willingly. My parents were already heading to Boston to take in some Red Sox games, so they offered to drop him off on the way and then pick him up on the way back. This gave me a week “off” and since Frances was heading to camp, it would also give me some one on one time with Brad. I envisioned getting the house clean, taking him to movies and the beach and being able to relax together.

Then a very dear friend (since 4th grade) asked if she could come visit. Perfect! Then another very dear friend won VIP tickets to a concert in Vegas and asked if I would like to be her date! I discussed this opportunity with some local friends who agreed to watch Brad and started making plans. I would get to do what everyone has been telling me over and over to do: take care of myself. I would see some old friends who refresh my spirit, I would get to bond with my son and I would even have some time for reading a good book and getting caught up on house stuff. Oh how life teases us.

This is where you insert a record playing in the background screeching to an ear splitting halt.

Jim had difficulty on the way while riding in the car at one point getting aggressive with my parents. Then he had several severe psychotic breaks during his first full day away, culminating with police, an ambulance ride to the ER and now a stay in a locked psychiatric unit. In Connecticut. While I am in Virginia. And he is confused. And scared. And alone. And a lost soul. I can only understand about every 3 words he says on the phone. He has had a couple of episodes since he was admitted but over all I believe he is doing much better.

How awful this disease can be. If there is anyone in this world who is NOT mean, angry or violent, it is Jim. Sometimes during the course of our marriage I have been miffed at him for his lack of aggressiveness. In a world around us urging us to show more and more belligerence he has been steadfast with his passiveness. Jim’s soul is as sweet and demur as it gets, yet he has now attacked others, become violent, paranoid, angry, torn a turn signal off a steering shaft and is now saddled with a “one on one” (a person who stays with him 24/7 to ensure he doesn’t hurt anyone). He hallucinated and said things completely untrue. He is another being in the body of the man I have known more than any other for the past 19 years. I am heartbroken just picturing him there, while I am here. Carrying on. Doing mundane things. Living life.

Dinner needs to be fixed. Jim is in the hospital. Laundry needs to be put away. Jim is in the hospital. Brad has track practice. Jim is alone and scared. The dog needs to be fed and walked. Jim needs help. Throughout my entire day, I am in a constant state of back and forth, reminding me my life may seem quiet and simple on the surface as I move from task to task, but the reality is Jim needs me. He is alone and scared and needs me to find an answer. An answer that eludes me no matter how many phone calls I make or how many conversations I have. The task at hand permeates into every cell of my being and each cell chooses to fight back; either struggling to believe there is help and an answer if I can only find it or shutting down and withdrawing. I am not sure yet which cells will win. There is a civil war currently taking place within me.

Now I sit making phone calls. Trying to find a place for him. There isn’t one. I can’t afford to place him in a memory care unit. Do I bring him back to our home? And risk a recurrence in front of the kids? I question each decision I am trying to make. Do I try to bring him home and let him get acclimated and see if he settles down? For how long will this last? If he gets out of control again, then what? I will say, “I should have known.” How would I live with myself if someone else got hurt or he got hurt? Yet, if he remains his usual self, I have taken him out of his home for no reason. I didn’t try hard enough. I didn’t make the right decision. I didn’t do the right thing.

What is the right thing when there are no guarantees or crystal balls? What is the right thing when you know the eventual answer, just not the timing?

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 8.02.33 PMMy heart and my whole body are heavy. Thinking right now at all is a burden. I am so tired mentally. I constantly feel as if I could lay down and slide into a deep sleep. I have a streaming thought non-stop:  Jim is in the hospital, Jim is in the hospital, Jim needs help, Jim is in the hospital, I have to figure out what to do. It doesn’t pause. I go about life with Brad as best I can, but I have that ticker tape on repeat in my mind.There is no simple answer for getting him home. We can’t fly him back. The doctor is strongly against us driving him back. (But that is, at this point, our only choice) Insurance will not cover a medical transport. What are our options? When I do eventually return him to Virginia, I have no place to put him. I am still searching. Of course the first question asked  when I inquire about assisted living is how I am going to pay. Then if I have qualified for Medicaid. (I haven’t applied yet, that is obviously on my to-do list) $6,000 a month for private pay until we get approved. Or I can take my chances and have him home with me and the kids. I can try to get in-home care, which I will again have to try to figure out how to cover. And still worry about the recurrence of his agitation.

There is no specific answer for our situation. I know others have gone through this, but unlike most medical situations, almost every single turn with Alzheimer’s Disease is arduous, overwhelming and with no specific plan. We are all on our own. There is no place to turn to for help. No one that will call around to find a bed for him. No one to help with the Medicaid paperwork. No one to tell me exactly what we should do at this very moment. He is to be released to my care and I am to bring him home, to wait to find out if the other shoe will fall. To possibly become an instantaneous news reel about the pitfalls of our system. To be spoken of in what if’s and should have’s. If he wasn’t diagnosed with Younger Onset Alzheimer’s Disease and he became violent like this, would I get help? What happens when someone shouldn’t be around their children for safety reasons? Is the only option jail?

Fortunately for me, I do have a wonderful support group of friends and now readers of this blog. I have people who may not be able to make decisions for me, but they let me know I am not alone. I have help with the kids, I have shoulders to cry on and people who would literally drop everything to help us. How lucky am I? I am so burdened with my responsibility yet I am touched and humbled and amazed at the outpouring of love for our family. It is a feeling of unbelievable gratitude and disbelief. Thank you one and all, from the very depths of my love and sincerity.

In the meantime, Jim sits, alone, passing his time coloring and staring into space. Wondering where he is and where his family is.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (26)

Strong Girl

 

Cliff Jumping in Bermuda, 1993.

Cliff Jumping in Bermuda, 1993.

I was held up at gunpoint. I was on my way from my car to my apartment, walking with the man I was dating and suddenly there were two guys with ski masks over their faces pointing guns at us asking for our stuff. I remained calmed. I looked at the gun, less than an inch from my eyes, and thought to myself, “it looks fake”. I knew well enough not to ask the person holding the gun if it was. I knew there were people working out in the fitness room less than 20 yards away. As my date was fumbling with his wallet, I was asking them if I could just give them my money so I wouldn’t have to go through the hassle of getting a new license and replace everything in my purse. No such luck. As I watched them coward away, I memorized what they were wearing. I told my then boyfriend to go in and call the police and headed back to my car to try to find them (I know, I know, I have been told numerous times what an idiot I was). As a single female, I had followed all the precautions: apartment on the second floor, overlooking the pool, next to the office, etc. It didn’t stop an event that changed my life and could have ultimately taken it. I learned  you can try to follow guidelines and do what you are supposed to do but it doesn’t alway mean things will turn out the way you plan or the way you are promised. I was calm, cool and collected until after the police left. Then I couldn’t leave my apartment after nightfall for months. I would stand in my window and cry. I was haunted by the sheer brevity of the fact a slip of the finger could have ended it all. I was not the strong woman I had been for 26 years. I was living in my own prison. I learned that night the guy I was going out with wasn’t for me and ended things fairly soon after. Three months later, I met Jim. And my life was again changed. But changed so that I regained my strength and my ability to be strong. I eventually was even able to watch shooting and guns on TV and movies. All with the patience and understanding and support of a savior.

When I was 24 I packed my car and drove from North Carolina to Las Vegas by myself (before cell phones!), not knowing a single soul. I moved there for a job and stayed long enough to meet Jim. Again, following the rules….called my parents each night, let them know where I should be the next day, didn’t do anything crazy while driving across this beautiful land of ours. At the time, it seemed a normal course of action for me. I would not have respected myself if I hand’t gone. The person I was then must still be inside of me…right?

Aren’t we always taught to follow the rules and everything will be ok? It’s not. Jim didn’t do drugs. He was a good person. He worked very hard and was good at his job. He was quite a catch. Jim was safe. He was a good provider, he was a good man who would make a good husband and a good Dad. I took the safe road. He helped others and gave more than he received. Why is this happening to him? He was a much better person than I. He was a better parent. He was an all around better contributor to society. How is it he is the one being taken early? The unfairness is blatant. And now I am fumbling daily to find my footing and keep some sense of perspective that will allow me to help him navigate his new shortcomings and help our children remain intact and keep our home and figure out dinner and keep up with laundry and make sure the schedule is updated and homework is checked and everyone has taken a shower and eaten and is OK. But am I OK? I don’t know. I just don’t know.

My point of telling you these stories is to remind myself I am strong and independent and capable to be on my own. I sometimes forget who I was before I became a Mom and then a caregiver to Jim. What do I enjoy? What am I capable of? Who am I now? Who will I be when all of this is over?

I am lost. Really. I know when people see me they think I am doing so great considering our circumstances, but I am not. Not by my standards. And that is the problem. My standards for myself are pretty high. Always have been. But I can’t do it. I can’t be the person I was. I can’t do it all. I can’t keep my mind clear and focused and be the best I can. I am the best I can right now, but it isn’t my personal best and it isn’t acceptable. And because I know this, it bothers me.

There are days that I have so much I need to do, so much running through my mind, that I just shut down. I don’t cry and I don’t feel sorry for myself, I just shut down. I don’t do ANYTHING. And then I am upset with myself for not doing ANYTHING, and it becomes cyclical. Even worse is the fact I am completely aware of my new shortcomings.

I am strong. I mean, I am a strong, independent, capable woman. Or, I should say I was. When Jim and I met and married, I eventually made more than he did. It was our decision for me to stay home with Frances and try different gigs out of the house so I could be a Mom first. We had enough to live on with just his salary and we were both fine with that.  It was never an easy adjustment for me and Jim was really always the better parent, even though I was the one home all day with the kids. He was supportive and understanding and not once complained. When I would meet him at the door with a kid and tell him he was five minutes late and he was on duty, he loved it. He loved being a dad.

Even now, as he declines into his own abyss, all he continues to tell me as he cries, is that he wants to watch his children grow up. As he can’t recall their names, he knows he wants to be there to be part of their world and witness their growth and maturity.

I can’t take it. It is unbelievable painful to stand helplessly by as he declines and becomes a complete stranger to all of us who love him.

Just as difficult is to figure out where I fit into all of this…. What is the right way to navigate all that is thrown at me daily while staying his wife, staying a mom, staying a friend, staying ME?

I realize that I am morphing into a whole new entity. I don’t care about going out anymore (HUGE change for me). I don’t care about the latest movie or TV show. I don’t care about keeping the house clean….yikes. So embarrassing. My parents came for a visit recently and I didn’t clean one thing. NOT ONE THING!! Not a bathroom. No vacuuming. No dusting. Nothing. I have had them visiting me since that infamous drive across country and there has NEVER been a single time I didn’t clean and get ready for their impending visit. Never. Now, I can’t seem to find the wherewithal to do much more than change their sheets, which I didn’t do until after they arrived. Embarrassing and telling.

No, I am not the old Karen. But I know I am not the Karen that eventually will be. I am in a holding pattern. Not sure I am crazy about the Karen I am, but I have to accept there are major changes and events going on and I have to give myself some slack. Not an easy task. I am trying. I am working constantly on finding me while holding onto the task at hand.

I am grateful for the strength I possess. I am so very, very grateful to friends who understand and accept my changes. I am indebted to my parents for continuing to love me unconditionally. How are people who aren’t born with an inner ability to find that power and resilience able to handle this horrible journey? I don’t know. I am barely surviving and can’t imagine being able to without my natural fortitude.

Stay strong. Stay you when you can and when you can’t, forgive  yourself and know you will be you again someday. Maybe a different you, but a stronger and more resilient you. Repeat.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (14)

I appreciate what I have…but Miss what I don’t!

i-am-thankful-for-my-struggleThere is a little boy who is dying tonight. He is two years old and he has cancer. I don’t know his family, but I still hate what their family has endured and what they will continue to endure long after their precious son has left them. I see updates on Facebook from the family. We have mutual friends and as I have watched their fight and witnessed from afar their heartache, I have pondered life and the unfairness that happens in our universe. I see Jim, struggling to keep his dignity and to stay a dad as long as he can. And I read stories about parents losing their children. If I could somehow make it so that I had to endure the frustrations and constant sorrow I am faced with each day to save a child, I would. But as much as I wish my suffering and Jim’s suffering could abate the pain felt in another home, I know it won’t. I know I will continue to watch as Jim fights his own battle the best he can. I am only a witness to the things I recognize as more heinous than watching Jim succumb to the plaques and tangles multiplying in his brain in another family…. Losing a child would be one of them. I am so, so grateful for Frances and Brad and somehow, dealing with the pending death (albeit not tonight or tomorrow) of my spouse, I cannot help but be so grateful for having them with us and in seemingly good health. It isn’t lost on me that I may be suffering a loss, but it could be worse. To the parents who are losing a child or who have lost a child, I am so sorry. I wish I could somehow take the suffering our family must endure and replace yours. I suppose it would make all that our family is going through worth it….if we could find some good in our pain by easing the burdens others face. I sometimes wish Jim would just die. Now. I don’t really want him to die, but as I have mentioned several times, I don’t want to be part of what is coming. It is this unbelievable awful thought process: I don’t want Jim to die, but I don’t want him to continue to decline in cognitive abilities and don’t want his children to watch him suffer in a way that they can’t possibly change or help in any way. I know that Jim doesn’t want to become the person he is becoming. It can cause so much internal stress thinking about it all, the best way to handle it can be to shut down. But dementia patients need you there for them for years, so you are not allowed to shut down for long. You must stay in the present, to help them and in my case, help our children. The irony cannot be missed: my partner, my go-to person is the patient. The stress and the heartache and the gut wrenching thoughts would be eased under normal circumstances because Jim and I would discuss them and he would be my sounding board and my help. I have come to realize with much clarity that even marriages in troubled times have two partners. Partners that can communicate. Partners who can help with whatever needs helping; dishes, yardwork, decisions on finances, disciplining the kids, vacation ideas, what to do with free time, what to watch on TV, what to do about life situations that happen with friends and family, co-workers, cable companies, etc. I have opportunity to sit back and watch relationships now with a different thought process and a much different appreciation. Even my friends who complain about their spouses (and as they do they usually apologize to me and tell me they shouldn’t be complaining to me of all people) have to recognize the simple pleasure of having a partner who is there, in the moment and who can carry on a REAL conversation and even if they are driving you crazy with the point of view they have, at least they have a point of view. At least they can listen and comprehend you are upset or need to vent or have ideas that they are helping you mold into realism.

The big question is would I suddenly appreciate Jim if he miraculously went back to the man he was 10 years ago? Would I find the fact he was able to be a husband and a father in such a magnificent way enough? Would I be content and appreciative? I certainly like to think so.

Since I am reminded daily there is no cure and there are no treatments that can correct his decline, it is a moot point. But I think it is reason enough to pause and appreciate where he is now and how much we have to be thankful for. Starting with two amazing kids who continue to bless us with love and lots of great memories. And a man who doesn’t give up and who tries his best, each and every day.

Frances and Brad in Alaska, July 2014.

Frances and Brad in Alaska, July 2014.

 

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (7)

I love my kids

Frances and Brad, Sept. 2006

Frances and Brad, Sept. 2006

I am like 99.9% of the parents in this world….I LOVE my kids. I love watching them play sports and participate in school activities and I love hanging out with them (most of the time). I love the chats we have and I love the laughs at the dinner table. I love that they make me a better person. I love teaching them about the world and I love it even more when they teach me a thing or two. They are actually pretty good behavioral wise and both of them show me love and gratitude on a daily basis. I recognize how rare this can be with a 14 year old and a 10 year old and I am very, very grateful. I suck it up and savor every moment. Sometimes to the point of being a little too emotional and a little too sappy. I realize it won’t always be this way and appreciate what I have right now. They are by no means perfect, but I am proud and I recognize how seriously lucky I am to have them in my life.

There are moments I get really hard on them for not wanting to be with Jim more or for getting frustrated with him; just like I do. I don’t praise them enough for when they do show patience and when they are participating in his care. As with most of life’s moments, we see them clearer when they are firmly behind us. It is important to me to learn from these lessons and to keep trying to become a better mom, a better wife, a better person. The end result will save me from my self -destructive ways and from wallowing into a mass of self pity. It is difficult to feel sorry for yourself if you are constantly critical within your own decisions and behaviors. Some say I am too hard on myself, but when I consider the alternative of accepting my situation and letting myself fall to pieces over and over or become less of a person than I should or can be, I am not thrilled with what that person looks like. I would fall into a deeper hole because I would be so disgusted by looking into the mirror and not liking what I saw. I suppose without Jim to keep me in check, I am forced to do it myself and this is the way I can. I sometimes rely on friends and family, but they try to be too delicate with me for fear of making things worse or just because they want to protect me more than hurt me. Yes, it would hurt to hear something awful about myself, but in the end game, it would be better for me, Jim and the kids.

I often forget how different their childhood is from mine. I remember growing up being terrified for a while that my parents would die; either from cancer, a car wreck or something that would take them away from me. I can vividly remember asking them when they were going to die and begging them to never leave me. I still feel that way. I think most kids go through this phase at some point. Fortunately, those fears were never realized and I am blessed to still have my parents in my life, helping me as much now as they did when I was living in their home.

On the contrary: Frances and Brad have basically always known that their Dad will not be around forever. They don’t complain about it. Actually, they never mention it. I suppose it is just their “normal”. When we started realizing something was terribly wrong with Jim, Brad was just 5. He doesn’t remember anything different. He doesn’t have a carefree life without the burden of Alzheimer’s Disease. Ever. It is as engrained in him as eating fruits and vegetables or washing your hands before a meal. That is all he has known. Although I live in this family with them, their perspectives and thoughts are so different from mine. Their expectations differ and their reality is now including a disease that not only took their grandmother and uncle from them, but is taking their father too. And they are both fully aware, it could possibly take them or their sibling.They are extremely close for children this age and I am sometimes just awestruck at this. Frances has been gone during the week recently and Brad asked the first week she was gone if we could pick her up early, telling me “it just isn’t as much fun when she isn’t around.” And when I picked her up and brought her home, the first thing she wanted to do was see Brad.  I think part of the reason they are so in tune to each other is their common woe of Alzheimer’s Disease and losing their father in this manner.   What must that be like? How would I feel? I know how I feel with it being my husband and possibly one day my child, but what is it really like to grow up with this horrible mess surrounding you constantly? Is it like living in a war torn country? You just get used to it and learn to adapt?

Frances remembers Jim from before he was showing signs, but her personality allows her to be very practical and compartmentalize on a regular basis. I worry one day, when she is older, she will look back and have regrets. I worry I am not doing enough for either of them now to make it easier and more bearable later. I strive to give them as normal a childhood as possible: no favors from teachers or coaches, no special treatment from schools or organizations they are applying to. There are two rules that I will not budge on: not taking advantage of Jim and not manipulating our situation to their advantage. I feel strongly that it will only hurt them in the long run if they rely on his impending death to get away with things most kids their age try or if they are treated with kid gloves.

There are moments I think way too much about all of this, and I want/need someone to talk to….my husband would be my first logical choice, but as you know, it isn’t a choice that is available. So I sit, by myself, trying to single handily determine the best way to parent two children who are not only losing their father a fraction at a time, but who might eventually sit across from a doctor listening to the same horrible diagnosis.

I am sometimes so completely stunned, I am not able to function at my normal capacity. It just can’t happen. I can’t think straight and I can’t decide what to do about anything. I can’t figure out what to fix for dinner or where some papers should go or how to plan our lives financially. The stress and the burden of trying to stay “normal” through a very, very long illness and subsequential grieving process can make a person not only change their personality, it changes priorities, desires, rationality and common sense.

My first and most important goal is to raise two, healthy, children who are not completely scarred by a childhood overshadowed by death. If I can fulfill this objective, I will have been a good mom. I won’t know until years from now. All I can do in the meantime is the best I can, when I can. And then I need to accept I won’t always be my best. I will still be me, but I will just be a lesser version for a time.

Jim, Frances and Brad, April 2013.

Jim, Frances and Brad, April 2013.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (4)

Alaska!

Posing by a gushing waterfall in a rainforest in Juneau.

Posing by a gushing waterfall in a rainforest in Juneau.      July 2014.

First things first: Our trip to Alaska was great. Great in the sense we got away from everyday life and got to see some absolutely AMAZING sights: Glaciers, Bald Eagles, Orcas, Humpbacks, Otters, Seals. Just breathtaking mountains of snow, trees, mist, clouds and water all rolled into one.

We had never been on a cruise. Actually, no one in our family has ever really wanted to go on one. When we first started talking about visiting Alaska, we were going to fly there and do our own tour of the state. Prices and Alzheimer’s Disease changed our agenda. After much thought and discussion, I decided (notice the “I”) we would forgo our previous plans and go with the cruise option. We would join all the other tourists at the port of calls and try to find our way among the masses versus venturing out on our own for parts unknown.

I have been asked several times since our return if Jim enjoyed himself. Yes. Yes he did. As much as you can tell, he did. Since Jim is no longer showing much emotion or throwing out many comments, you must listen and observe closely. As my Mom told me, “That is the most excitement and emotion I have seen from Jim in a long time.” She was right. As we emerged from the rainforest we were touring, into the sights of a huge, beautiful, blue glacier, Jim exclaimed, “Oh wow.” Perfect sentiments, but unusual at this point with him.

Searching for moose outside of Anchorage, Alaska. June 2014.

Searching for moose outside of Anchorage, Alaska.             June 2014.

Many times he just sat and watched the beautiful scenery float by. He seldom said much about what we were doing. But there were smiles and times of excitement that we don’t get to see anymore while at home. There were also the times he got lost on the cruise ship. Even I had trouble at times, and I am good at navigating. But he got stuck on a floor and couldn’t figure out how to get back to our floor even after calling a few times. Eventually my Dad went to get him, after we  had been searching all over the ship for him. It was frustrating and sad. We all felt bad. Jim didn’t seem one bit bothered. It is our new normal. It was a lesson. We learned that he couldn’t be left alone at all and needed to be with someone, even it was one of the kids, at all times. Sad. Annoying. Emotional.

One night, I was sitting in our cabin while the kids were out meandering around with their new friends. Jim was slowing searching around the cabin. Eventually, he sat on the bed and started to cry. I didn’t understand immediately why. So I asked him why he was crying. “Because everything I do from here on out is going to be the last time I do it. Everything is the last time.” He was having a moment of clarity. He knew why we were on this trip. He knew he wouldn’t be coming back. Even if the kids and I eventually did.

Later, on the last day of our journey, Jim seemed content. He was happy. He was awake and alert and enjoying himself. We all were. He hugged me and thanked me for taking him to Alaska. He thanked me for being a good wife and taking care of him. And he cried again. But these were different tears. Sad but different.

Jim and Brad enjoying a beautiful sunset on the ship. July 2014.

Jim and Brad enjoying a beautiful sunset on the ship.          July 2014.

And I waited. I waited until we had gotten home. I waited until we had survived the red eye flight and had started laundry and had unpacked our bags. I waited until I had the rare moment alone. And I cried. I cried because I was spent. I was emotionally and physically spent. Even after taking a wonderful vacation, I was tired from the psychological strain of making it all perfect and figuring out schedules and payments and keeping track of people,  places and things. I was done. Then, that night, I had to work. I had to do laundry. I had to worry about dinner. I had to make sure Jim and the kids were ok. Life was back to normal.

I failed again. I failed Jim. The week prior to our departure, I went over everything that needed to be packed with him and the kids. Multiple times. As a mom, I seem to repeat myself over and over again. It is annoying to everyone involved. I checked Brads’ bag. My Mom checked Frances’ bag. No one checked Jims’ bag. I (mistakenly) assumed that telling him over and over to pack sweatshirts and jackets and cool weather stuff would suffice. I was mistaken. He had shorts and t-shirts and polos. It was chilly. Thankfully, , my Mom bought him an Alaska jacket on the first day and he had that to wear each day. But, the real problem was I knew that I should check his bag. I knew it is no longer enough to remind him over and over what to do. I must go behind him and double check. The Fourth of July t-shirt I purchased him? No where to be found. Even though I had reminded him numerous times to pack it. It is such a deceptive disease. You think you can get away with letting things go but you really can’t. They sneak up on you and bite you.

So, we had a wonderful time but there were supreme heartbreaking moments. Moments that are part of our journey but normally not part of vacations.

Thank you so very much for all of the well wishes and support after my last post. I appreciate your words of encouragement and they helped me. It was a memorable journey.

Standing in front of the Mendenhall Glacier, near Juneau, Alaska. July 2014.

Standing in front of the Mendenhall Glacier, near Juneau, Alaska. July 2014.

A couple of days after our return, I was laying in bed and Jim came and sat on the edge of the bed by my feet. He started rubbing my feet and I had my eyes closed. If I let myself, it could have been years ago and all this talk about Alzheimer’s Disease could easily be a nightmare that others live. But as I tried to meld into a different time and place, I was snapped back into our reality. I heard a sniffle and then a sob. As Jim sat rubbing my soles, his soul was opening. I asked him what was wrong. “I am just so tired of not being able to remember anything.”

“Well, you remember our trip we just went on, right?”

“Yes.”

“Where did we go?”

Silence. My breathing became a bit shallow and I began to curse myself for asking. Did I really need to put him through this torture and myself as well? But I knew he knew this answer.

“I can’t remember the places.”

“But you remember the state. What state did we got to?”

“Alaska.”
“Well, that is all you need to remember.”

“I wish I had all the places I went with the IG team still. I think that one pier we were at, looking out at the water and the birds was really familiar.”

“Jim, you never went to Alaska. That was one of the main reasons we went. You went to Seattle.”

“Hmmm. It sure did look familiar, like I had been there before.”

“Well, we have lots of pictures and we will help you remember.”

“Thanks. I love you. You are a great wife and I am so lucky. Thank you for being such a good wife to me.”

Jim looking out from our balcony. July 2014.

Jim looking out from our balcony. July 2014.

 

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (19)

Fire in the Hole

 

Our group from Virginia meeting with Congressman Scott Rigell

Our group from Virginia meeting with Congressman Scott Rigell

Jim had a great birthday. He turned 52. Hmmm. At one point in my life, that seemed really, really old. Now, it seems young. Not really young, but young. Much too young to have Alzheimer’s Disease.

Sometimes it is almost comical to meet someone new and through the course of the new relationship and conversations explain to them that Jim has this disease. Nearly every single person is taken back. They are a little shocked. You can watch for it, wait about 10 seconds after you tell them and BAMM. You see the complete confusion and then a bit of sympathy and then, if we make them comfortable, calmness and acceptance. All in less than a minute. How I wish our journey through this were so easy to see and work through.

Our visit this past week to D.C. was a quick one. We were able to learn a lot and visit with advocates we have met through the years and re-connect and commiserate together. There are some really awesome and amazing families that are dealing with the same thing Jim and I are, they just don’t have a blog. They have the same pain and suffering and the same desire to help. They have the same needs and the same worries. There are so many of us, it is really scary.

We were able to relax a small bit and we were able to be part of the solution. Jim was awesome. He was full of life and vigor, much more so than I have seen in him in months. It was great to see. I still had to help him with some minor things that last year I didn’t, but overall, I could see his spirits, his demeanor and his thought process had gotten a jolt. He was ALIVE again. Not that he isn’t normally, but in D.C., Jim was witty and chatty and really happy. I loved seeing him this way. He didn’t shave to meet with our elected officials. I didn’t say anything and it didn’t matter. He didn’t put on a tie. It didn’t matter. He couldn’t remember everyone’s name or who we met with or how old he just turned. It didn’t matter. He was still smiling and happy and we had a good time. Again, I was reminded how much more patience I have with him when the kids aren’t around. A few days later I spent 2 days with them without Jim and also had plenty of patience. I somehow need to expand my bubble of patience to deal with all 3 at a time…..a work in progress but one I will not stop striving towards.

Life is so full of challenges. We all face them. Some are much harder than others. Everyone at some point in time faces heartache and pain. It is how we deal with this pain and heartache that will determine the future from that point forward. When the pain and heartbreak are stretched out over years and years, it becomes harder to keep that perspective and stay the course.

While in D.C., we walked the hallowed marble halls of Congress. The first time we walked them I was so nervous I could have thrown up. Ok, not really thrown up, but it was really nerve-wracking. Our first year, I could feel my heartbeat in my chest with sheer nervousness. I was going to be meeting and speaking with someone much more important than me.

This year, my heart skipped beats again, but not from nervousness. I am no longer timid or shy: I have realized that in the 5 years since Jim was diagnosed, there have been no changes in treatments or any new breakthroughs that will stave off this disease. Now when I march down the Halls of Congress my heart beats with determination and I can feel my blood pumping with my resolve to be heard and with the pressure of a time bomb ticking away. When I hear my heels echoing down those spacious hallways, I think of the men and women behind those doors and how they have the power to change the course of my children’s life. They can save Frances and Brad. They can, with one fell swoop of a pen, save my children from falling victim to the same horrendous fate of their Grandmother, Uncle and Father. Now when I walk those expansive halls of Congress, I do so without fear but with shear determination and with no sympathy for excuses. We do not travel all the way there to be given pretexts and put offs. We do not make accommodations so that others will feel comfortable in their ineptness.

There is no more time. The time is now. How can anyone, with any kind of intelligence not see the necessity and urgency? It is written in black and white.

Yes, Jim had a great trip and so I had a great trip. Now we are back to the grind of everyday life.

Thank you to everyone that participated in the forum or contacted their elected official to let them know how important this conversation is. Please keep up the fight and the battle. We are making progress and we will win. We will all keep moving forward until we find a cure.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (4)

The Purple Brigade are Coming to Town

 

Younger Onset Alzheimer's, Advocacy, Washington D.C.

Jim and I at the Capitol, April 2013.

When I participated in a roundtable speaking engagement recently, I was privileged to meet some wonderful caregivers. They were from all over the country. They had stories to share, just like we do. They were wonderful and I loved meeting them and listening to their frustrations, their sadness, their daily struggles. We all could commiserate together and naturally form a bond. It seems whenever I meet other caregivers, we almost instantly form a bond. It is just what we do. There is an unspoken respect, love and support that comes along with the participation in the caregiver role.

Jim and I attending the National Alzheimer's Disease Advocacy Forum in Washington D.C., April 2013

Jim and I attending the National Alzheimer’s Disease Advocacy Forum in Washington D.C., April 2013

As we shared a few laughs and heartaches, I spoke about advocacy for Alzheimer’s. I explained that Jim and I have become quite outspoken and travel to Washington D.C. and write letters and ask for help on a regular basis. The table got quiet. Something suddenly dawned on me. So I asked them, “How many of you have asked your representatives to fund more research or have even spoken with them about your story?”  Guess what? Not a single one raised their hands. I was really surprised. These people are passionate about needing help. They were willing to come and participate in the roundtable. They wholeheartedly want to help. Yet, they had never thought to contact the people that can REALLY make an impact: Their representatives. Well, you know me….I made them promise right then and there that when they got back home they would contact their representatives and ask for help.

Jim, April 2013.

Jim, April 2013.

Tomorrow, Jim will celebrate his 52nd birthday. Part of me feels like I should throw together  a huge soiree with our friends and really celebrate how awesome he is. But, it is the same time as our annual purple brigade pilgrimage to Washington D.C. to meet with (hopefully) our representatives and join others from around the country who are just as ardent supporters as we are. We have made friends with some fellow advocates that we see  each year. (this is our 3rd year)

I asked Jim before we decided to go if that was how he wanted to spend his birthday. I explained to him the date coincided with his special day. He didn’t hesitate. He didn’t flinch. He stated right away and with certainty that “yes, I want to go. That is much more important.”

So, off to D.C. we go.

I know many of you that read my words will be with us in spirit. You will be on our minds. You will be cheering for us and encouraging us. Thank you.

I ask EACH of you that read these words to help us. PLEASE. You don’t have to travel to D.C. to have your voice heard. Your representative has a local office. You can visit there. Your representative has a website and has a way to contact them through that site. Your representative has an address and will receive your letter. Your representative has an aide that will be answering the phone in their offices and you can call and leave a message. There are many ways to contact your Congressperson. There are NO excuses why you don’t.

Here is a link to a previous blog post I wrote about this subject. You will see two links ¾ of the way down. Click on these links to find out who your representatives are and how to contact them http://missingjim.com/2013/04/26/375/

Please don’t tell me you are too busy. If you have time to watch a 30 minute TV show, you have time to do this. If you have time to read a book, you have time to do this. If you have time to play Candy Crush or some other video game, you have time to do this. NOTHING is more important. Our voices need to be heard. There are millions of lives that are depending on enough money being thrown into research to either find a cure, a vaccine or a treatment that allows the disease to lie dormant in a person. If you can’t be bothered, then you aren’t allowed to complain when someone you love is afflicted and you are sitting at the doctor’s office waiting for them to tell you what medicine to take that will make them better. Unless something major happens in the research world, that scenario will NEVER happen. You will sit in the doctor’s office, in shock, waiting and hoping and leave with nothing but an appointment for 6 months later.

This is a birthday gift you could give to Jim that will not only keep on giving to our family, but to millions of others as well. Help Jim celebrate by writing or calling your representative right now.

So, while Jim and I can, we will descend on the Capital of the United States, purple banner slung across our shoulders, along with hundreds of others who are able to do the same. We will speak and we will find out soon enough if our voices and our pleas are heard.

Meeting with Senator Warner and his staff. April, 2012.

Meeting with Senator Warner and his staff. April, 2012.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (5)