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)

What do YOU really think?

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 12.24.28 AMHow many drive the car they drive to impress others? Or wear certain clothes to attract attention? Or cut their hair just to entice a mate? Who in this world bases each action or decision on the reaction or perceived reaction from others?

And here I am, under an unimaginable amount of stress, grief and pressure to figure out what to do with Jim and unfortunately worrying about what others will think. Not just strangers, but people who mean the most to me…Frances and Brad. Their current thoughts on the subject and my worry about their thoughts years from now weigh heavily on my mind.

Home care? Institution? Just me and the kids?

I am inclined one way but then I envision having to live with that decision. So I start pulling toward the other solution. Not long after, I think of the original plan. It never, ever ends. Ultimately, my decision really won’t be my decision and I will probably laugh at all of the time and energy I have put into this. The decision will strictly be a financial one not a practical one. And that is really out of my hands.

I find myself justifying so many things with almost each conversation I have.

Earlier this week I chatted with a neighbor. I caught myself justifying. Not long after, I spoke with a casual friend who asked about Jim. Again, I was almost embarrassed as I heard myself repeating the same justifications.

Right now Jim is in a 30 day respite program we have been granted through the Veterans Administration. Wow! What a difference in our home. What a change in me and in the kids. Yet, I have felt the need to justify this welcome reprieve.

But to tell the story of relief is to tell of the burden and the stress and the unhappiness of having Jim at home. Who would ever want to acknowledge that life is better without their loved one with them? Certainly not me and not our kids. But it is what it is. And as I write this, my lungs almost collapse in shock and sadness. What kind of monster am I for feeling this way? How can I be a good wife, a good caregiver, a good person for thinking this, let alone saying it out loud? Me. I am. And I am tired of worrying what others think. Unless you have been taking care of a person with YOUNGER ONSET Alzheimer’s Disease WITH children at home, you are not allowed to pass judgment. You are not allowed to even think that you would do this differently. You really don’t know and could never comprehend what you would do unless you are actually living this very life with the exact same decisions and circumstances. Do I sound angry? I am not. Actually, right this very moment, I am happy. For the first time in a long time, I can breathe and I can focus on being a mom and nothing else (sort of) and it has been so nice. The kids and I have had many relaxing nights, fun days and times of reflective honesty. Yes, before Jim’s disease took hold, our family would have done these things with him and we would have been complete and whole. We are broken and the kids and I need to be able to move on. It is so difficult to try to move on while Jim is still with us. Yet, I don’t really want him to not be with us. Obviously it isn’t my choice whether he is here mentally. It is almost some kind of scientific wonder how he can be “here” physically, but he is no longer “here” mentally. Sometimes he is able to be part of a conversation or have a funny input or something relevant to what we are discussing, but let’s face it, he isn’t capable of being a contributor to decisions and barely can recall what was just discussed. The day to day change one way and then another is amazing if you stop long enough to digest it all. It does not please me to acknowledge these things. He is progressing. We are progressing. Life is hard. Life is complicated.

I often am forced to think back to conversations Jim and I had as he was in the process of getting diagnosed. We had many heart to hearts and he was always very adamant about the kids coming first. I know he had no clue the financial strain this would all have, but he was very clear on what he expected from me: taking care of Frances and Brad.

At this point, I just want to be able to be a Mom. Being a friend, a worker, a neighbor, a wife…all pale. I don’t have it in me to do all of the above as usual. I can only focus on a single point at any given time. Right now it is taking care of Frances and Brad as best I can under these circumstances. Then it is working on care for Jim. Wow. The paperwork and stress is indescribable.

I see Jim. He is happy in the respite. He is getting attention and has activities. He doesn’t have a lot of commotion. He hasn’t asked to come home. He hasn’t said he doesn’t belong there. Bittersweet. I am happy he is happy but his contentedness is a reminder of how far along he has progressed with this disease and it makes me so very sad.

Every time I see someone and tell them about Jim being in respite and trying to decide what is best for him, I find myself trying to justify and explain and to make sure they understand. Really? Why should I care? None of them are going through this. So do I really need to explain myself and what I feel is best for our children? Isn’t it apparent that everything I do is to make sure the kids are ok? Don’t they know that Jim and I had this conversation many moons ago and it is also his wish to put the kids first? Isn’t it obvious?

No, no. I feel the constant need to justify and explain to people who could not possibly comprehend the decisions and the magnitude of those decisions on the future of our family.

Yet, with all of my resolve to be strong and stick to my decisions from so long ago in dark, intimate times with Jim, leaving his care to someone else causes great stress and guilt. How could I ever be without him willingly? What kind of selfish heathen am I? How can I leave him to the trust of others to make sure he is clean and brushes his teeth and puts on clean clothes and stays active? Do they watch to make sure he doesn’t take the tooth brush and tries to clean the sink? Are they making sure he is washing his hair? Do they check to see if he is washing everything correctly?

The torture I feel is immeasurable. There will come a day that I will sit by myself and reflect, gazing at a beautiful scene and wonder how I did all I have done. But in the meantime, I struggle to find a foothold on what the correct choice is.  I struggle because I wonder how it will be for me and the kids or because of what others will think? Or because I will lose everything financially? Do I need a retirement? Do I need savings? Isn’t it better for me to have a stable, happy home for my children? But, isn’t it better for them to participate in the care of their father? Won’t that just grow character for them?  What if he gets violent again? Won’t it be my fault since I knew this was a possibility? Love hurts and love cuts to the very core.

Frances and Brad rock jumping at Belle Isle VA. August 2015

Frances and Brad rock jumping at Belle Isle VA. August 2015

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (18)

A world without Jim?

 

Visiting Monticello,  July 2015.

Visiting Monticello,
July 2015.

Please, please, make all of this go away. The pain. The worry. The decisions. The agony of watching Jim slide away as we try to cling to him. As he tries to cling to himself.

It hurts. So bad. And I can’t stop it. From hurting me, him or the kids. The kids. As a parent, all I ever want to do is protect them and keep them from hurting but this hideous disease blocks me from protecting them. It is taking their father from them and they are front row witnesses. All I can do is stand helplessly by as their pain grows, his death grows closer and I frantically work at picking up pieces as they fall faster and faster until I can no longer keep up. They see me struggling to find a solution. They watch as he tries to speak and they can barely manage to put together his mumbles into a clear thought. They help him with so many daily activities during the day they can’t ignore his plight. They are entrenched, as we all are. I feel as if I am failing them while I am failing him. I can’t help him. Can I help them?

I see him look to me for help, I see him struggle to speak, to get dressed, to brush his teeth, to bathe and shave, to help around the house…..he deserves so much more, so much better. How dare this happen to such a wonderful person? How dare I fail him? Fail the kids? Fail myself?

I thought the grieving process would get easier but the truth is the grieving process is only subliminal for a while and then it re-emerges stronger than ever. Just when I think I have a handle on letting him go and moving on, becoming a single parent, making all of the decisions, being Mom and Dad, figuring out finances and facing my loneliness head-on and accepting this fate….I look at him, see is frailness, his desire to stay with his children enabling him to watch them grow up, his failure to manage the most simplest task and the disappointment on his face….what am I doing wrong? What can I change? What can I stop and divert?

The world keeps spinning around us. But my world has stopped. Friends have disappeared. But in truth, not only do I understand, it is ok because he is constantly within ear shot and I can’t have a private conversation anyway. My world is selectively smaller these days and yes, it hurts, but there is nothing surprising going on. Friends have called and I have not answered because I can’t really talk. It would be a superficial conversation and I am not up for that. I am barely up for a real conversation, but putting on a front has never been my style and at this point it is impossible. I feel as if I am in a prison, trapped and controlled by something no one is regulating.

I now wake earlier to assist him in the mornings. One morning recently, I got him in the shower, helped him, got him drying off and went across the hall to wake Brad up. I spent a few precious moments caressing his sweet face and hair and just having a private morning moment with my son. When I went back to the bathroom, Jim had found a razor and “shaved”, cutting his chin and leaving large portions completely untouched. And that is where we are.

I constantly feel pulled between taking care of him correctly and taking care of the kids correctly. They both need me and deserve better. But it is impossible. I am torn at all times and I know the answer. While I fail them both, I fall further and further. Jim and I discussed this several years ago when he was first diagnosed. The kids come first. But it is harder to do now, when it is actually upon us. I want to do right by him but I want to be the parent our children need as they lose their father.

It is just so sad to watch him. He is a ghost of his former self. It doesn’t have anything to do with my recent burdens. It is seeing him struggle to try to do a simple task and not be able to and to know at one point he had so much pride and was capable. Not that it would be easier any other way….I am just hurting.

Yes, I am depressed. Friends have suggested medication. My therapist has recently started mentioning it as well. But I feel like I have a right to be depressed. I am in a depressing situation. And I need to feel the hurt and the pain before I can move on, if I ever am able to move on. Right now I can’t fathom ever moving on past this pain. But I know that being medicated is going to numb some of the pain and I need to try to hold off as long as possible. I am not opposed to it, I will probably eventually take something to help me, but for now, I want to try to stay off anything that will deter me from understanding the pain my children will feel, are feeling and have felt. It is ok for me to hurt, I don’t need something to ease that pain, but I have no doubt that at some point it will be time to get some assistance pulling myself out of this funk.

This is a most agonizing journey and I am hopeful that at the end of the road I will be a better person and somehow survive strong enough to continue to help others. I am amazed at the number of people coping with this same plight and hurting and struggling as we are. How is our country able to stand strong without helping the weakest? My friends, there is a fight brewing, and I hope you will all be with me. It isn’t about money and it isn’t about class or race. It is about doing the right thing and about common sense. It is hard to imagine this is an issue, but it is. It is also hard to imagine a world without Jim in it.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (23)

There is a Solution, I just haven’t found it yet

quote-about-figuring-things-out-and-moving-forwardI am exhausted. Mentally more than physically. The paperwork. The worry. The constant watch. The pure, unadulterated sadness. It is beyond overwhelming, it has changed my thought process, my soul and my inner-sanctum.

Watching a person die is horrible. Watching someone you love die is worse. Watching someone you love die a slow, tortuous death is beyond comprehensible. The guilt, the helplessness, the frustrations, the anger, the heartache, the wish for it all to end…. There are times I wish Jim was afflicted with something simple like cancer or heart disease. Not only would there be hope for him (and therefore us) but there would be more support and understanding from the world around us. And most importantly, HE would still be with us.

The endless paperwork, processes and lack of understanding from any system that can help us is completely unbelievable. If someone else in my situation was telling me this story, I would immediately think that there must be something they have missed, there must be a solution and obviously they haven’t tried hard enough. Well, I am here to tell you….I have tried.

Many readers have been so, so kind and reached out with suggestions and ideas and just thoughts of love. Thank you. I want to address the following to you:

Jim is retired Air Force. He is currently on Medicare because he has been on Social Security Disability for over 3 years. Once a person who has Tricare Health Insurance collects SSDI for over two years, they are automatically switched to Medicare. There is no option.

We have applied for Medicaid and have been told our case should be reviewed and a checklist should be sent out sometime during the first part of August. In the meantime, I just wait to find out what paperwork they will need. I have done some research and so far have gotten together most of what I think they will want….every bank account, every insurance account (they want to know if life insurance policies have a cash value), every investment account and our mortgage statement. It took me several days to get all of this together. Obviously the person(s) who decided this whole process have never in their life been in a predicament like we are currently facing. The application, the turning in of said application, the conversations on the phone, the gathering of information, the waiting for an answer….it is almost as if they are trying to just wear people down so they don’t finish the process so they don’t have to help them. How do others get through this??

The Veteran’s Administration. Oh boy. Where do I start? Should I tell you about the gentleman who was supposed to be helping us with our intake questionnaire but instead  WAS WATCHING COLLEGE BASKETBALL on his computer? Let’s be honest….it isn’t college basketball season which means it was a re-run which means he already knew who won anyway! Ok, I am moving on….Jim scored a 9 on his MMSE. Some of you who have travelled this road know that means he tested in the severe range. How unbelievably awful it was to sit, as the psychiatrist, who obviously has no Alzheimer’s Disease training or background, tried to ask Jim about his recent psychotic break. Then tried to carry on a conversation with him. Then asked him simple questions he could not answer, as I sat and watched, tears streaming down my face. Awful. Just awful. But at least the kind doctor said he would try to help us and would try to find a way to get Jim care. Again, his disability isn’t service related. He isn’t a Vietnam Vet or Gulf War Vet and he is not 65. We make over $26,000 a year. We are the middle class and we have nothing.

I sat at my desk the other day just dumbfounded by this whole mess. How am I expected to take care of Jim the way he deserves AND take care of two children the way they deserve? And somehow keep sane? Actually I am not sure I am at this point!  $6000 a month is the starting point for Memory Care. I sat and figured out where I went wrong…If we had saved $500 a month for each of the 18 years we have been married, we could cover 18 months of care. But, we didn’t. Please let this be a lesson for all of you. In other locales around the country, the costs are double. So start saving my friends.

Jim is still home. He is doing very well. He is happy in a childlike way. He now needs assistance with getting dressed, with shaving, showering and unfortunately parts of the bathroom routine. He takes it all in stride, not getting angry or embarrassed. Well, occasionally he snaps, “I can do it” and there have been a few moments the kids were scared because he seemed to be getting agitated and we are all on eggshells knowing what happened in Connecticut,  but overall he is easy going. I feel bad because he can’t figure out things to do without constant urging and help. He will sit and color at the table, but needs some direction. I, unfortunately, am at this point either making phone calls, trying to fill out paperwork or collect needed paperwork or fixing dinner, or starting a load of laundry or  trying to make sure I focus some attention on the kids to remind them I love them and I do want to hear about their day and their thoughts.

I have not left Jim alone since he returned and I now feel like a prisoner in my own home. He has returned to the wonderful respite program he attended before a couple of times a week but otherwise I have a shadow.  No quick runs to the store, or walks with friends or private conversations (he is always lurking within 10 feet of me) or ALONE time. None. On one hand, it is so sweet that he loves me and needs me so much he cannot possibly be out of sight of me. On the other hand, I am reminded of crazy stalker people and no one wants to feel as if they are constantly being watched and followed. It is creepy and unnerving.

I need $72,000+ a year on top of the income needed to take care of myself and the kids to now take care of Jim in a facility that will keep him safe, occupied, clean and happy. I hate that money has become such a huge issue in his care, in our story, in the eventual way he is taken care of. I believe all that should be at issue is making him feel safe and loved as he dies. Helping our children lose their father with the least amount of long term affects.  I struggle every day to figure out a solution. I am college educated, strong, smart and capable. There must be an answer and I must not be good enough to figure it out. After all, it just doesn’t make any sense to  not have a solution. Wonderful suggestions have been made: Go Fund Me pages, ads on my blog, selling the rights to our story, divorce, spending it all down and using our savings because I am young enough to build it back up again, in home care, re-doing our walk up attic for him and a caregiver, etc. How is it that so many others have dealt with this situation and yet we are still not able to call the right person, hear a few viable options and pick the one that best fits our family? Lots and lots of ideas have been floated our way and it’s just hard to know what the right answer is. I suppose I will never know what the right answer is. I will be forced to make the decision I can make and then I will keep moving forward because that is what we do. Humans keep moving forward. Through grief. Through pain. Through hard times and even through good times. We all move towards some unseen light and hope that along the way we are consistent with our happiness, our love and our contributions to others.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (17)

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)

Doctor Day Sucks!

Jim and I. Dec 2014.

Jim and I. Dec 2014.

Today was DOCTOR DAY. I think in general we usually look forward to going to the doctor, even subconsciously, to get healed. Healed from whatever is ailing us. Healed from something we may not even know is wrong. Healed from things that hurt a little and things that hurt a lot. Eventually, with the help of the almighty physician, we are healed. Unless we have something that they just can’t heal. ALS. Huntington’s Disease. Lots of types of cancers. Alzheimer’s Disease.

Today, I saw the pain of not being able to help us on Jim’s doctors’ face. And in his words.

To start with, they called Jim back without me to do the mental exam. I knew it would be lower than the last visit nine months ago, but I didn’t realize quite how low. When they called me back, I could tell the nurse, who we always see, was a tad “different”. I knew that she had seen the difference in Jim. I knew it was bothering her.

When the doctor came in, he was his usual pleasant self, but when we got down to business, he fumbled over his words. He was struggling, because as a physician you are trained to heal. You are trained to find out what is wrong and to fix it. He can’t fix what is wrong with Jim. Jim went down 6 points on the memory exam. I looked at the drawing of the clock which is always part of the exam and I saw there were no hands and the numbers were wrong. My heart sank. Even though I know he is declining, seeing it in black and white is hard. Hard. For ALL of us.

When I entered the room and it was just Jim and I, he started to cry. He knew. He knew he hadn’t done well on the test. He isn’t far enough gone to be completely oblivious. This is so painful to watch. This wonderful man, crying and realizing what is happening to him and not being able to do one single thing to make it better. He told me he wanted to move away. I asked him why. “So the kids don’t have to see me like this. I don’t want them to see me the way I am going to be.” It took every ounce of self control not to burst into tears with him. I saved that for later.

I recently went for a walk with a friend. During our hike, we discussed Jim and lots of different sides of being his caregiver. Part of the conversation went like this:

Me: I don’t really feel sorry for myself. I think sometimes I come pretty close, but for the most part, I don’t think I am.

My friend: Really? I thought from reading your blog that you were pretty sad most of the time.

(At this point I was a little surprised since I didn’t know she was keeping up with this blog)

Me: Not really. Yeah, I get sad, but I can’t stay that way all the time. It would be awful for Jim and for the kids.

My friend: You don’t feel like you feel sorry for yourself?

Me: No. I feel sorry for Jim. I look at him and I just really feel sorry for him. And I think about the kids not having him for a dad. He was such a great dad and they won’t remember all the awesome things he did with them and for them. I am a much worse parent and it’s actually sorta sad that he is the one leaving them and not me. He would be more patient and teach them so much more. I get really sad thinking that they won’t have him around and they will watch him decline more and more and it is taking over their whole childhood.

My friend: You are a great parent. You shouldn’t say that.

And then we walked. Because, what else was there to say?

Back to the doctor visit…. The doctor recommended we try Namenda and the Exelon patch again. As I have written in past blog posts, we have tried EVERYTHING and I am not going to rehash why Jim is off all meds at this time. But, I believe we are going to give them another try. He told us that sometimes when a patient is further along and showing increased symptoms the medications can show help in lessoning some of the symptoms. But of course, they aren’t a cure. As the doctor spoke and Jim listened, he started to cry again. He understood he was hearing that he is declining. The doctor told us we wouldn’t do the memory tests anymore because there wasn’t a purpose any longer and it was causing stress. He also told us we didn’t need to schedule an appointment for a set amount of time. We would start the medications and call in as needed. There is no point in seeing him as Jim declines because there is nothing else he can do. This is not to say we can’t come see him and won’t, but there is no set six month or nine month time frame anymore. Just whenever we feel we need to see him.

Whew. I am crying as I write these words. My heart aches for not only Jim, but all of us who travel this journey with no help. No way to fight. No hope.

I am not a scientific person, but many times I wish for a scientific answer. How long does Jim have? What trajectory is he on with the decline he has shown? It may seem a little morbid to some, yet others will completely understand. I think it is human nature to want to know how long you will have to endure a form of torture and pain. When will this be over? When will Jim not be in pain? Actually, that is more of a clichéd expression. Jim isn’t in pain. Only when he realizes he is leaving his children. Most of the time, he is happy go lucky and in great spirits. He has a great attitude and is very pleasant to be around. He isn’t angry or sad or even moping around. He has the best attitude he could have and I am so proud of him. So when I say something about wanting a time frame, it isn’t because I want him to be gone, it is because I am trying to plan, trying to figure things out, trying to adjust and have a concept of what lies ahead. I believe people do this in all aspects of life; whether it is planning for high school, college, their first job, marriage, having a child, moving to another country, moving out of their parents home, changing jobs, etc. We are always looking ahead and asking for time lines.

It was mentioned that Jim was declining faster than some, but not as fast as others. I guess you would say he is somewhere in the middle. Not a fast decline but not a slow one either. I didn’t ask the doctor about a time frame. He wouldn’t be able to tell me. Alzheimer’s Disease works so differently for each patient. And Jim is very healthy otherwise. I know this is a long haul. I can handle it. We all can handle it. But I hate that he is having to and I hate that the kids are having to. I hate that my friends have to take care of us and I hate that my parents must use up so much of their retirement years rushing to help us. I despise being the damsel in distress. I know Jim despises it too. He was our knight in shining armor and unfortunately, he knows he isn’t any more.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (22)

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)

Looking for the Easy Life

Jim wearing his Air Force blues with Frances and Brad for Career Day at school. Nov. 2010

Jim wearing his Air Force blues with Frances and Brad for Career Day at school. Nov. 2010

Sometimes in life, nothing seems to go right: lines are long, rain comes with no umbrella in sight, a drink spilled, having to stay on hold so long you miss another important commitment, you start to fix a recipe only to realize you don’t have a key ingredient…. Little things out of synch add up to entire days that feel as if the whole world is against you. It is difficult to look at each tiny annoyance as just that; an insignificant bump in the road of life. They all seem to run together to pull you towards a negative thought process and in return, a negative outlook and eventual sour attitude.

And then something happens. Stars align in a good way and your luck changes: a parking spot opens up in the front row at Costco, you win a drawing, someone you haven’t seen in a while gives you a call or better yet they stop by for a visit, the kids laugh instead of argue at the dinner table, work flows easily, you drop your phone and it doesn’t break…. Things fall into place seemingly with no effort. It is something you could get used to, but you know better. You know it is temporary and to enjoy it while you can. There is always a shadow lurking just out of sight and you are completely aware of its presence.

That is how I feel. I am teetering on an uneven, unstable cliff. At any moment, all of the good things that happen for our family can vanish and we can tumble, freefalling into nothingness, at any second. With me at the helm. Me in charge. Me being blamed if it happens. Me knowing that I am guilty of not stopping the inevitable from happening. Even though it isn’t my fault Jim has this disease, it will be my fault if I don’t keep our family from losing everything and it will be my fault if the kids have long term psychological problems and it will rest squarely on my shoulders if something unexpected happens to Jim.

With all of this weighing so heavily on me at ALL times, it seems a wonder I haven’t had some sort of nervous breakdown. Recently, I have felt like I might. I have felt the tension in my body. I have recognized warning signs and become aware of the pulses in my mind and muscles. I am cognizant enough to understand what is happening and that changes need to take place. I have the personality that lets me believe that I am capable of anything. If I don’t already know how to do something, I can figure it out. I can learn, I can adapt, I can do whatever is necessary. But I can’t. I can’t sustain this life. I can’t work full time hours that are dictated and not flexible, follow up on paperwork and appointments needed for Jim, pay the bills, clean the house, cook the meals, grocery shop, work in the yard, do the laundry, drive to lessons and practices, check homework and sign and duly note whatever slip of paper that is sent home this week from school and, somehow, through all of this manage to look like I am doing ok. I’m not. I’m not ok. I have a husband that will tell me he has taken a shower and washed his hair when I can clearly tell he hasn’t. I have a husband that lost his wallet two months ago (again) and I have to take him (again) to get a new i.d. I have a husband who can’t figure out how to put the covers on himself at night. I have a husband that has the best attitude in the world but can’t stop himself from making comments to the kids that can be hurtful and antagonizing.

So, I was trying to figure out what I should do about work and the kids and Jim and everything when life happened. Jim has slipped just a tiny bit more, but enough that I know I need to be here with him. If I am not, someone needs to. He can perform tasks, but needs guidance and oversight. It is time for a change.

Today, I can’t explain why, but I was upset and in a bad mood. The kids were getting the brunt of my force and Frances calmly told me,” Don’t take it out on us just because you are mad at Dad.”

And it hit me. It hit me like few things have. I wasn’t mad at him. I haven’t been mad at him. All the yelling and frustrations….it isn’t anger. It was recognition and it was sadness and it was being scared and most of all, it was helplessness at witnessing this great man succumb slowly to a death sentence I can’t argue away or buy a solution to or fight hard enough for. It was seeing him lost and confused and unable to perform a simple task that he would have been able to do a few months ago. I wasn’t mad, even though it certainly seemed that way. I was utterly broken and petrified at what I was witnessing.

As I looked at Frances and Brad, I saw the questions on their faces. Why was I upset with them when they really hadn’t done anything wrong? Why was I taking my frustrations out on them? I made the decision to be open and honest and share my realization. As I told them I wasn’t mad, but very, very sad and explained why, the tears came so unexpectedly. I forced myself not to sob, but I couldn’t keep them from my eyes. They seemed to get it. By being open and honest with them, they realized they were witnessing part of my mourning and my personal grief at the loss of their father.

Jim, Frances and Brad. Tagging our Christmas tree, Oct. 2014.

Jim, Frances and Brad. Tagging our Christmas tree, Oct. 2014.

I am not working this week.  I am pursuing options for Jim. I am not sure what will happen with my job. I know I can’t afford to quit and honestly, I don’t want to. I need a job that allows me to focus on something other than my own pity party. I need something that forces me to interact with others and shower and get dressed and put a smile on my face and fake some happiness for a time. I need that. But, I need to be able to answer the phone and attend appointments and have time to organize a family of 4.

I used to feel like I was turning into a single mom. And I kept repeating in my mind, “How do these single moms do it? Why can’t I? There must be something I am missing.”

Then a friend pointed out to me, “Karen, you are not just a single mom of two kids. You also have a third child who is home all day and who isn’t growing up to take on more responsibility, but is becoming more of a responsibility, a liability and a ‘what is going to happen next?’ How many things get broken and lost and half done that you must go behind and fix, find or financially figure out? Most single moms don’t have that extra burden.”

Friends save us. Family save us. Love hurts us and ultimately saves us. Grief rips us apart and time allows us to adjust accordingly. Alzheimer’s Disease forces you to grieve over and over again, relying on those friends and family to reappear as needed to enable us to do the adjusting that will keep us from shattering and unable to be saved.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (20)

Better Them Than Me

 

Clowning around in 1998. Who knew what would be lurking ahead for us?

Clowning around in 1998. Who knew what would be lurking ahead for us?

Today there was another school shooting. As I listened to the information about what happened on the radio, Frances told me about the lockdown practices they have had at her middle school. I couldn’t help but think back to when I was in school….there was never a drill for a shooter or a thought about someone possibly coming into the school to harm us. Then I thought about the parents who worried about their children when they heard about the shooting and the parents who were unlucky enough to get the call that their child did not survive. Or worse, their child was the shooter. My heartfelt condolences to those families.

Then my mind drifted as I drove and I thought about what it would be like if that happened to us. Don’t we all normally do that? We try to put ourselves into the shoes of others….whether it is a tragedy or winning the lottery…we try to imagine what we would do.

Yet, I wonder, where do we stop imagining ourselves in someone else’s shoes and start thinking it will never happen to us? Isn’t that why people still smoke? Still ride in vehicles without seatbelts? Still drink and drive? Still mix alcohol and drugs? In typical human fashion, we all tend to gravitate to the “I am so sorry that happened to them, but it won’t happen to me” scenario.

I think every single one of us is guilty of this in some shape or form. We have empathy for others going through a horrible crisis, but we stop short of becoming petrified we will also fall victim to whatever atrocity lurks around us. Probably some form of self preservation at its rawest form.

Then, before you have any idea what is going on, you become immersed smack dab in the middle of some awful thing that is ruining your life and the lives of your family members. In my case it is Younger Onset Alzheimer’s. And it sucks. Big time. As I have mentioned many times, I have friends and family that are helping out and doing whatever they can to make this tough road a little smoother. But no matter what they do, they can’t REALLY help. They can’t cure Jim. They can’t stop the progression. They can’t save our children from losing their Dad. They can’t change the fact Frances’ and Brads’ childhoods will be encased in Alzheimer’s, Alzheimer’s, Alzheimer’s. They watch, they listen, they do. Then they go home and get on with their lives with their healthy families. They see us and are grateful they aren’t us. They know it could happen to them, but think it won’t.

I am not here to be a “Debbie Downer” but let me point out something to each of you: as you get older, the chance that either you or someone you love (parent, spouse, sibling, friend) will succumb to the horrors of a dementia is unbelievably high. Unless a cure, a vaccine or some type of treatment is found, we are all going to feel the excruciating pain and agony of dementia. And the financial burden. Which, in all honesty becomes so consuming you find yourself unable to focus on the person you care so deeply about because you are just trying to survive. And when your loved one is diagnosed, it will be too late to pour in money and try to have your voice heard. If you want to save them or possibly yourself, the time is NOW to do something.

Yes, we all feel like the bad stuff is horrific when it is happening to someone else and we are saddened, yet we are confident it won’t happen to us. What are you going to do when it does?

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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)

Sharing an update that isn’t good

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 11.22.40 PM

Jim was admitted to the hospital yesterday. I came home from work and he was out of it. In a way that screamed, “Help me. Help me. I don’t know who you are or what is going on and I can’t really stand up by myself even though I am.”

I startled myself with my shock and surprise at his demeanor. I was not able to focus and think clearly. I was scared. Not typical behavior for me. I very seldom lose my ability to think clearly in a situation, especially one where calm heads need to prevail. It was just so out of the blue and so unexpected. I had just been sitting with Jim only a few hours before, during my lunch break, on our front porch having a heart to heart (as best we can these days). This wasn’t happening the way I have pictured it for so long.

I did realize that the kids would be coming home from school. I realized Brad had piano. I remembered I was supposed to be attending a work event. I knew the laundry in the washing machine needed to go in the dryer. I just wasn’t able to be functionally decisive on a plan of action. But a wonderful friend came over and took charge. She took command and then I had many friends who moved into action. Taking the kids. Helping me think. Bringing me dinner to the hospital as I waited in the ER. Texting me their support and offers to help. Not just my girlfriends, but guy friends and husbands of friends, who technically are friends of Jim’s as well. As sad and worried as I was, I knew I wasn’t alone. With every text, phone call and offer to help, I could feel another steel link to the net being built under me growing. What a comforting feeling in the midst of such confusion and worry. My blessings are immeasurable in so many ways while at the same time I feel so unblessed. What I hope those that are building our safety bubble underneath us understand is how important to us they are and how eternally grateful I am. I cannot repay the underlying benefit of the help and refuge I have received. And I know there is so much more to come.

Yet, later that evening, walking in the dark parking lot, through the misty rain to my cold, empty van, I was alone. As alone and forlorn as I have ever felt in my life. I was alone and realized that was my life now. Even if Jim recovers to his baseline behavior, I am in this world without a partner. Even though I feel lonely on a daily basis, with Jim literally sitting next to me, it is a different kind of alone when your spouse is no longer with you physically either. Who will I call if I break down on the side of the road? Who will I lie next to in bed at night and wake up with each morning? Who will hold my hand and rub my back and tell me how much I mean to them? Who will love me with all of my faults? Who will smile at me and make all my troubles disappear? Who will care as much about my children as I do? Who will I be able to sit comfortably with in silence? It is supposed to be Jim. It has always been Jim. And now it’s not.

I HATE ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE!

This disease has been real each time he has forgotten something or done something uncharacteristic for him. But yesterday, seeing him shaking and unfocused and unable to verbalize a sentence was a new level of heartbreak and despair. As he lay in the hospital bed, looking pail, frail and old, I was dismayed when he couldn’t recall my name. Or our children’s names. Or remember he was in the Air Force. I was even more shocked when he thought his brother and his mother were still alive. Things I have been expecting and knowing were coming eventually, had finally arrived. And even though I have known this day was coming, I was still not prepared.

The “doctor” (remind me to tell you why I put quotation marks around this; I don’t want to lose focus here and his comments will piss too many of you off) thinks it is an infection and once the infection has cleared up, he is expected to make a “full recovery”. Whatever that means. What is a full recovery for Jim? His “normal” changes weekly, so I am not sure.

I am not ready. I am not ready to let him go. As much as I don’t want him to suffer and as much as I don’t want to deal with all that is coming with Alzheimer’s Disease, I am not ready to be as alone as I felt in my walk to the van.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (34)