Re-energized for Year Fourteen - An Alzheimer Journey by Susan Scoggins

As a caregiver, consistency in routine seems to keeps things working at their best.  VIsits twice a week, once during the week and one weekend day, keep the time with Jerry pretty positive.  We used to have lunch dates, but because of his declining state, I now go just after lunch, around 1:00.  If the weather is nice, I still put him in the car and we drive around town to see his favorite waterfront, the birds and the boats.  If the weather's too cold, we head to the facility dining room, which is white table cloth, and have a coke or coffee and a cookie.  (I'm always prepared with cookies or peanuts.) After months on end, my mental energy tank begins to run low, so I've found that I HAVE to get out of dodge for a couple of weeks a year to refuel. I can feel myself sinking, my paintings lose their energy and so do I.  Luckily for me, my son lives in California, so it's the perfect escape.  In our 41 years of marriage, Jerry and I rarely left each other (accept for his business travels.)  I wasn't one for girls weekends and he wasn't one for guys golf trips.  I suppose you could say that we were stuck to each other like amyloid plaque and brain cells (not funny).  The first time I ever left Jerry for over one night, was a year and a half ago.  He was at the facility and I went to a two week art school in the mountains.  We both survived.  Then, last spring, I went to Santa Barbara for a week of intense painting.  It was wonderful.

Capitola By the Sea  20x24 oil on canvas

Capitola By the Sea

20x24 oil on canvas

January and February are overcast and dreary in the Carolinas.  That type of weather in Alzheimer world is a recipe for depression.  So over the last few weeks, I went back to California.  With my paints neatly packed, a rented car, and US 1, I drove through Carmel and Big Sur, then ended up in Pasadena with my "old same", my son, Mark.  He's good for reenergizing me.  We worked on a new website, created a new art video, played great music, laughed and celebrated being together. It was a beautifully crazy fun time.  And even though I felt the need to call Jerry almost every day, just like in the old days, each day, his nurses who are well versed in knowing how to make the families feel good, would say, "He's fine.  He danced with me today."  This trip was the perfect thing to refuel my emotional and mental energy tank so that I could go back to him.

Refreshed after two weeks, I walked into the facility curious if Jerry would know who I was.   The aide had him back in his room, bathing and dressing him, shaving and putting all his "smell good" on.  When he walked out, I melted as usual.  He put his arms out, but he did not know who I was.  (He gets lots of hugs from everyone who sees him).  I wrapped my arms around him, pulled away and told him it was me.  Hugged him again and laid my head on his chest.  As we walked down the hall, I could tell he had a happy countenance. His eyes had a brightness to them.  Even though he didn't know who I was, he knew he was with someone who made him happy.  We wandered down the hall to the living room but he wasn't content staying at the facility.  WIthout words, I could see he wanted to go.  This is our routine...go, get in the car, and drive around.  He knew.  He knew who I was.

If you have any opportunity to enable a caregiver to get away and have a re-energizing retreat.  Please do so.  It will help them go the distance.  Thank you all for encouraging me.

Caregiver Tips from Santa Barbara - an Alzheimer Journey

Today, I'm going to take a minute for caregivers.  Tips on surviving and thriving.

In an earlier post, I mentioned it's taken a year and a half before I was healthy enough to continue this blog.  That's because I had reached a breaking point of exhaustion and grief and it was taking ALL of me to express any kind of laughter or light heartedness.

Step one.  Breaking point.   I got so angry that I made a resolution that Alzheimers was claiming  Jerry, but it was not going to take me too.  That decision changed my life.  I began to schedule my visits with Jerry to every three days, so that I could be "normal" in between.

Step two. Exercise.  Exercise, you say?  Listen, I was so beaten down that I could barely walk around my block.  I am not exaggerating.  I started Zumba classes,  cried through the first class and almost walked out with my head hung low.  I was a mess!

Set goals to keep on living.  It's been  7 months.  Today, I actually lifted my feet off the ground in a "jog" step  for 6 CONSECUTIVE  minute intervals  and I'm working myself up to my first sprint triathlon.  (well…..maybe)

Step Three.   Acknowledge the grief.  There are still times when I get overcome with grief.  While Jerry is still living, our life, as we knew it, is gone. The most that is there is the essence of who we were.   When tears of grief overcome you, let them flow.  You may as well NOT try to stop it.  When you feel you are drowning in tears and you've taken your last gasp of air, reach down into the inner most of your being and, with a mammoth stroke, thrust yourself back up  to the top.  You'll come popping out of that sea of despair  and you'll gasp in the largest breath of your life.  THAT IS LIFE!

Step Four.  Change of venue.  On occasion, get outta town!  Refresh your spirits.  Keep on trucking.  Move forward.  Make goals.  Don't dwell.  Become focused on flourishing the new you.  A new you will make a much healthier caregiver.  A positive caregiver is a better caregiver.  A happy caregiver makes your loved one happier.  Now, instead of hanging on Jerry and crying in his arms, I can go back and dance with him.