Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Care Partner Wednesday--What is Ageism and Why is it Unacceptable?

Claudia sharing a hug with one of our residents, Jean

--a guest post by Claudia Osmond. Thank you, Claudia, for helping me celebrate my 200th blog post!

Have you ever felt insulted by someone saying these kinds of things to you:

“You haven’t changed a bit!”
“Twenty-nine and counting…”
“There’s no way you have a 25-year-old son! You don’t look old enough!”
“You’re a grandma? I never would have guessed it!”

Or offended by words like these:

“You’re only as old as you allow yourself to feel!”
“Live your life and forget your age.”
“Age is just a number.”
“Be young at heart!”

If you answered yes, then, good! You should be.
If you answered no, then, that’s too bad! Because you should be.

Why? Because, as well-meaning as they are, each one of the above comments is ageist. As much as they may be intended to help take the sting out of yet another candle on the birthday cake, another wrinkle around the eyes, another ache or pain in the back or knee, they deny the experience and importance and beauty of aging. They say your value and worth lie solely in who you were, not in who you are. They infer that being young is where it’s at; that there are certain predetermined characteristics of how you should look and act when you are a certain age, and that possessing any of the characteristics reserved for “younger people” when you are old(er) is somehow miraculous and in need of a comment.

Why should we deny our age?
Why should we grant a certain age bracket the copyright on good looks? Abilities? Accomplishments?
Why should we feel flattered to appear that we’ve not changed?
Why should we be reduced to a contest of numbers?

Because Ageism exists, that’s why. And it is saluted as the last accepted ism.

Not only accepted, but saluted, you say?

Yes. Because it’s often cloaked in good intentions (“Oh, you look great for 85! Can you believe she’s 85?”). It masquerades itself in cuteness and humour and clever memes (Have you seen this one: At my age, happy hour is naptime. Funny, right?) It impersonates concern and safety and knowing what’s best (“Oh, she used to be so active and now she can’t do the things she once did. The poor thing.”)

But, as compassionate and well-intentioned as it might seem, at its heart, Ageism is dangerous. It makes us afraid. It isolates us. It divides and separates us. We’ve heard what “getting old” is like. No one wants to get old. No one wants to go grey. No one wants to have wrinkles, or age spots, or sags. It’s unattractive. No one wants to get slower, or forget, or be forgotten. It’s sad. No one wants to end up like that. We’ve seen how Ageism has pushed aging adults to the sidelines, to the margins, by a society that has given it the power to determine what makes us valuable: Productivity. Youth. Power. Prescribed Beauty Standards. Ageism tells us our contribution to society has an expiry date.

So we deny what’s happening to us. And we help others deny what’s happening to them. We seek out elixirs, and potions, and convincing quotables that we hope will somehow magically trick the hands of time into stopping – if not outrightly turning them back – to, please, let us remain young. If we can look/be/feel young, then everything will be okay. Because youth is where it’s at.

At least that’s what we’re told.

But what Ageism won’t tell us is that it’s a spoiled, narrow-minded, tyrant ruler who deprives its subjects of the depth and breadth and vibrant colours that years of life experience offer in all their glorious hues. Ageism knows nothing of the subtle yet powerful tones of aged Wisdom and Grace. It’s a stranger to the opaque shades of mature Perseverance and Courage and Grit. It’s oblivious to the deep tints of ripened Understanding and Confidence and Acceptance. It tunes out the cultivated stories being told by weathered faces, and is repulsed by the papery-thin, spotty hands of those who have given and loved and done so much. It scoffs at forgetfulness, mocks perceptiveness, and disregards quietness. Ageism won’t concede that every age has a portion of where it’s at, and that elders have a grander and fuller and more complete sum total.

As a result, Ageism misses out on discerning the well-earned reward of simply Being. Not striving, or clamouring, or climbing, or doing. Being.

And it wants us to miss out, too.

So forget being twenty-nine and counting. Forget trying to trick the hands of time. Forget believing that beauty and worth eventually expire.

Refuse to submit to the ideals of that spoiled, narrow-minded tyrant.

Change in whichever way you want.
Live your life and embrace your age.
Look old enough.
Be wise and courageous and confident at heart.

And be offended if others refuse to acknowledge these things!

Claudia is an elder care culture changer by day, middle-grade author by night. When she's not busy working or writing you will most likely find her reading or knitting or down in her basement leather studio pretending she knows what she's doing. You can also find her at 

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Care Partner Wednesday--"I'm Here But I've Changed."

Last week would have been my 39th anniversary if my husband had lived. Every year on August the twentieth, I think about him and us and life as it was.

This time I remembered that shy twenty-three year old who wore the dress her sister made and daisies in her hair. Her veil was long and borrowed and had multiple moth holes up one side, so she sewed lace appliqu├ęs over the moth holes and then created a similar pattern on the other side. Her hair was long and brown. She was afraid of driving. She was afraid of new places and new experiences. She was mortally afraid of her mother-in-law (with good reason.)

When I looked at that person who was me at twenty-three, I barely knew her.

Fast forward thirty years and a few months. I am a new widow. It's been a horrific year, culminating with my husband's death of heart disease. I'm confused as I try to navigate the whole widow thing. None of my peers have the same experience. I make difficult executor decisions. I struggle with finances. I find new depths of loneliness.

When I look at the person who was me at fifty-five, she is more familiar, but still, I have moved on and grown. I am not her any more, either.

I hear the expression, "Alzheimer's stole my mother." It grates on me. It would be like a lifelong friend claiming, "Marriage stole that twenty-three year old Ann. She's gone. I can't find her any more." Marriage didn't steal me.

I'm still here, but I changed.

"Sometimes, it’s not the people who change, it’s the mask that falls off." Anonymous

All through our lives, we grow and change. Physically, this is certainly true, but it's also true in other ways. Mentally, we mature. Emotionally, as we experience and process the experiences in out lives, we are marked by them. Socially, we find we enjoy different experiences and different kinds of friendships than when we were younger. We become wise or not, depending on how we process the lessons life has taught us.

Alzheimer's disease and other dementias accelerate this change. We may see changes every time we visit, and as those who love the person with the disease, we view them as losses. They can't remember. They can't do what they used to do. Our relationship isn't the same. Alzheimer's has stolen them.

No, it hasn't. They are changed.

My mother had Alzheimer's, and it changed her. She was an enthusiastic gardner, and she forgot the names of her plants. She enjoyed golfing, but couldn't play any more. She was a great cook, but forgot how to make eggs, or even how to work the stove. All of these things we grieved.

But not everything was losses. Mom was a person with opinions about everything, and no fear of voicing them. She was seldom open to other points of view, especially about the way things should be done. She had rules for every aspect of life, and they were to be followed without question. Because she was proficient in so many things, and so sure of herself, she was seldom able to receive from me.

As her Alzheimer's progressed, she softened. She was less sure of herself, more vulnerable, and the rules disappeared. I was able to give to her and she received from me. We grew closer than we'd ever been.

I grieved those things that seemed so much a part of her. She loved her garden, how could she be so lost in it? She's sewn a coat, how was it that she couldn't sew on a button? These things hurt, but I learned that she was the same person, with changes. I learned to embrace and even celebrate some of the changes.

No one in your life remains static. Look at your loved one with Alzheimer's, and ask yourself, what changes can I celebrate?

KEEP THE CONVERSATION GOING: This is a radical philosophy that goes outside most of what you read about dementia. What do you think?

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Care Partner Wednesday--"I'm still here."

I heard something on the radio today that disturbed me.

The announcer was talking about a famous person who had recently died of ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease.) He said that ALS and and Alzheimer's are alike in that they steal the person away. ALS steals the body and Alzheimer's steals the mind.

Like a sliver in my finger, I kept banging up against that thought all day. Steal the person away...

NO! Alzheimer's does not steal away the person. They change, but who they are, their essence, is still there.

Today, at lunch, I was assisting a lady who is in the latter stages of Alzheimer's. She doesn't walk. She needs help to eat, and her food needs to be minced. She sees little and has her eyes closed most of the time. Yet she is very much there. When you talk to her, she answers in her precise, "school marm" voice that is reminiscent of the principal she used to be. Her character shines through every word.

Another,  younger lady is also in late stages. She doesn't talk at all, but her facial expressions speak volumes. If she is amused, it's in her smile and the crinkle of her eyes. If she is disbelieving, she gives you the cut-eye. If she is angry, she frowns and swats your hand away. She tells you exactly what she is thinking, and doesn't need words to do it.

The late Richard Taylor, Ph.D., was a man with a unique perspective. He had an amazing brain and ability to express himself. He also had Alzheimer's. He talks about the disease from his perspective:

"In “What Is It Like to Have Alzheimer’s Disease?” Taylor writes, “Right now, I feel as if I am sitting in my grandmother’s living room, looking at the world through her lace curtains. From time to time, a gentle wind blows the curtains and changes the patterns through which I see the world. There are large knots in the curtains and I cannot see through them.” 1

To the end of his life, Richard Taylor changed and grew with the disease, but he did not leave. He was still there, as are the ladies I help in the dining room. Who they are changes and evolves, as it does with all of us over our lives. But the person they are, is still there for those who choose to see.

Be that person. Be the one who sees.

CONTINUE THE CONVERSATION: Share ways you can see the essence of who your loved on is.


Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Care Partner Wednesday--Micro-managing

There's a lot of fear involved in aging.

I hear the fear of Alzheimer's every day.

I searched the house for my reading glasses and found them on my head. 
I've lost my keys three times this week. 
I knew that person so well, but do you think I could remember her name?

Then there is the classic, I went into the room to get something, and can't remember what it was. I swear I've done that one since I was twenty. Every time something like this occurs, a little voice says, "Uh-oh. It might be a sign--"

Then there are all the signs your body sends that you aren't as young as you once were. You can't do the things you used to, or if you try, parts of you hurt that never hurt before. Even when you are sitting doing nothing, or trying to sleep, things hurt.

As people age, systems start to break down. They don't see or hear as well as they used to, and let's not even mention bladder control. The doctor gives you a diagnosis that is going to be with you for the rest of your life, and before you have a chance to absorb the implications of it, something else in your body is affected by that diagnosis. Soon, you have two, then three or more diagnoses. Taking medications becomes a part of your daily regime.

As a person ages, all these changes affect lifestyle. People can't live alone, need care, lose their independence.

I've seen all kinds of responses to the loss of independence and the shrinking of a person's world, but one of the most frustrating reactions is what I call micro-managing. It can take the form of obsessing over the smallest health issues such as a tiny scratch, a corn, an itch. I can't control the big things, so I will obsess about the small ones. Another micro-managing response is to become engrossed in possessions. For some people who gave up a house full of treasures, their small room full of treasures becomes incredibly important. Others focus on demand after demand, and it seems impossible to keep them happy.

I need to say, not every elderly person has this response. In fact, it's not the norm. But for the care partner of a loved one who is micro-managing, it's exhausting and frustrating.

What's the answer? The bad news is, there's no magic solution that works all the time with everyone--like so many issues care partners face. But here are a few suggestions:

1. Set a time limit. After ten minutes, or whatever your sanity limit is, say, "Okay Mom, I've listened to everything that is wrong. Now I want to hear about what it right. Let's count blessings together." With some people, this doesn't work and shouldn't be tried, but some will stop short and turn the conversation around. It's worth a try.

2. Distraction. I've observed that micro-managing is worse in people who don't leave their room. This becomes more difficult if they refuse to do so, but sometimes, with the right incentive, they will do so. "Let's go out for ice cream." or "I want to show you this flower in the garden that is blooming today." are possible incentives. For those who do mingle with others, encouraging an activity that takes their mind of themselves is a temporary fix.

3. Huge distraction. If you're feeling desperate to break the micro-managing cycle, even for a while, babies and cuddly animals work with most people.

There is no cure for the hard-core micromanager, but if a care partner can distract and break the cycle, even for a short time, it makes a visit more pleasant. This is always a good thing!

Saturday, 6 August 2016

The small miracles of tender moments

Today I celebrated the long awaited "princess party" with my granddaughter, Hannah, and although we both agreed it was a bit low key, the day was fabulous.

The Superheroes and Princess Party was put on by our community in the centre of the village. I wasn't sure, at nine, if Hannah would still enjoy something like this, but she was excited about it, so I bought a ticket. She came early and I braided her hair with ribbons and flowers and we donned our tiaras and headed into the centre of town. There were pictures with princesses, which she enjoyed, colouring, which is always a favourite and music from various Disney classics that added to the party atmosphere. She loved the slide whistle in the goody bag and the other treats.

Face painting isn't her favourite, and when Batman arrived with great fanfare and a long lineup for pictures, we went to our favourite ice cream parlour and stood in line there. We love ice cream much better than Batman. In the end, we left long before it was over.

I think one of the highlights for Hannah, other than the ice cream, was on the way back to the car, when a man passing us bowed his head and said, "Good afternoon, your highness." All the way to the car, she held her head and shoulders high, in true regal fashion.

The rest of the afternoon was a variety of lovely activities, all at her suggestion.

We watered the garden with much laughter and personal wetness.
We sat on the basement stairs and played restaurant with the plastic food.
We painted pictures for each other.
Hannah made a drawing for my fridge.
We snuggled on her bed and read George and Martha together, a book her Grandpa used to read to her Mommy.
She asked for ice cream just before going home, which was also just before her dinner. And because I am Grandma, she got it. We snuggled on the couch and watched Full House while she ate it.

I am so aware that somewhere, a clock is ticking.
There won't be many more occasions to dress up.
She may not want to play pretend much longer.
I think ice cream will always be a hit, but will she snuggle up to me while she eats it, like today? I don't know.

I hope and pray the foundation of relationship that has been built in these nine years will always be there, but it will change. That's a good thing, of course. Growing up, new experiences, maturity--it's all good.

But today, I treasure these tender moments.
Today, I am thankful.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Care Partner Wednesday--The "Why" of Boundaries

If you know me at all, you know my heart still breaks when pictures of our dog, Bailey, come up on the memory feed in Facebook. This blog isn't specifically about him, but he taught me many lessons, and this is about one of those lessons. Indulge me in allowing me to share a few pictures, too.

Bailey had a dual personality.

When my husband was home, he was the most compliant, peaceful little fellow. If he was in trouble, Hunter only had to call his name and he'd stop the bad behaviour. I have seen his already short legs at half mast as he crawled to him, craving approval. His little halo and wings were clearly visible.

When he was alone with me, a different dog appeared. Demon dog.

Even though I took him for walks, got up in the night for the first year to facilitate bathroom trips, and fed him, he didn't crave my approval. Me, he played like an instrument.

One Monday, I had the day off and was enjoying a more leisurely pace. While drinking my second cup of coffee, I was preparing breakfast and cut a few slices from a sizable chunk of cheese. Bailey jumped to the counter and seized the larger chunk,  dashing over his self-proclaimed race course around the living room, dining room and through the kitchen, with me in hot pursuit. I ran, I yelled, I fumed. Bailey ate and ran. Finally, he stopped under the table and looked at me. A tiny crumb of cheese fell to the floor. His snack was finished.

A care partner without boundaries is like me running around the house after the dog.

There's a feeling of helplessness. Things are out of control, and it seems hopeless to reign it back in.

The "out of control" feeling can lead to depression. "Oh, what's the use. I'll never get this dog to obey me. In fact, I'm useless as a dog owner. I just can't ever get it right."

Frustration can quickly turn to rage, which could lead to abuse.

For all these reasons, care partners need to establish boundaries. It's never emotionally healthy to constantly feel jerked in various directions, without any control over the situation.

Boundaries and risk management are very important parts of living a healthy and positive life. Bryant McGill

Here are some diagnostic questions:

1) Are you finding balance difficult to maintain? Sometimes the out of control feeling has built up over months, and you didn't notice it until recently. Are there demands and manipulation that you don't know how to handle?

2) Is it difficult for you to hand over the reigns to others? Do you feel that no one else can do it right, or that explaining is too much work, and you may as well do it yourself? What are your strategies for getting help?

3) Do you know when it's time to say "no"? What feeling in yourself signals that you need to step back?

4) What area of "taking care of yourself" is most difficult for you? What strategies do you use to overcome this?

Find a quiet time and write some notes. Discover where you need some boundaries and write down what they should be, how you are going to accomplish them, and what help you will need to do so.

Don't wait until you are in a "chasing the dog" kind of situation!

CONTINUE THE CONVERSATION: Do you sometimes feel out of control when you are caring for your loved one? What have you done about this?