Grace Under Pressure
I spent a year taking care of an Alzheimer’s patient as a live-in caretaker. My daughter, Alexis, covered a shift as well and another staffer worked in the daytime. We all did our best to keep her safe and entertained, enjoying the sweet things about her and laughing off the rest. For privacy purposes I will call her Mimi in this post.
I am naturally inclined to try and keep my patients and clients healthy and strong. To that end, I would give her certain supplements and I always tried to keep her meals well balanced. If you have ever spent much time around people with Alzheimer’s, you know that can be a difficult task. I noticed that when I introduced magnesium and B-vitamins into her regimen, she became much more cognitive.
I also realized that when my daughter (whom our patient loved) would dress her up, style her hair and take her out, our lady would behave much more normally than when she was simply left to pace around the house in her robe. You see, Alexis and I knew her before Alzheimers affected her brain. She was a beautiful, social woman. Alexis commented, ‘Mimi knows all about dressing up pretty and going out. She was quite a social lady in her life before!”
The other caretakers would hardly dare take her beyond a car ride since her behavior had become very unpredictable. But brave Alexis would have her hairstylist buddy come over, doll up Mimi’s hair and makeup and take her out to dinner. Alexis ordered a dinner and cocktail and cut her food up, and they would have a lovely outing, charming the waitresses and all. I felt so proud that Alexis honored Mimi’s spirit by going above and beyond for her.
There were times when Mimi could speak more coherently than others, and we never knew when she was going to have one of her good days, or when she actually listened to all of our conversations. One day, when Alexis was discussing a problem she was dealing with, I told her,” You are going to have to stick up for yourself on this one”, and Mimi piped in and told her “Yes you will, I have to do it ALL the time!”
I laughed at the image in my head, because there were times when her mind did not work well, and when I was attempting to clean her; in the middle of the shower she forgot who I was and probably thought I was attacking her! I told her, “Let’s calm down. I’m your caregiver, and I’m helping you bathe”, and she would calm down and we would proceed to finish the task at hand. When dressing her I said, “Mimi, I am sorry you were upset by bathing today. I want to be able to do the things we need to with grace and dignity.” She looked at me with her watery blue eyes and said, “That’s really beautiful”. I had prayed to God to handle my work with grace, and that day I think we did.
We are learning more about the brain every day, and understanding that Alzheimers is as individual as the person who suffers from it. Even though the brain is damaged, the parts that were used the most tend to stick around, like the accountant who still remembers numbers well, or the dancer who can still dance. My friend Gloria still remembers how to play the piano and sings songs from heart. It would benefit the patients if staff members had the time and energy to guide their patients into the area of the brain that still lives in them.
As you may have read in some of my Facebook postings, there are more studies being done and, because of those studies, and personal experiences of caregivers like me, we understand more about nutrition and exercise than ever before. Hopefully, in the near future, we can understand more of the preventative measures we can take to preserve our brain functioning.
I think that the seniors I train are well informed and that’s why they exercise daily…because they know our body is a big brain. The brain extends into our muscles and is worked every time we ask it to learn a new pattern. Every time we have a sudden muscle loss, we lose part of our brain as well. I notice it happens in the elderly more quickly because they have often lost muscle over the years, and then when something critical happens they lose the last spare section of mass and brain. Sometimes this is blamed on the illness or surgery, but I think it’s the bed rest and the resulting sudden muscle loss that occurs. It is also hard to restore this as we have few hormones left that assist in rebuilding muscle and the endurance to make it shift back into preserving the body.
All these facts tell us is that keeping more muscle than we need is the real definition of fitness and longevity. The same chemical responses that happen when we train are the ones we need to keep our bodies in the habit of repairing. Resistance exercises force our muscles to have micro tears that when repaired are made stronger, so we can handle the next onslaught of activity. When we do not train them and also pair that with unhealthy eating and yo yo weight loss and gain, we break down our bodies in a bad way.
Tell me, with all of the above information, is it really just a coincidence that most Alzheimer’s patients are women?
I’d like to see a study on that…