Delivering News of a Death Over and Over and Over

By the time that most people reach the age of 50, according to experts in the field, they will begin to be affected by the issue of memory loss. By the time these same people have reached the ripe old age of 75, most will suffer some degree of memory loss themselves and will have at least two family members or other loved ones who are dealing with the issue, often in its more severe form known as dementia.

For those of us in the final fifteen percent of our lives, memory loss in ourselves and our loved ones isn’t the exception: it’s the rule. I’m typical of people in this age group. In my youth, I had a very good memory. Foolishly, I was amused by people who had to make lists in order to remember what they needed to do. Today, my memory could best be described as mediocre, and karma has caught up to me for the lack of compassion I showed to people with less-than-perfect memories. Currently I have five different to-do lists, one for financial tasks, one for household tasks, one for outdoor tasks, one for work-related tasks, and one for . . . Opps, I forgot what the fifth one is. I’m now the person providing amusement for the youngsters as I work on my to-do lists. In an attempt to find humor in an annoying situation, I have a coffee mug making fun of the fact that my brain in full.

As is also typical, I have a close relative, my older brother Pete (see photo), who has serious memory issues. Pete has had Alzheimer’s disease for the last seven years and his current memory loss is severe. I also had another loved one, my late husband Bill, who suffered from moderate memory loss. What the statistics don’t mention is that most of us in this stage of life also have in excess of 50 casual friends and acquaintances who are also subject to memory difficulties.

I have always believed in trying to be completely honest. It’s a goal of mine to be able to have that level of integrity, but it’s a goal that I have, on many occasions, failed to meet. I also feel that when I’m dealing with someone who suffers from dementia, I need to be especially honest and communicate openly about everything. But I’ve been presented with several situations recently that left me struggling to try to find a way to best handle the needs of that person with dementia while still being completely honest. I’m going to talk briefly about two recent incidents that left me questioning how I could have better handled the situation and I’m hoping some of you who read these posts can offer me some suggestions on how I might be able to do better next time.

The two situations I’m going to talk about cover extremely different types of incidents: one of these incidents can only be described as tragic and the other is downright ridiculous. I’m going to start with the tragic one so that you will still have the ridiculous one coming to give you a few laughs and cheer you up. The tragic incident involves my brother, Pete, the relative I just mentioned who suffers from advanced Alzheimer’s disease. A few years ago, when Pete was still in the moderate stages of Alzheimer’s, he came to spend two weeks with my husband, Bill, and me.

Pete and Janet Bessa in April 1945

His wife of nearly 50 years had died about six months earlier after a brief illness. Pete’s eldest daughter, Lynn, was his primary caregiver and she had warned me that Pete had trouble remembering that his wife had died. She said she had to remind him of it frequently. As I learned on the first day Pete spent staying at our home, the word “frequently” was a huge understatement. Continue reading

Travel, Part 1: Flying in the Age of Claustrophobia

This blog is all about making the final fifteen percent of one’s life rewarding, and the most common item on the wish list of many people in that stage of life is travel. As long as we remain able-bodied and have sufficient income, travel is an obvious way to get pleasure from life. Unfortunately, when people start to face some physical challenges, travel often becomes one of the first pleasures in life to disappear. My husband and I both think there are ways to extend the period of time when travel can be pleasurable. Because I have served on the Board of Directors of the Parkinson’s Association of Orange County for the last five years and because both Bill and I have attended one of their best programs, a vocal therapy group, we both have lots of friends with physical challenges. A few of these friends have offered to contribute some information on how they manage to keep on traveling even with the mobility issues that Parkinson’s causes. Another friend with parents who have both mobility and cognitive issues is also contributing some ideas to this post.

There is so much information to cover on this subject that we will break this post into several parts. In this first part, we are going to talk about traveling by airplane. Future posts on travel will cover other forms of transportation as well as hotel stays, sightseeing, and other elements of pleasurable travel.

Arriving at the Finish Line

Finishing the Journey

Having a great travel experience involves far more planning than it did when we were young and could just grab a backpack and take off. Now there are items like medicines, mobility devices, personal hygiene issues (how to dispose of the Depends discretely), energy supply, etc. But all that planning can be half the fun because of the sense of anticipation it brings, and the end result is made clear in the picture we have included here.

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Crying Like a Baby

I got depressed today! It happens. Although this blog is about how to make the final 15% of your life fulfilling, and most of the time I do feel happy and fulfilled, there are times when depression overwhelms me. Not clinical depression: not the kind of depression that comes over a person for no reason in spite of the fact that life seems to be going well. I’m talking about the kind of depression that happens when life is tough. My life has felt tough recently. Correction: I should say that my husband’s life has been tough lately. It’s watching him deal with the tough parts that has made my life tough. Whoops! That’s not totally true either. Some days it’s hard to be completely honest. My life has been tough lately too.cry like a baby

Dementia steals so many things from the person who is experiencing it (and their loved ones). Over the last few years, my husband has had to sell his beloved Harley and his Madass Motorscooter, and then he had to give up driving completely. He’s had to give up the freedom to go anywhere he wants on his own; to be home alone if he chooses; or to go out in the garage and work on his projects. In short, he has lost the freedom to feel like an independent adult. But as everyone who is a caregiver knows, watching a loved one suffer such terrible losses has a profound effect on the observer too.

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Counting Down from One Hundred by Sevens

If you’ve ever been tested by a doctor to see if you have memory problems, or if you’ve ever accompanied someone else who has undergone the testing, you know exactly what counting down from 100 by sevens indicates. It’s a test that is commonly done to measure whether you have any signs of dementia. My husband, who was first diagnosed with dementia in 1995, has had the test many times while I have sat by and watched. I haven’t had the test done on me by a doctor yet, but I have attempted to do it on myself innumerable times. All I have to do is forget a word or forget to do something important, or have any other little memory lapse and I get a panicky feeling that is only quelled by starting to count down from 100 by sevens. Okay, I know, how could I tell if my answers were wrong if I truly had dementia! All my answers might be wrong and I would never know it. But common sense doesn’t enter into it when I’m overcome by that panicky feeling.

janet-buell-countingjpg

Why should I react so strongly to the thought that I might be developing dementia? Dementia is an expensive illness. My husband’s dementia has reached the stage known as moderate. He would not be able to live by himself; he is not able to drive; he has no idea if the bills get paid, the dishes get done, or any of the other vital tasks of running a household are accomplished. If he was a widower or if I had lost my marbles too (that is Bill’s description of his illness, by the way, not mine), he would have to be in a nursing home. Like many people in our age group, we are relatively comfortable in our retirement financially, but our budget would not cover two people in a nursing home at the same time for any extended period. That’s a cold hard fact of life. The fact that I talk about it and make back up plans is one of the reasons that some people think I’m morbid, but I consider it being practical.

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Rub a Dub Dub

I expect that the posts on this blog will contain everything from the ridiculous to the sublime. This particular post, however, is likely to have far more of the ridiculous in it then the sublime. I said in my first post on this site that I hoped to both inform and learn as a result of writing each post and receive useful comments from any readers I was fortunate enough to have. While I do think there will be some useful information for readers in this post, I am counting on receiving some help myself on the subject of bathing and bathtubs. Why? Because my husband has developed a terror of bathing, a common symptom of Dementia.

I’ve included some pictures with this post. As you may be able to tell from the picture below, one of the difficulties of bathing when you suffer from dementia is that you might forget that you have already put soap on your hair, and then consequently do it again and again. And when you are using a walk-in tub with those wonderful water and air jets, this can result in a lot of bubbles. Usually, when my husband, Bill, is bathing, I stay right there with him just to prevent catastrophes like the one in the picture. The day of the picture, I decided answering the phone in the middle of Bill’s bath was a good idea. It wasn’t! By the time I returned, cell phone in hand, to check on how he was doing, bubbles were pouring out all over the floor. On the good side, since I had the cell phone camera right there, I was able to capture the moment for posterity. By the way, Bill drove a hard bargain before he signed a release agreeing to let me use the picture in this post.

Too much shampoo

Keep that shampoo away from forgetful bathers

In my very first post on this site, I mentioned that a sense of humor was extremely important when dealing with the challenges of the final fifteen percent of your life. It’s actually very helpful throughout the entire lifetime, but it’s critical in the final part. My first reaction to the bubbles rapidly filling up the floor of the bathroom was dismay at the amount of work cleaning the mess was going to take. But my upset turned to laughter the moment I caught sight of the expression on my sweetie’s face. Continue reading

Why in the World Should I Write a Blog

Featured

Now that I have actually started writing this post, I’m beginning to wonder if I gave it the wrong title. This blog is a joint effort between my husband and I, and while I do the actual writing, his input is a very important part of what gets written. Maybe the title should be “Why in the World are We Writing this Blog Together.”

Bill and Janet on the Beach in Fort Lauderdale

Bill and Janet on the Beach in Fort Lauderdale

There are actually some very good reasons for starting a blog now. My husband and I have somehow become elderly. We’re relatively new at it and I still have trouble thinking that the term “elderly” applies to me. My husband has an even harder time thinking it applies to him. We are both well into our 70s now and there is no denying that we are elderly. We named our blog the Final Fifteen because we do feel we are in the final 15% of our lives. During each stage of our lives, we’ve tried to have a lot of fun. Getting our educations, caring for our children, carving out our careers, planning for retirement, and now living that retirement: each of these stages of our lives have had their own pleasures and challenges. We want this last stage to be just as good as the others.

This blog is about what we are trying to do to continue to enjoy our lives even though we’ve somehow become elderly. We’ve observed some elderly people who seem to manage to have a wonderful time and we’ve observed others who don’t seem to be enjoying their golden years at all. We’ve developed some opinions about what makes the difference in those two circumstances and we want to learn even more.

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