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Diana's
      Deliberations

July 24, 2021

For several years, members of our church were faithful volunteers to a ministry that served people with dementia and their families. In the following article I tell about our “Elder Caring” program. The story was first published in “Purpose” magazine, July, 2018.

Although Covid would probably prevent a church fellowship from doing this kind

of thing at the present time, perhaps it will inspire someone to do something that will

make a difference. God has a plan and purpose for each of us, no matter our age or

physical condition.

Diana

Still Useful to God

“Hi Lola.” “Good morning Richard.” “How’s your mom, Jeannie?” Cheery greetings rang out as folks arrived for our First Tuesday Elder Caring program. A group of mature volunteers (the youngest 60) from our 70-member church decided that we would use our retirement years to make a difference. We knew families who cared for loved ones with dementia would benefit from an occasional break from their responsibilities, so we reached out to the community and invited people to gather in our fellowship hall for a morning of socialization, games, and lunch.

Many of our volunteers are physically disabled and unable to do everything they once did, but they know they can do something. Each month a different volunteer prepares the meal. Sandra’s specialty is chicken and dumplings. Linda’s is lasagna. Someone else brings salad and dessert. We always provide the favorite drink of southerners—sweet tea. 

Church members sing and play games along with participants, who are in varying stages of dementia. A talented piano player leads the hymns and exercise songs, such as “Row your Boat” and “Hokey Pokey.” Other volunteers set up chairs or walk with participants who are restless. One volunteer, who is confined to a wheelchair, simply listens to those who like to talk. She is delighted that she can make a contribution in spite of her condition. In fact, each person contributes in his or her own way to making the program a success. We believe that God can use even the most flawed people to do the work he has planned.

Sometimes family members remain with the participant for the entire program. They enjoy visiting with volunteers and other caregivers who can empathize with the challenges they face. At other times, the wife, husband, or adult child leaves for his or her own medical appointments, to go shopping, or to simply perform household chores that are difficult to complete while caring for someone.

Our volunteers fulfill a need in the community, but they receive more than they give. One volunteer states he has learned to cope with his own 90-year-old mother’s eccentricities by interacting with others who have dementia. Another claims to be healthier now that she is doing something worthwhile. She says when she began focusing on others’ problems, she was able to put her own in the background.

It strengthens my own faith journey to belong to a fellowship that not only worships together, but also seeks to carry out God’s purposes. We believe that no matter what our age or physical condition, God has something for us to do, and when he calls us, he equips and strengthens us to carry out his plan.

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10 NIV

July 16, 2021

CONSIDERING QUALITY OF LIFE IN DEMENTIA CARE

 

I worked with older adults long before I became one, long enough to know it’s not always possible or practical for a spouse or adult child to be caregiver of a loved one with dementia. Attempting to be the caregiver when you lack the physical or emotional stamina to do so is an injustice to you and the care recipient.

 

Living in an appropriate assisted living or long-term care facility can enhance the quality of life for people with dementia, but the search for the right place can be stressful. It requires planning, research, and most of all, prayer. Scripture instructs us to ask God for wisdom in all things (James 1:5). Ask God to guide your decision making.

 

After twenty-five years as activity director, social worker, and administrator in care facilities, I’ve observed the realities of differing philosophies of care. I am able to offer suggestions about preserving the quality of life for people with dementia. Qualifying for admittance into long-term care is increasingly difficult and varies from state-to-state.

 

When an individual doesn’t meet criteria for skilled care, an assisted living facility may be appropriate. Secured memory care facilities offer dementia-friendly programs conducted by trained staff. Some of them are excellent. They typically cost more than regular assisted living because staff-to-resident ratio is higher. Most managers of memory care believe all dementia patients should live in secured units, but my experience indicates this isn’t always the case.

 

Many folks with cognitive impairment, like Alzheimer’s disease and other kinds of dementia, find comfort in being with others and don’t venture far on their own. Additionally, they take behavioral cues from people who are less cognitively challenged, allowing them to function appropriately in regular senior housing for longer into the disease process.

 

The following stories of two dementia patients I’ve known demonstrate different philosophies of care. I’ve changed the names of the people and facilities. Ruth didn’t remember my name, but she knew she was my helper. She couldn’t remember when she last ate, but she knew how to properly set the table for parties.

 

I resigned my position at Creekside Villa when she was sent to the locked unit.

 

“She’s a wander risk,” the director said.

 

“She only walked onto the porch to pet a cat,” I objected. “She didn’t even leave the property.”

 

But whether the move was necessary or not, he’d already determined her fate. Ruth enjoyed being outdoors. Usually, she only ventured to the enclosed atrium where there were flowers and benches beneath lilac trees where she could sit and watch birds.

 

She often forgot which door opened to the main hallway, so she’d enter the first unlocked apartment she came to. Most residents were kind and showed her how to get back, but some became angry and complained to management.

 

It was probably their complaints, coupled with stepping out the front door, that led to Ruth’s banishment to The Garden Loft, which had no garden or live plants. Instead, it was decorated with plastic flowers. Ruth frequently bent to sniff the fake foliage.

 

“They’re not real,” she’d say sadly.

 

The Garden Loft was on the second floor with no access to outdoors. It had a screened patio with windows overlooking the entrance. Ruth would peer down at people coming and going, then pace the hallway, ending up at the locked door that led to her former apartment.

 

She’d go to the nurses’ station and ask, “Would you let me out, please? I’ve got to help my friend.” When staff wouldn’t unlock the door, Ruth would return to it and scream, “Let me out.”

 

Garden residents weren’t allowed to go to independent activities because they might wander away. Instead, they had activities on their unit, the requisite bingo, TV programs, jigsaw puzzles, and a twice-a-week hymn sing. But they were often left to their own devices while staff diverted residents with behavioral outbursts and helped others with personal care.

 

After I left Creekside, I learned that Ruth stopped talking. She sat in a chair in her room all day, rocking and staring out the window.

 

I found a new position at Hilltop Manor. It was surrounded by flowering shrubs and had a large, screened patio filled with hanging plants and comfortable chairs. There was no locked dementia ward. 

 

The administrator explained, “Most people with dementia learn their parameters and

won’t run off. We don’t believe in taking away their freedom.” The unit wasn’t locked, but when someone opened a door, a bell clanged. Depending upon who was going out, the staff would run to catch them or would wave at them. They waved at Debra and George, who were allowed to sit outside unattended; they chased Bob and made him sit where they could observe him while they finished their chores.

 

Trudy arrived at Hilltop one September morning. Her daughters stayed throughout the

afternoon, repeatedly explaining that this new home was a “retirement village.” Trudy made her first escape attempt immediately after they left. She was quick. By the time staff got to the alarmed door, she’d fled through the screened porch, down the walk, and was in the parking lot searching for her car. Staff escorted her back.

 

Later that evening the alarm sounded again. Trudy, in her red pajamas, was seen flying out the door. One caregiver followed her, the other ran to another door, they caught her and brought her back inside.

 

Over the next month, Trudy managed to elude staff several times a week. She always ended up in the parking lot searching for her non-existent car. One chilly night, she went further. When staff did their two-hour checks, they found Trudy’s bed empty. They called security to help them search. Eventually the family and police were notified.

 

Sometime later Trudy was found half a mile from the facility, lying in a ditch, where she’d fallen and broken her hip. After surgery, her family moved her to the locked unit at

Creekside Villa.

 

Two facilities, two philosophies: One assumed people should be in a secured unit when

there was any possibility of wandering. The other believed people with dementia should never be locked up. Which one was right? It depends. Different kinds of facilities are needed because every person with dementia is different.

 

Trudy required a secured environment. She had no more freedom at Hilltop than she did at Creekside because there isn’t much difference between a locked door and one you’re not allowed to go through. But a different facility could have increased Trudy’s quality of life while keeping her safe. Her need to pace may have been satisfied in a secured facility with connecting hallways with more room to walk.

 

Ruth was forgetful, but compliant. With repeated reminders or better signs, I doubt she would have strayed. I don’t think she needed to be in a memory care unit, and The Garden Loft wasn’t the right place for her.

 

In working with adults with developmental disabilities, I learned the term “non-negotiables.” For example, Ernie was happiest when he had a pocketful of pens. He never used them, but they were as important to his well-being as wearing shoes. We all have “non-negotiables.” Mine are different from yours. Ernie’s are different from

Ruth’s. He needed pens, she needed to go outdoors. What are your loved one’s non-negotiables? 

 

Other suggestions based on my experience:

 

  1. Recognize that advertisements for specialized staff training and personalized dementia activities may be exaggerated. Observing staff interactions with residents will tell you more than slick ads. But you should also read reviews, talk with family members who have residents in facilities, and tour several times at various times of day. Notice whether there’s enough staff during evening hours as well as daytime. When you’ve narrowed the choices to two, take your loved one to tour with you.

  2. Consider which environment meets the quality of life needs of your loved one. What is important to him or her? Does she need access to the out-of-doors? Does he require room to pace? Would a variety of activities keep her contented? Do they offer spiritual care? Outings?

  3. Family proximity to the facility is important. During the first few months try to pop in at different times of day so you’ll be aware of potential problems. Get to know the caregivers. Give them friendly reminders if they forget that mother wears glasses or father wants to carry his wallet even though there’s nothing in it.

4. Don’t expect the impossible from staff. If you think an item of clothing will never be lost or your parent will have a caregiver by her side every moment to prevent

falls, you’ll be sadly disappointed.

 

Finding the facility that promotes quality of life is as important as ensuring proper physical care. In the right environment, people with dementia can continue to enjoy meaningful lives until the Lord takes them home to be with Him—to a place where there is no dementia.

July 11, 2021

LIFE'S BIG DECISIONS

Young adults have big life decisions to make—concerning education, jobs, marriage, starting a family.

We seniors constantly face decisions also.

First decision of the day comes about 3:00 A.M.: Should I get up to pee or can I

hold it until morning?

Second decision: Do I even want to get out of bed today? (So far my answer has

been yes.)

 

Next decision: Should I put sugar on my bran flakes or stevia? Or maybe go for the

hard stuff: Fruit Loops. I sure enjoy food that’s not good for me.

But there are even bigger and more consequential decisions to make as we age

(well, getting up to go to the bathroom at 3:00 is pretty big because the

consequence of NOT getting up could be messy.) But our biggest decision is

probably this: What can I do today that is meaningful?

For much of our lives we had no choice about what to do with our time. Most of

us had to go to work if we wanted clothes, cars, houses, good things in life.

If we had children, they had to be taken care of. Diapers, bottles, and doctor

appointments led to carpools, parent-teacher conferences, and orthodontist

appointments.

But at a certain age, our have tos become want tos. And if we don’t have any want

tos, our quality of life is going to rapidly deteriorate in our older years.

 

My father never understood why anyone would do volunteer work. According to

him, the reason you work is to get paid and “No one should get something for

nothing.”

He happily retired at an early age following a not so happy machine shop accident

in which he lost an eye. However, he enjoyed his freedom from the 9 to 5 drudge.

 

He piddled around the house and workshop, took care of his lawn on his riding

mower, went to the mall to walk his 4 rounds, and looked for bargains at flea

markets. But after a while he became bored; his days lacked direction.

 

When the next door neighbor lost her husband, he began mowing her lawn when

he did his. Then another neighbor became ill and needed help. And another asked

if Dad could do her lawn. He wasn’t doing “volunteer” work, of course (he didn’t

believe in that.) He was just helping neighbors.

 

But Dad had found a purpose in his post-retirement days.

 

No matter how old we are, we want to feel our lives have meaning. We all need a

reason to get up in the morning. Sometimes we have to search for that reason,

but if we look, we’ll find it. Because there is something or someone who needs

what we have to offer.

 

And that goes for our aged parents as well, even those with dementia. If you think

90-year-olds want to sit and watch TV all day just because they’re old, you’re

wrong. They may not know what their purpose is, and you may have to help them

identify it, but there is a purpose for everyone’s life no matter their age or

condition.

 

God didn’t intend for us to sit in a rocking chair until the end of our days. Noah

built an ark in his old age, Moses was 80 when God told him to lead his people

from their Egyptian captors, Abraham and Sarah still had a job to do in their

nineties. They didn’t retire from being useful. We shouldn’t either.

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be

useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference

that you have lived and lived well.”

Each of us can make a difference to someone. If you are floundering, not knowing

what direction God wants you to take, try this:

 

1. Pray for guidance

 

2. Look around at the people you know who need a listening ear or comfort or

a card of encouragement or assistance

 

3. Try out new activities. Volunteer for something. If it doesn’t seem like a

good fit, try something else. (Many nursing homes and care facilities

desperately need volunteers)

4. Take a class, learn a new skill that you can teach others.

5. Write your life story for future generations.

6. Develop a prayer list and pray faithfully for each one every day. Don’t stop searching until you find what you’re meant to do.

 

Defining our purpose in old age may be one of our most important life decisions.

July 4, 2021

A Helping Hand

My husband is one of the smartest men I know. At age 83, and in spite of several medical conditions that slow him down, he continues to lead a productive life, but some folks see only his disability, not his ability. Recently Rich got “attacked” by well-meaning women who didn’t know there are occasions to not offer help.

The first episode took place at Dollywood. Rich has neuropathy. He obtains a motorized cart when we’re there, and I stride alongside him. I need the exercise, and he can enjoy the park without discomfort. Rich also has a tremor (it’s Essential Tremor, not Parkinson’s, although he says it’s misnamed—he doesn’t think it’s at all essential.)

We stopped to hear a bluegrass quartet. When we were ready to leave, it took a moment for his wayward hand to push “go.” He pushed the button just as a woman stepped in front of him saying, “Let me help you.” The machine leaped forward. As she stumbled out of the way, she exclaimed, “He was shaking, so I thought he needed help.”

Only a few days later we were celebrating our 29th anniversary at an upscale restaurant. Rich’s hand was misbehaving again, making it difficult to cut the steak—difficult, but not impossible. The waitress appeared by his side and in a too-loud voice asked, “Do you need me to cut that for you?” He shook his head.

I’m sure I, too, have offered help when it wasn’t needed.

I remember opening a door for a professor in a wheelchair when I was in college. A friendly gesture, I thought, but he growled, “Get out of my way!” It’s embarrassing to be publicly rebuffed, but it’s probably equally embarrassing to be offered help when it’s not needed. Should we look the other way when we see someone struggling? Should we wait to be asked? I’m five feet tall. When I need something off an upper shelf at the grocery store, I wait for help. If someone notices me struggling and asks if I want assistance, I’m grateful.

But sometimes helping is inappropriate.

Rich relates the story of a man interviewing for a pastoral position. The wife joined them for lunch as part of the interview process. As they talked, she casually reached over and cut her husband’s steak. He didn’t get the job.

I’ve worked in an assisted living facility for years. We encourage residents to do as much for themselves as possible. The adage, “Use it or lose it,” is true. We teach caregivers not to be rescuers because although a task may be challenging, intervention isn’t usually necessary. For example, constantly pushing a person’s wheelchair inhibits his motivation to go places under his own power. Without motivation, ability declines. Loss of ability takes a toll on self-esteem.

Another occasion where helping may be inappropriate is when there’s a companion. If help is needed, that person will probably help. Rich has been dealing with the tremor since he was a boy. He’s learned to compensate. He has accomplished more with a tremor than most people have with rock-steady hands. He’ll ask for assistance if he wants it.

Finally, we shouldn’t try to help if we don’t know how. A person who can’t swim shouldn’t jump in to save a drowning man. If we don’t know how to help, we should find someone who does. Ever since the professor incident, I’ve hesitated a moment before offering help to people I don’t know. However, I still err on the side of doing good rather than ignoring a person in need. After all, curing people of niceness would be bad for everyone.

--Diana

(This article was first published in the spring 2020 edition of Joyful Living Magazine.)

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A Helping Hand

7-3-21

My husband is one of the smartest men I know. At age 83, and in spite of several medical conditions that slow him down, he continues to lead a productive life, but some folks see only his disability, not his ability. Recently Rich got “attacked” by well-meaning women who didn’t know there are occasions to not offer help.

The first episode took place at Dollywood. Rich has neuropathy. He obtains a motorized cart when we’re there, and I stride alongside him. I need the exercise, and he can enjoy the park without discomfort. Rich also has a tremor (it’s Essential Tremor, not Parkinson’s, although he says it’s misnamed—he doesn’t think it’s at all essential.)

We stopped to hear a bluegrass quartet. When we were ready to leave, it took a moment for his wayward hand to push “go.” He pushed the button just as a woman stepped in front of him saying, “Let me help you.” The machine leaped forward. As she stumbled out of the way, she exclaimed, “He was shaking, so I thought he needed help.”

Only a few days later we were celebrating our 29th anniversary at an upscale restaurant. Rich’s hand was misbehaving again, making it difficult to cut the steak—difficult, but not impossible. The waitress appeared by his side and in a too-loud voice asked, “Do you need me to cut that for you?” He shook his head.

I’m sure I, too, have offered help when it wasn’t needed.

I remember opening a door for a professor in a wheelchair when I was in college. A friendly gesture, I thought, but he growled, “Get out of my way!” It’s embarrassing to be publicly rebuffed, but it’s probably equally embarrassing to be offered help when it’s not needed. Should we look the other way when we see someone struggling? Should we wait to be asked? I’m five feet tall. When I need something off an upper shelf at the grocery store, I wait for help. If someone notices me struggling and asks if I want assistance, I’m grateful.

But sometimes helping is inappropriate.

Rich relates the story of a man interviewing for a pastoral position. The wife joined them for lunch as part of the interview process. As they talked, she casually reached over and cut her husband’s steak. He didn’t get the job.

I’ve worked in an assisted living facility for years. We encourage residents to do as much for themselves as possible. The adage, “Use it or lose it,” is true. We teach caregivers not to be rescuers because although a task may be challenging, intervention isn’t usually necessary. For example, constantly pushing a person’s wheelchair inhibits his motivation to go places under his own power. Without motivation, ability declines. Loss of ability takes a toll on self-esteem.

Another occasion where helping may be inappropriate is when there’s a companion. If help is needed, that person will probably help. Rich has been dealing with the tremor since he was a boy. He’s learned to compensate. He has accomplished more with a tremor than most people have with rock-steady hands. He’ll ask for assistance if he wants it.

Finally, we shouldn’t try to help if we don’t know how. A person who can’t swim shouldn’t jump in to save a drowning man. If we don’t know how to help, we should find someone who does. Ever since the professor incident, I’ve hesitated a moment before offering help to people I don’t know. However, I still err on the side of doing good rather than ignoring a person in need. After all, curing people of niceness would be bad for everyone.

--Diana L Walters

7-3-21

(This article was first published in the spring 2020 edition of Joyful Living Magazine.)

 

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June 27, 2021

 

IF YOU'RE WORRIED ABOUT GETTING DEMENTIA

I have worked with older adults for many years—with people who have dementia and with those who have no cognitive problems. I also helped care for my father, who had vascular dementia. The following information is based on training and personal experience:

“Senior moments”—misplacing keys, forgetting someone’s name, or what we went into a room to get etc.—are normal occurrences as we age. Even younger people can experience forgetfulness, especially when they are depressed or under stress. Other contributors to memory glitches are poor sleeping habits and lack of proper nutrition and hydration. Occasional senior moments are inconvenient, but they don’t mean you have dementia.

  1. It’s when senior moments interfere with daily functioning that it’s time to see your physician. He/she can rule out infection, reaction to medication, vitamin deficiency, dehydration, depression, and other physical causes that are treatable.

  2. We can enhance our cognitive functioning by being physically and mentally active. Exercise, dance, gardening, and taking a daily walk are just a few physical activities that help protect us from physical and cognitive decline. (Physical activity serves a dual purpose of helping our bodies and our minds.) If you don’t have a big block of time or energy for exercise, do it in small segments—5 minutes 5x a day for example. It will make a difference. Click the "Freebies" tab to find many ideas.

  3. We also need activities that engage and stimulate our minds such as reading, crossword puzzles, socialization, and learning something new.

  4. Eating healthy foods helps with alertness (we all know what those are, we just don’t always want them.)

  5. You can explore the Alzheimer’s Association website for further information about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. My book, Touching Grace, is about using Montessori-style methods to enhance dementia patient's quality of life.

       Click here to see the book.

Dementia isn’t a specific disease, it’s a group of symptoms that affect memory and thinking enough to interfere with daily life. As stated above, many causes of dementia symptoms can be reversed, so it’s important to see a doctor if you’re having worrisome symptoms.

 

What if you find you do have dementia?

If it was confirmed that I had a form of dementia that would progress, I would want to take some steps to ensure I had the best quality of life possible in my remaining years.

  1. I would continue protecting my health as much as possible by eating right and exercising body and mind.

  2. I’d contact the local Alzheimer’s association for guidance and to join a dementia support group.

  3. I’d decide who should make financial and medical decisions if I’m unable to do so.

  4. I’d tell my doctor and two other people my wishes about end-of-life care—things like feeding tubes and resuscitation orders (DNR.)

  5. I would put in writing and share with spouse, friends, and family the kind of life I want to live if I’m unable to tell them. For example, I would want them to know:

    1. My favorite music, hymns, radio station

    2. Special items I want with me if I was moved to a care facility—favorite pillow, stuffed animal, etc.

    3. Favorite Scriptures that I want someone to read to me

    4. Food and beverage preferences (Morning coffee!)

    5. What clothes I’m most comfortable in, what colors

    6. TV shows and movies I love (Laverne and Shirley, Grease, Broadway musicals)

    7. Preferred activities (sitting outside on a cool, sunny day)

    8. Books/magazines I enjoy

    9. Preferences about living arrangements

    10. Special requests (for example, a friend asked that I never let her chin hair grow out)

  6. I would communicate with my support system.

    1. I’d ask family and friends, pastor, and relatives to visit regularly. (Even when people forget who their friends and family are, they sense love and caring.) Regular visitors can also ensure I am being taken care of properly.

    2. I’d ask them to help me maintain my independence as much as possible and allow me to assist with whatever chores I’m able to help with (fold laundry, dry dishes, etc.) We all need to feel needed.

    3. I’d tell them I want to be reminded of God’s love through church attendance as long as possible, hearing familiar Scriptures, singing favorite hymns, prayer, walks in nature, hugs, and normal activities.

After working in healthcare settings for 20+ years, I know how busy staff can be in assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Even the best ones will be unable to provide for all my emotional and spiritual needs—yes, people with dementia still have need of spiritual care! Friends and family can step in as advocates to provide what the staff can’t.

So this message is for my family and friends whom I rely on to care about me if I get dementia. And it’s for you who fear you may have dementia.

And the message is for anyone who cares about people with dementia, so pass it around. Because it’s up to all of us to help those with dementia maintain their identity and their quality of life until their last breath is taken. 

 

Next Week’s Post: A Helping Hand Isn’t Always Helpful

June 20, 2021

Before you begin reading my blog you’ll want to decide whether it’s a good use of your time. Who is Diana Walters, you may wonder, and does she write what I’m interested in reading? In today’s post I’m going to introduce myself.

Since you found your way to this website, you already know something about me. You know my husband’s name is Rich and we have a nonprofit, Center for Bold Action. Through CBA we develop ministry materials to help people with dementia remember their faith. We are both writers, primarily in the nonfiction genre, but we’re working on a book of fiction at the present time.

 

I enjoy writing short devotionals, which have been published in Upper Room, These Days, Quiet Hour, Christian Living in the Mature Years and several other magazines. I’ve also had inspirational pieces in five Chicken Soup for the Soul books among other books.

 

I grew up in Michigan and spent the first 40 years there. I’ve been in the South about 30 years. I went back to college in my forties, but it took me a quite a while to complete my undergraduate degree. In my 60s I studied aging with an emphasis on spirituality in dementia and eventually earned a PhD. I retired once, but went back to work part time in the retirement community I’d retired from.

 

After giving much thought as to what to write about, I’ve concluded that I’ll do what writing instructors often tell students; “write what you know.” I know about me, I know quite a bit about aging and dementia, and I know that I want to write in a manner that honors God. The following piece is about me, but many of you will relate to my deliberations about age.

 

Beyond Middle Age

 

It took a while to realize I’d passed what is referred to as “middle age.” When I turned 60 it finally dawned on me that if I was in the exact middle of my life, I’d live to be 120. I’m prepared to do that if the Lord has it in mind for me, but since that’s not likely, I’m looking middle age in the rearview mirror.

 

Middle age lies between 40 and 60 according to some “experts.” After middle age we are saddled with the dreaded “old age” label. I don’t believe old age arrives with a roar. It is sneakier than that. It begins with a subtle murmur.

We find differing opinions as to the timeline of “old age.”  In the past we were all lumped together as “elderly” once we reached 65. (It really annoys me to read about an elderly person being in an accident or some other noteworthy event when I discover they’re my age or younger. Elderly my foot!) FYI: the term “elderly” is outdated in most circles.

There are stages of old age, just as there are stages of childhood. From several sources I’ve read that old age can be broken down into three stages: young-old (55-65), middle-old (66-85), and old-old (85 and older). At almost 74, I guess it could be said I’m in mid-stage, but I object to that designation. I feel too young to be old.

 

No matter what number we assign middle age and old age, we’ve still got a lot of living to do. Yes, Virginia, there is life beyond middle age just as there is life after we stop believing in Santa Claus. As a song from the 60s musical “Bye Bye Birdie” says:

 

There's music to play, places to go, people to see!
Everything for you and me!
Life's a ball, if only you know it!
And it's all just waiting for you!
You're alive, so go on and show it!
There's such a lot of livin' to do!
Such a lot of livin' to do!
What a lot of livin' to do!

 

Whichever stage we’re in, we have a responsibility to our Heavenly Father to use wisely the time we’ve been given. And preferably with a “glass half full” not a “glass half empty” attitude. It’s not always easy to remain positive, of course. As we traverse the path of senior-hood, we’ll encounter some bumpy terrain.

But like other life stages, we’ll discover how to do aging by doing it. And maybe we can help others along the way by sharing what we learn.

 

A dear friend recently passed on to her Eternal Home. She knew where she was headed and was prepared for the journey. The week before her death she came to the class I’d been teaching. She didn’t like to miss because she wanted to keep on laughing and learning, which is what the class is all about. Margie was 104 years old.

My message to you (and to myself) is to continue learning and laughing as much as possible. We do have a lot more livin’ and learnin’ and laughin’ to do—no matter what our age. 

 

Next week’s Message: What to do when you suspect you’re getting dementia.

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July 11, 2021

Life’s Big Decisions

 

Young adults have big life decisions to make—concerning education, jobs, marriage, starting a family.

We seniors constantly face decisions also.

First decision of the day comes about 3:00 A.M.: Should I get up to pee or can I

hold it until morning?

Second decision: Do I even want to get out of bed today? (So far my answer has

been yes.)

Next decision: Should I put sugar on my bran flakes or stevia? Or maybe go for the

hard stuff: Fruit Loops. I sure enjoy food that’s not good for me.

But there are even bigger and more consequential decisions to make as we age

(well, getting up to go to the bathroom at 3:00 is pretty big because the

consequence of NOT getting up could be messy.) But our biggest decision is

probably this: What can I do today that is meaningful?

For much of our lives we had no choice about what to do with our time. Most of

us had to go to work if we wanted clothes, cars, houses, good things in life.

If we had children, they had to be taken care of. Diapers, bottles, and doctor

appointments led to carpools, parent-teacher conferences, and orthodontist

appointments.

But at a certain age, our have tos become want tos. And if we don’t have any want

tos, our quality of life is going to rapidly deteriorate in our older years.

My father never understood why anyone would do volunteer work. According to

him, the reason you work is to get paid and “No one should get something for

nothing.”

He happily retired at an early age following a not so happy machine shop accident

in which he lost an eye. However, he enjoyed his freedom from the 9 to 5 drudge.

He piddled around the house and workshop, took care of his lawn on his riding

mower, went to the mall to walk his 4 rounds, and looked for bargains at flea

markets. But after a while he became bored; his days lacked direction.

When the next door neighbor lost her husband, he began mowing her lawn when

he did his. Then another neighbor became ill and needed help. And another asked

if Dad could do her lawn. He wasn’t doing “volunteer” work, of course (he didn’t

believe in that.) He was just helping neighbors.

But Dad had found a purpose in his post-retirement days.

No matter how old we are, we want to feel our lives have meaning. We all need a

reason to get up in the morning. Sometimes we have to search for that reason,

but if we look, we’ll find it. Because there is something or someone who needs

what we have to offer.

And that goes for our aged parents as well, even those with dementia. If you think

90-year-olds want to sit and watch TV all day just because they’re old, you’re

wrong. They may not know what their purpose is, and you may have to help them

identify it, but there is a purpose for everyone’s life no matter their age or

condition.

God didn’t intend for us to sit in a rocking chair until the end of our days. Noah

built an ark in his old age, Moses was 80 when God told him to lead his people

from their Egyptian captors, Abraham and Sarah still had a job to do in their

nineties. They didn’t retire from being useful. We shouldn’t either.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote,

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be

useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference

that you have lived and lived well.”

Each of us can make a difference to someone. If you are floundering, not knowing

what direction God wants you to take, try this:

1. Pray for guidance

2. Look around at the people you know who need a listening ear or comfort or

a card of encouragement or assistance

3. Try out new activities. Volunteer for something. If it doesn’t seem like a

good fit, try something else. (Many nursing homes and care facilities

desperately need volunteers)

Week Two

IF YOU'RE WORRIED ABOUT GETTING DEMENTIA

I have worked with older adults for many years—with people who have dementia and with those who have no cognitive problems. I also helped care for my father, who had vascular dementia. The following information is based on training and personal experience:

“Senior moments”—misplacing keys, forgetting someone’s name, or what we went into a room to get etc.—are normal occurrences as we age. Even younger people can experience forgetfulness, especially when they are depressed or under stress. Other contributors to memory glitches are poor sleeping habits and lack of proper nutrition and hydration. Occasional senior moments are inconvenient, but they don’t mean you have dementia.

  1. It’s when senior moments interfere with daily functioning that it’s time to see your physician. He/she can rule out infection, reaction to medication, vitamin deficiency, dehydration, depression, and other physical causes that are treatable.

  2. We can enhance our cognitive functioning by being physically and mentally active. Exercise, dance, gardening, and taking a daily walk are just a few physical activities that help protect us from physical and cognitive decline. (Physical activity serves a dual purpose of helping our bodies and our minds.) If you don’t have a big block of time or energy for exercise, do it in small segments—5 minutes 5x a day for example. It will make a difference. Click the "Freebies" tab to find many ideas.

  3. We also need activities that engage and stimulate our minds such as reading, crossword puzzles, socialization, and learning something new.

  4. Eating healthy foods helps with alertness (we all know what those are, we just don’t always want them.)

  5. You can explore the Alzheimer’s Association website for further information about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. My book, Touching Grace, is about using Montessori-style methods to enhance dementia patient's quality of life.

       Click here to see the book.

Dementia isn’t a specific disease, it’s a group of symptoms that affect memory and thinking enough to interfere with daily life. As stated above, many causes of dementia symptoms can be reversed, so it’s important to see a doctor if you’re having worrisome symptoms.

 

What if you find you do have dementia?

If it was confirmed that I had a form of dementia that would progress, I would want to take some steps to ensure I had the best quality of life possible in my remaining years.

  1. I would continue protecting my health as much as possible by eating right and exercising body and mind.

  2. I’d contact the local Alzheimer’s association for guidance and to join a dementia support group.

  3. I’d decide who should make financial and medical decisions if I’m unable to do so.

  4. I’d tell my doctor and two other people my wishes about end-of-life care—things like feeding tubes and resuscitation orders (DNR.)

  5. I would put in writing and share with spouse, friends, and family the kind of life I want to live if I’m unable to tell them. For example, I would want them to know:

    1. My favorite music, hymns, radio station

    2. Special items I want with me if I was moved to a care facility—favorite pillow, stuffed animal, etc.

    3. Favorite Scriptures that I want someone to read to me

    4. Food and beverage preferences (Morning coffee!)

    5. What clothes I’m most comfortable in, what colors

    6. TV shows and movies I love (Laverne and Shirley, Grease, Broadway musicals)

    7. Preferred activities (sitting outside on a cool, sunny day)

    8. Books/magazines I enjoy

    9. Preferences about living arrangements

    10. Special requests (for example, a friend asked that I never let her chin hair grow out)

  6. I would communicate with my support system.

    1. I’d ask family and friends, pastor, and relatives to visit regularly. (Even when people forget who their friends and family are, they sense love and caring.) Regular visitors can also ensure I am being taken care of properly.

    2. I’d ask them to help me maintain my independence as much as possible and allow me to assist with whatever chores I’m able to help with (fold laundry, dry dishes, etc.) We all need to feel needed.

    3. I’d tell them I want to be reminded of God’s love through church attendance as long as possible, hearing familiar Scriptures, singing favorite hymns, prayer, walks in nature, hugs, and normal activities.

After working in healthcare settings for 20+ years, I know how busy staff can be in assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Even the best ones will be unable to provide for all my emotional and spiritual needs—yes, people with dementia still have need of spiritual care! Friends and family can step in as advocates to provide what the staff can’t.

So this message is for my family and friends whom I rely on to care about me if I get dementia. And it’s for you who fear you may have dementia.

And the message is for anyone who cares about people with dementia, so pass it around. Because it’s up to all of us to help those with dementia maintain their identity and their quality of life until their last breath is taken. 

 

Next Week’s Post: A Helping Hand Isn’t Always Helpful

Week One

Before you begin reading my blog you’ll want to decide whether it’s a good use of your time. Who is Diana Walters, you may wonder, and does she write what I’m interested in reading? In today’s post I’m going to introduce myself.

Since you found your way to this website, you already know something about me. You know my husband’s name is Rich and we have a nonprofit, Center for Bold Action. Through CBA we develop ministry materials to help people with dementia remember their faith. We are both writers, primarily in the nonfiction genre, but we’re working on a book of fiction at the present time.

 

I enjoy writing short devotionals, which have been published in Upper Room, These Days, Quiet Hour, and several other devotional books. I’ve also had inspirational pieces in Chicken Soup for the Soul books and Christian Living in the Mature Years among other publications.

 

I grew up in Michigan and spent the first 40 years there. I’ve been in the South about 30 years. I went back to college in my forties, but it took me a quite a while to complete my undergraduate degree. In my 60s I studied aging with an emphasis on spirituality in dementia and eventually earned a PhD. I retired once, but went back to work part time in the retirement community I’d retired from.

 

After giving much thought as to what to write about, I’ve concluded that I’ll do what writing instructors often tell students; “write what you know.” I know about me, I know quite a bit about aging and dementia, and I know that I want to write in a manner that honors God. The following piece is about me, but many of you will relate to my deliberations about age.

 

Beyond Middle Age

 

It took a while to realize I’d passed what is referred to as “middle age.” When I turned 60 it finally dawned on me that if I was in the exact middle of my life, I’d live to be 120. I’m prepared to do that if the Lord has it in mind for me, but since that’s not likely, I’m looking middle age in the rearview mirror.

 

Middle age lies between 40 and 60 according to some “experts.” After middle age we are saddled with the dreaded “old age” label. I don’t believe old age arrives with a roar. It is sneakier than that. It begins with a subtle murmur.

We find differing opinions as to the timeline of “old age.”  In the past we were all lumped together as “elderly” once we reached 65. (It really annoys me to read about an elderly person being in an accident or some other noteworthy event when I discover they’re my age or younger. Elderly my foot!) FYI: the term “elderly” is outdated in most circles.

There are stages of old age, just as there are stages of childhood. From several sources I’ve read that old age can be broken down into three stages: young-old (55-65), middle-old (66-85), and old-old (85 and older). At almost 74, I guess it could be said I’m in mid-stage, but I object to that designation. I feel too young to be old.

 

No matter what number we assign middle age and old age, we’ve still got a lot of living to do. Yes, Virginia, there is life beyond middle age just as there is life after we stop believing in Santa Claus. As a song from the 60s musical “Bye Bye Birdie” says:

 

There's music to play, places to go, people to see!
Everything for you and me!
Life's a ball, if only you know it!
And it's all just waiting for you!
You're alive, so go on and show it!
There's such a lot of livin' to do!
Such a lot of livin' to do!
What a lot of livin' to do!

 

Whichever stage we’re in, we have a responsibility to our Heavenly Father to use wisely the time we’ve been given. And preferably with a “glass half full” not a “glass half empty” attitude. It’s not always easy to remain positive, of course. As we traverse the path of senior-hood, we’ll encounter some bumpy terrain.

But like other life stages, we’ll discover how to do aging by doing it. And maybe we can help others along the way by sharing what we learn.

 

A dear friend recently passed on to her Eternal Home. She knew where she was headed and was prepared for the journey. The week before her death she came to the class I’d been teaching. She didn’t like to miss because she wanted to keep on laughing and learning, which is what the class is all about. Margie was 104 years old.

My message to you (and to myself) is to continue learning and laughing as much as possible. We do have a lot more livin’ and learnin’ and laughin’ to do—no matter what our age. 

 

Next week’s Message: What to do when you suspect you’re getting dementia.

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  Older Blogs

   

Some of these are as serious as I know how to be, while others (especially the ads) are just plain nutty.  Sorry, but I can't seem to help myself.  This is not an apology, just a fact.  These are hard times.  Rome is burning and Nero is griping that his filet mignon is over cooked.  Millions of people sit in long-term care facilities suffering late-life despair alone while many within the church remain indifferent.  I get angry about that.  Yes, I grumble, but I laugh, too.  Believers live joyfully because God's son died for us.  Praise his name!  He offers life to the full!  (John 10:10)                                                                                                                                                                                     -Rich Walters