Alzheimer's Daughter

The Story

Alzheimer’s Daughter introduces the reader to my healthy parents, Ed and Ibby, years before their diagnosis, then recounts painful details as our roles reversed and I became my parents’ parent.


Their disease started as translucent, confused thoughts and ended in a locked memory care unit after a near decade of descent into the opaque world of Alzheimer's.

I began writing Alzheimer’s Daughter one week after my mother's death––when I was stunned, realizing Dad had no memory of her or their 66-year marriage.

I write to pay tribute to the undying spirit at Ed and Ibby's core, and with the hope that the story of their parallel decline might be helpful to others.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

"The Beach Poems" poetry by Ann Campanella


 
By Ann Campanella

Expressing the Inexpressible through Poetry

When I was in my early thirties, my mother began showing signs of Alzheimer’s. She was 41 when I was born, so I suppose it shouldn’t have been a shock to see her aging in this way. But it was.

I always knew she was an “older mom.” She had been a fount of wisdom for me during my adolescence and early years of marriage.

Mom always said her children kept her young. There was a span of ten years among us, and I had vivid memories of my mother hiking, playing tennis, swimming and sailing at the upstate New York lake we visited each summer.

My grandmother and great aunts lived into their nineties. I had imagined my mother would always be there for me, at least until she was well into her eighties. But it wasn’t to be.

My mother’s mind began to unspool at the same time I was trying to become a mother and struggling through a series of miscarriages. At first her memory became slippery and she began repeating stories. Her emotions seemed out of proportion to what was happening in her life. Her words no longer matched her behavior.

Mom’s descent into Alzheimer’s was heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time. Heartbreaking because she was aware that “something wasn’t right.” It was painful to see her struggling to present a healthy face to the world when her memory was disintegrating. Beautiful because my mother’s spirit showed through her trauma, and the disease became a stage upon which the love in our family could be illuminated and acted out.

Poetry has long been a way for me to attempt to express the inexpressible. When the jagged edges of loss threatened to undo me, writing poems provided a way to hold onto pieces of my mother. Each poem or “stage act” allowed me to bathe my mother’s life in light and meaning.

What Flies Away is a collection of poetry that tells the story of my mother’s illness, my father’s sudden death and the miraculous birth of my daughter. This collection of poems won second place in the Oscar Arnold Young Book Award for the best book of poems in North Carolina in 2007. I was also honored that two of the poems, “The Chase” and “How to Grieve,” earned the Poet Laureate Award.

Now, ten years later, my collection, The Beach Poems, has been published. I consider it a sequel to What Flies Away, as this group of poems shares the story of what “comes after.”

I’ve always loved Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea, a book where the author reflects on the patterns of her own life. I was able to do this at the beach.

My mother had Alzheimer’s for fourteen years, and her disease changed me. After a decade and a half of caretaking, it took time for me to find myself again.

During a series of retreats, I spent time walking the sand and absorbing the rhythm and beauty of the coastline. Gradually, held in the arms of the wind and waves, I was able to release my grief and begin to heal. Memories of my mother and the time before she was ill slowly trickled in. To my surprise, joy washed over me and I felt my spirit come alive again.

Writing about my mother’s Alzheimer’s experience, whether through poetry or prose has been a privilege. I spent 20 years working on my memoir, Motherhood: Lost and Found, which was featured on this site on January 18th, 2017. My memoir has been recognized internationally and my poems have received many awards.

But I’m most grateful to have had the opportunity – through readings and speaking engagements – to meet and link hearts with those who are walking their own difficult path through Alzheimer’s. The Beach Poems is my gift to them.



I am here

at the edge

of the earth

face down

on a mat of sand

wind cups the curves

of my body, waves

a constant roar

in my ears

blue belt of sky

presses against the horizon

I think of my mother –

all that was and never will be –

cry out into the void

nothing

but wind and sand and sea

my mother is here

and not here

and always will be

I hug the earth.

(from The Beach Poems, Main Street Rag Publishing Company)



Ann Campanella is the author of the award-winning memoir, Motherhood: Lost and Found. Formerly a magazine and newspaper editor, her writing has been widely published. She blogs about her life and horses at Fields of Grace and has been a guest on many blogs and podcasts. Ann’s poetry has been featured on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac. Twice, she has received the Poet Laureate Award from the North Carolina Poetry Society. She lives on a small horse farm in North Carolina with her family and animals.





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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Meet Gerda Saunders, author of "Memory's Last Breath"


By Gerda Saunders

A few days before my sixty-first birthday, I was diagnosed with cerebral microvascular disease, which is the leading cause of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. My mother also had dementia.

My diagnosis was not a total surprise—for about five years I had a short-term memory loss that led to pots on the stove at home boiling dry, washing my hair twice in an hour, forgetting to bake a casserole I had made the night before. At work, it led to a slowness in my job as the associate director of the Gender Studies Program at the University of Utah, trouble remembering what I had prepared for class while teaching, embarrassments such as asking people in a meeting to introduce themselves when they had already done so.

Given my suspicions, my diagnosis came as a relief: I was not just being lax or not trying hard enough, or imagining things. The white spots on my MRI and 20-point drop in my IQ were very real. The diagnosis was also a wake-up call: how was I going to live with joy and engagement during the 15 years I probably had left? How was my family—husband Peter and children Marissa and Newton and their spouses—going to live with and care for me?

From the time my children were small, our family had talked about what each of us thought of as a worthwhile quality of life and how to consciously live during each of its stages. Questions arose: What does a worthwhile life look like for someone with dementia? What will be the markers for when my life no longer has the kind of quality I value? Will my family be prepared to support the legal assisted death I wish for when my life no longer meets my criteria for a meaningful life? Our family talked about end-of-life issues and how each one of us interpreted a worthwhile life. In my book I list some of my criteria for a worthwhile life and share how my children and their spouses have given me their support in my quest for a legal self-death, and how we formalized our arrangements with my doctors and a lawyer.

Completing my end-of-life plans was enormously comforting. I could get on with my life. I could participate in family activities, figure out how to get around after I gave up my driver’s license, enjoy reading (which includes a lot of re-reading, because I forget), working in my garden (many bruises attest to my lack of balance)—in other words, live joyfully each day. Might I even be able to fulfill my retirement goal of writing a book?

When I retired after my diagnosis, I started a journal to document my daily difficulties. With a wink at my bachelor’s in science, I called it Dementia Field Notes. I would be an anthropologist, following the life of one member of the tribe of Dementers—myself. My journal entries led to essays that tackled the questions: What, actually, is memory, personality, identity? What is a self? Will I still have a self when my reason is gone? How come I can’t make coffee without mishaps, but can still write? My essays became the chapters of Memory's Last Breath.

The purpose of my book is this: to add my personal story to the vast body of science about dementia accumulated by the lifetime efforts of neuroscientists, neuropsychologists, other medical researchers, and healthcare providers.

My book is for you, whether you pick it up because you or someone you love has dementia, or because you’re a medical professional, or a person searching for your own self after a huge life change, or someone just plain curious, who—like me—feels that the more you know, the better you love.

About the Author

GERDA SAUNDERS grew up in South Africa, where she obtained a B.S. in Math and Chemistry from the University of Pretoria. After working as a research scientist at the South African Atomic Energy Board for three years, she taught Science and Math at Kempton Park (Afrikaans) High school and Math and Physics at the Kempton Park Technical Institute. In 1984, she settled in Utah with her husband Peter and two children. While enrolled in an English PhD at the University of Utah in 1996, she taught Business- and Creative Writing. After graduation, she worked for seven years in the business world as a technical writer and program manager. In 2001, she became the Associate Director of Gender Studies at the University of Utah. In addition to her administrative role, she taught classes in gender studies and English Literature. In 2002, SMU Press published her stories Blessings on the Sheep Dog, about which Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee said, “With cool intelligence, laconic wit, and deep feeling, Saunders explores the moral chaos of South Africa and the pain of a new generation of…exiles.” At the time of her sixty-first birthday, she received a diagnosis of microvascular disease, a precursor of dementia. Having retired shortly after her diagnosis, she now enjoys time with her family, including three grandchildren. Other interests are community work and writing. In Winter 2013, The Georgia Review published her essay about the effect of her brain’s unraveling on her identity, “Telling Who I Am Before I Forget: My Dementia.” The essay was reprinted in other publications, including in the online magazine Slate. From Saunders’s essay grew a memoir, Memory’s Last Breath: Field Notes on My Dementia (2017).      Gerda’s website
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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Meet Peter Maeck, author of "Remembrance of Things Present"



By Peter Maeck

The experience of writing a poem, play, or story, or creating a photograph, is like riding a train through wonderful, unexpected scenery. When I wake up in the morning I hurry to get to work because I never want to miss that train. My train derailed the morning of my father's Alzheimer's diagnosis. Dad hadn't chosen a trip into dementia but here he was on track to forget his friends, his family, and even his own name. Dad told me to stay calm, the decline would be gradual, and maybe some good might come from this. What good, I wondered, could come from shock, grief, and despair? The good that came was a new dimension to my father's relationship with his family, and a revelation to me that dementia’s grip is loosened by the power of poetry, pictures, music, and love. I wrote Remembrance of Things Present – Making Peace with Dementia to celebrate my father's brave, good-humored journey through Alzheimer's, and to show how such an affliction can actually draw loved ones closer together instead of driving them apart.

Viewed as a biological deterioration of the brain, Alzheimer’s is terrifying. But seen as fermentation which is not spoilage but transformation – grapes into wine, for example, or milk into cheese ­– it can enhance the caregiver-patient relationship. Indeed, my father and I moved from a prose relationship into one of poetry which was no better or worse, just different, where we engaged more in rhyme than in reason, freezing time then melting it and joining in a lyrical realm between past and future where, instead of fighting dementia, my father and I embraced the changes it provokes.

When presenting my story at TEDx events, Alzheimer’s Association gatherings, and mental health conferences in the U.S. and abroad, I hear caregivers, familial and professional, confess their frustration, regret, despair, and even rage when dementia is diagnosed. Clearly, caregivers need and deserve care giving as much as their patients do. People attending my presentations and reading my book have been comforted, consoled, and buoyed in their efforts to care for their dementia-afflicted loved ones.

My book tracks my passage through the K├╝bler-Ross stages of grief, from resistance to acceptance of my father's dementia. At Dad's passing I sense that he is in a state of peace. My own peace is achieved by reflecting upon our shared experience, and ultimately by writing my book.

If art can offer no more than symptomatic and palliative relief from the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease, that is no less than modern medicine has done to date. Ideally, art and science can work together to reduce dementia’s effects and ultimately to reach a cure.


Social media links

Website: http://www.petermaeck.com
Photography website: http://www.petermaeckphotography.com
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/petermaeck/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/PeterMaeck
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/peter.maeck.1
Facebook- Photography Page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Peter-Maeck-Photography/253144378061964?skip_nax_wizard=true
Facebook- Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/Peter-Maeck-Author-414391928926496/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/petermaeck/

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Meet Marita Golden, author of "The Wide Circumference of Love"


Silent Storm: What We Remember, What We Forget, What We Discover

A Novelist Meditates on Writing about Alzheimer’s

By Marita Golden

I didn’t choose. I was called. That’s how inspiration, art, and creativity work sometimes. I am often asked why I wrote a novel about Alzheimer’s disease.

I am not caring for anyone afflicted with it and no one in my family, from what I know, has ever been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s. So there was nothing in my life, my past or my then-present to explain the fictional expedition I launched. This is what happened: I was trapped inside the wrong story. I had written 100 pages of a novel that was going nowhere very fast. So I stopped, took a breath and gave the process over quite literally to a higher power. I was willing to “let it be.” Two weeks later I was writing the story of a wife who finds herself and the nature and meaning of love transformed as she cares for her husband who has been diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s disease. Sometimes as a writer you get called, summoned to dive in, to plunge into the terrifying beauty of a completely unknown narrative landscape. When you report for duty, that is when you know you are writer.

Four years later, after hearing the stories of those with Alzheimer’s, their caretakers, the professionals who care for them, the families who are burdened and sometimes buoyed by the demands of the disease, the researchers trying to find a cure, the was novel finished. I realized that I had started out as a novelist and ended up as not only a novelist, but an activist/advocate for greater awareness about the epidemic of Alzheimer’s in Black America.

I met adult children who found themselves stunned and incompetent in the face of a parent’s diminished capacity, and others who unflinchingly faced the disease and embraced their parent with the kind of transcendent love and loyalty of which they never knew themselves capable. I gave a 20-minute talk and reading about my life as writer before a group of residents of a memory care unit. They taught me to be here now, the value of the present moment and that they are indeed present, sensitive, intuitive. They remember the most important things--the meaning of human touch, an honest look in someone’s eyes, that a whole story can be told in a fleeting fragment of an iridescent memory of joy, and that words are often overrated.

But it was the statistics that turned me into an activist/advocate, that convinced me that maybe I was the right vessel to capture, contain and pour this story into the hearts and minds of readers. Statistics reveal a “silent storm” raging in the Black community. If Alzheimer’s is a crisis for America, it is an epidemic for Black America. African Americans are twice as likely as whites to develop the disease, are only three percent of those enrolled in trial to find a cure, and could be 40% of all those with Alzheimer’s by 2050.

Sometimes a story asks to be written and then asks to be used as a platform. My novel, The Wide Circumference of Love, about the Tate family, Gregory, Diane, Lauren and Sean is a story for everyone who has been alive long enough to hurt and heal, to feel coursing through their blood the strange strength borne of all we are sure we cannot bear.

All art is political, and social, and at its best engages in a frenzied dance with everything being thought and lived and denied and discovered swirling around it.

A story is never “just a story”. A book is never “just a book.” A story, a book, can set the world on fire or give a writer, or a reader, something to believe in or fight for.

About the Author:

Co-founder and President Emeritus of the Zora Neale Hurston/ Richard Wright Foundation, Marita Golden is a veteran teacher of writing and an acclaimed award-winning author of over a dozen works of fiction and nonfiction. As a teacher of writing she has served as a member of the faculties of the MFA Graduate Creative Writing Programs at George Mason University and Virginia Commonwealth University and in the MA Creative Writing Program at John Hopkins University. She has taught writing workshops nationally and internationally to a variety of constituencies.

Her new novel is The Wide Circumference of Love. Her other books include the novels, After and The Edge of Heaven and the memoirs Migrations of the Heart, Saving Our Sons and Don’t Play in the Sun: One Woman’s Journey Through the Color Complex. She is the recipient of many awards, including the Writers for Writers Award presented by Barnes & Noble and Poets and Writers and the Fiction Award for her novel After awarded by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association.

Her cover story for the Washington Post Sunday Magazine on African Americans and Alzheimer’s diease can be found here:

African Americans are more likely than whites to develop Alzheimer’s. Why?

Connect with Marita:

www.facebook.com/marita.golden

www.maritagolden.com

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Meet Philip D. Sloane, MD, author of "Alzheimer’s Medical Advisor: A Caregiver’s Guide"


By Philip D. Sloane, MD

I was six years into my medical training – a second year resident in family medicine – when I saw the first patient who I now know had Alzheimer’s disease. A middle-aged man brought her in, explaining that she was his mother and that the family was at wits end. His mother didn’t seem sick, he explained, but she couldn’t remember “anything,” made poor decisions, and would wander off and get lost if left alone. In the examining room, she wouldn’t sit down. From my limited history and examination, it was clear that she had a problem involving memory, judgment, and communication. This was not a little forgetfulness, it was a progressive problem that the family was struggling to understand and cope with. I asked my faculty preceptor what to do, and he had no idea. I still remember how helpless I felt, because something was so wrong and yet I had nothing to offer. It was 1977.

In the forty years since then, so much has changed and yet so little. Back then we called it senility and knew almost nothing about it; today we can talk at great length about the different cognitive disorders, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most prominent, and about amyloid precursor protein, tau microfilaments, PET image studies, and so on. Back then it seemed rare; today it’s a leading cause of death and disability – widespread and widely recognized. But the impact on families hasn’t changed at all.

Since then, much of my career and life has focused on aging, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. I obtained certification in geriatric medicine; worked in nursing homes, assisted living and home care settings; authored 18 books, including a textbook of geriatric medicine; and conducted numerous research studies on Alzheimer’s care. My mother, who died at 98, and my father-in-law, who died at 87, both had cognitive disorders and died after a long period of illness. I developed training programs for doctors, nurses, nursing assistants, and other professional caregivers on diagnosis and management of persons with dementia. All of this was part of a general awakening among health professionals of the challenges family caregivers face providing day-to-day care of a loved one.

The Alzheimer’s Medical Advisor: A Caregiver’s Guide was written to help share with family caregivers the practical knowledge that has accumulated during the past 40 years. A major focus of the book is helping family caregivers know what to do when confronted with new or worsening symptoms – from medical problems like abdominal pain, cough, and diarrhea; to behavioral symptoms such as hitting, hollering, or refusing care; to more vague issues like not eating well. It also contains sections on working with the health care system, medications, watching for conditions such as pain and dehydration, and self-care advice for caregivers. An advisory group of nine family caregivers helped shape the book. Dozens of health professionals and students contributed background research, thanks in part to financial support from the National Institutes of Health. To make the book attractive and easy to read, we partnered with a nationally-prominent graphics designer. To field test an early version of the book, 50 family caregivers used it for six months and told us what they liked and what needed to be changed. Our final book was published in July of this year (2017) by Sunrise River Press. Feedback has been gratifyingly positive.

About the Author

Dr. Philip Sloane is the Elizabeth and Oscar Goodwin Distinguished Professor of Family Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Jointly certified in family medicine and geriatric medicine, he has served as medical director of a skilled nursing facility, medical director of an Alzheimer's Unit, national advisor on Alzheimer's care for a major nursing home chain, director of a nursing home teaching service, and physician and quality consultant to a Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly. As a researcher, he’s conducted over 20 studies in nursing homes and assisted living, including the research that developed two award-winning training programs, Bathing without a Battle and Mouth Care Without a Battle. He was the recipient of the prestigious Pioneer Award from the national Alzheimer’s Association.

The Alzheimer’s Medical Advisor (Sunrise River Press, 2017) is available from major retailers like Barnes & Noble and Amazon, and from the Sunrise River Press website.

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Sunrise River Press

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Meet Niki Kapsambelis author of The Inheritance


By Niki Kapsambelis

On a drizzly April day in 2009, I walked into a hotel suite in downtown Pittsburgh to meet members of a North Dakota family stricken with a rare genetic mutation that guarantees early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

My life changed profoundly that day. Up to that point, I knew precious little about Alzheimer’s. I was a journalist on assignment for the University of Pittsburgh, whose Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center had been studying the DeMoe family for a few years. I was stunned by the magnitude and extent of their courage. Here was a family straight out of middle America, committing itself across generations to serving as research subjects for the most baffling disease of this generation. What science had not been able to solve in more than a century, the DeMoes vowed to defeat – or die trying.

Just as Alzheimer’s has been a formidable enemy hiding in plain sight, here now were its heroes, living next door in relative obscurity. Nobody knew what they were doing, save a few close friends. I wanted to change that.

My book, The Inheritance, took five years to research. Not only did I track multiple branches of the family across different states, I also had to retrace the history of the disease from Alois Alzheimer’s discovery in 1906 to the human clinical trials of today. In the process, I met several brilliant people I now consider friends, and was awed by the depth of their commitment.

I also gained a family. The DeMoes were more than any journalist could ever hope for: honest, charming, forthright, and welcoming. Their trust in me was at times overwhelming, and I felt an acute sense of responsibility to be worthy of that trust and to tell their story as faithfully and completely as I could. Not all of the people who started this journey with me lived to see its conclusion, but I felt their presence keenly as I wrote. I was there for births, deaths, weddings, graduations, divorces, goodbyes and new beginnings. I celebrated with one young woman as she learned she did not carry the mutation, and I delivered the eulogies at two funerals for those who did.

As each surviving family member held the book in their hands, I sensed that my task was complete, but my journey was only beginning. Through the sacrifices of this family, I hope to educate the world about the public health crisis we all now face, and inspire them to come together to finish what the DeMoes – and others – have started.

Niki Kapsambelis may be reached at www.nikikaps.com, via Twitter at @nikikaps, or on Facebook.

Author’s bio:

Niki Kapsambelis’ work has appeared in publications around the world, including the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, People, and the Associated Press. A native of Boston, she now lives in Pennsylvania. The Inheritance is her first book.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Meet Candy Abbott, author of I've Never Loved Him More


 



By Candy Abbott


A Husband’s Alzheimer’s, A Wife’s Devotion

“Mom,” my daughter Kim said, “You know you’re going to have to write a book about how you’re dealing with Dad.”

I recoiled at the thought. It was all I could do to get through each day of unknowns and added responsibilities. “No, hon. I have to live this before I can write about it. I have no energy to think about ministering to others right now. Maybe after it’s all over—maybe then, I could think about writing—but not while I’m dealing with all this raw emotion. I’m still finding my way.”

A couple of weeks later, I shared my struggles as an Alzheimer’s caregiver with Delmarva Christian Writers’ Fellowship. During the coffee break, Claire Smith touched my arm and looked deep into my eyes. “Candy, you need to write a book about this, you know.”

I flinched and felt my face flush. “That’s what Kim said, but I don’t think so. Not for years, anyway. I have to get through this first.”

She tilted her head and said with a knowing look. “We’ll see.”

I wanted to smack her encouraging prophetic face. Instead, I smiled sweetly. But a seed had taken root. I felt it in the core of my soul.

And then came the phone conversation with my writing mentor, Nancy Rue.

“Everywhere I turn, people are telling me that I need to write about this, and I don’t have the time, energy, or inclination.”

“Well,” she said, “don’t think of it in terms of writing a book. Just try capturing some scenes now and then that seem significant. I think it could be therapeutic for you. No pressure, no goals, just get some of these things out of your head and heart and onto paper where you can look at them. It’ll give you a little bit of control, and it won’t be hard. Just capture some scenes.”

Nancy was on target. Right from the beginning, my manuscript began teaching me things about myself as I recorded my raw emotions and the mysterious changes taking place in Drew. I shared parts of the manuscript with Sara Lewis, and she said, “Candy, people need this NOW. You have to publish this as soon as possible.”

And so I did. Drew is still in the moderate phase of Alzheimer’s, and I have to hide all evidence of the book as he thinks he’s perfectly fine. But I have peace that I’m doing the right thing by releasing our story while he’s still living.

One woman said the first few pages brought healing of unresolved grief over her grandfather. Another said she overcame guilt over how she had cared for her husband until she recognized herself as a Proverbs 31 Woman. A seven-year-old granddaughter with severe anxiety reads the book with her grandmother every night. “She may not understand everything,” Sharon said, “but she feels the love.”

What pleases me most is that people see hope between the pages. I suspect my hardest days are yet ahead, and I’m still writing. But this I know: Alzheimer’s doesn’t have to break you. It can make you trust God more and teach you to appreciate living in the moment. It’s all about finding a depth of love you didn’t know you had in you.

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