Saturday, November 26, 2011

No Gravy

This was our first Thanksgiving without gravy.

My Mom makes the best gravy, and last year she was still able to remember how to make it. This year she really wanted to make the gravy and we assumed she still could. After a few minutes though it became evident that she couldn't and the gravy was burnt and had to be thrown out.
Our turkey with no gravy.

At first I saw this as sad, because Mom was sad that this was the first Thanksgiving without gravy. I felt bad she was unable to make this for us. I was sad at the progression of her disease from last year. But then I realized, who the heck cares if we don't have gravy?

We have each other and we have another Thanksgiving with Mom. I will take that over gravy any day.

The holidays tend to make it glaringly obvious how your loved one has changed since the last year, and that can be hard to handle. Instead of focusing on what has been lost, you have to remember all the things you still have and all the time you were able to have together over the year. There are still many blessings in life even if you don't have gravy.


Rev. Katie

Monday, November 7, 2011

Alzheimer's and the Soul

I read an interesting blog post from Psychiatrist, Dr. Farid Sabet called Soul Essence Shining Through the Alzheimer's Brain. He speaks of the soul always being part of us, even if our mind is deteriorating. He says, "you will notice sparks of a soul shining through a dysfunctional brain."

We too often forget about the spiritual side of ourselves, particularly when we are dealing with dementia. All too often people say they "lost" their parent to Alzheimer's, even before the person has died. We think that our loved one is no longer who we once knew. In reaction to that, we might not know how to interact with someone with dementia since they seem to be "gone" so sometimes we don't interact with them at all. But if we remember that their soul, the essence of who they are, still remains, we remember their humanity.

In my theological understanding, I do not believe in heaven and hell, but I do believe in the soul. The soul as being the essence of who we are that is an energy which remains in this Universe for all time. That is why so much of my ministry focuses on discovering your own soul, who you truly are, because that helps us be happier and more productive, caring members of society. The more grounded we are in ourselves, the more we can help the world.

I believe children are far closer to understanding their soul than adults because they have not been taught as much as we have to be a certain way or please certain people. It is possible with dementia that people again come closer to their soul because they are going back to their core being.

For instance, my Mom still wants to care for people and animals. The same things, like a laughing child, make her smile. I see the essence of her still here, even if her memory is not here. She values love, relationships, and caring for others. That is who she is, and that is always who she will be. If we can see that more often, we are better able to spend time with our loved ones. We can just sit and listen to them, or if they no longer talk, we can talk about the things we know touch their soul. It is up to us to remember to see their soul through the illness.

When Mom was in the early stages of dementia, I made her a little scrapbook to hang on her wall which has photos of her in her element, with boxes of homemade cookies and her grandkids eating the cookies. It says "What you do may change, but who you are will never change." I always wanted her to know that even if she can't make cookies one day (and now she can't), the essence of who she is will always be here, and we will always try hard to remember that. I wanted her to remember that too, so she knows even if her mind is gone, her heart and soul are still here.


Rev. Katie

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Dog Training and Dementia: A Difficult Combination

I mentioned in a previous post that one of our dogs, Mom's dog Morrie, has been causing serious issues in our house. Morrie fights with our other dog Bailey over everything, such as sleeping on the bed, food, and attention from people. He also does not listen so he runs out the front door and into the street and he will not come back to you when you call him. These things are problems because it is dangerous to have Morrie fighting with Bailey. Mom tried to break up a fight once and put her hand between the dogs and Morrie bit her when he was trying to get to Bailey. Anyone who is near the dogs when a fight breaks out could get bit. He could get hit by a car running out into the street, and overall this causes a lot of anxiety in the house for all of us.

So, we sent Morrie to a dog trainer and while he follows all of the commands from the trainer, back in his home where he thinks he owns everything, even the people, he will not listen. What we have to do is continually follow through on the command and never allow him to get away with not listening to us. This is fine with everyone in the house, except Mom.

With her dementia, she can not understand that training a dog does not mean you are being mean to them. Morrie has a remote collar and Mom does not like that we use it. When Morrie does not listen, Mom thinks it is mean that we just keep taking him back to the same spot and repeating the command over and over until he does it. She thinks this makes Morrie sad and she is very upset with the rest of us in the house for treating Morrie this way.

I am unsure if we can train Morrie in this environment because it is causing so much anxiety and upset for Mom which in turn makes the rest of us exasperated. Our life now revolves around the dog and Mom being upset about the dog.

While the training process makes sense to us and it absolutely works as long as you follow through on it, it does not make sense in Mom's brain. Due to her dementia, we can not make her understand. Right now what we are up against is discovering if we can train the dog and learn to ignore how upset it makes Mom. Mom would be devastated if we had to give Morrie away to another home, but if he can not be trained in this environment, that is what we will have to do.

The level of complication that dementia adds to everything is surprising, and you are never sure what will happen next. A perfect plan such as dog training, can be set off course.

My advice is, if you get a dog for someone with dementia, make sure the dog has been fully trained first.


Rev. Katie