Archives for posts with tag: alzheimers disease

xmas1987In 1987 I stood in for a tree when my sisters and our parents celebrated Christmas together for the last time in their tiny apartment. In 1988 Father died of an aneurism, in 1990 Mother died in her sleep, in 2002 Tanis (necklace) died of a stroke and in 2016 Enid (bow) died from Alzheimer’s disease. We all have to go some time and I think of them with love. One thing I know for sure is that neither you nor I want to die of or see anyone else die of Alzheimer’s, like Enid. Here’s what I do to score little victories that bring back one memory at a time:

1. Don’t panic if you are out shopping and can’t remember where you parked you car, have just jumped into the driver’s seat and can’t remember where you are going, or have gone down the basement to get something but can’t remember what. Pause, take a deep breath, keep quiet and tell yourself everything is going to be OK. The information is still inside and you can get it back. Then go over in your mind what you can remember doing just before you got blocked. Wait patiently until the missing information pops back.

2. After having a scare like this, I spend time just taking extra care of my memory. It needs to be exercised just as much as any part of the body. I do regular basic home exercises, if nothing else such as swimming is available. They make blood flow to my head and nourish my brain cells.

3. Practice and rehearsing are the keys. Before education was reformed in the sixties, children were taught ‘by rote’ in school. They had to memorize and recite poems and lessons. Before the days of TV, people put on recitals and concerts where poems as well as music were performed. Anyone who has read Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi knows how the river captains had to stretch their minds to an amazing capacity to accommodate mounds of changing, life-saving information. I know a pianist who glows to talk about how her memory has grown with each long performance piece she commits to it.

4. On the scale of my life, I have at least learned to go grocery shopping without a list and not forget anything. It is a big satisfaction! I make the list at home and then use a mnemonic, such as memorizing the first letter of each item on my list and reciting it to myself a few times. If I forget something in the store, I pause and try to remember it — or else do without!

5. The memory game or puzzle I like best is Sudoku. My performance on it indicates what shape my memory and ability to focus are in. After not having done it for months, I unloaded it for free on my ipad and found I had relapsed to the ‘easy’ level whereas I used to be at ‘difficult.’ I’m doing a few puzzles each day to try to climb back up again. A bit of pigheadedness probably helps fight off the Alzheimer Scrooge too.

Happy Preparing for Your Memorable, Unforgettable Family Christmas Holiday Time!



FeedingEnidSo this is what it had come to and, as always when we were together, the moment was sweet. The only game my sister, Enid (I call her ‘E’) and I could still play was my putting food into her mouth as she sat up in bed. It was a lucky thing I had come at the supper hour when she was awake and there was something we could do. 

  • When I was born, Enid Mary was twenty-eight months old and took her responsibilities of loving her living baby doll very seriously. She rocked my cradle, hushed my cries and poked me in the cheek (just a teeny bit) to make me smile. As we grew, E was always there to wipe my nose, dry my tears when I hurt myself falling, and pull up my saggy pants which had been hers.
  • This was the first time in seven months I had come to see her at Providence Healthcare. It is a long drive and I only go when I have other compelling things to do in the city of Toronto. She is always there.
  • After the visit I phoned my niece, Anne, to tell her we had a good time but I was shocked to see how E’s condition had deteriorated. Anne is very devoted to her mother, visits regularly and maintains close contact with the hospital personnel.
  • She said the Alzheimer’s was taking its expected, inexorable course of slow regression to infancy. Just after my last visit Enid had abruptly stopped walking, stopped responding, and continued to stop talking. The next step would be she would forget how to swallow.
  • In fact, it was time for us to start thinking about end-of-life arrangements. She was very glad I had called because she wanted me to read the online literature and tell her what I thought. Enid had said, some 18 years ago when the illness was first detected, she didn’t want any unnatural interventions.
  • When a patient can no longer swallow, nurses need to know whether the family wants them to start using intravenous feeding, or insert feeding tubes in the throat. If the patient stops breathing, does the family want them to administer CPR? What about rushing them off in an ambulance to another hospital for intensive care?
  • As I read the literature I thought about Enid’s eyes and what I could divine from their expression. I think she is fearful and bewildered. She is pleading for someone to understand that she has always been a very good girl and is still striving to do her best. How could she possibly do any better when somebody has been stealthily stealing her brains? Could you?
  • None of these questions has a good yes or no answer. You might gain an hour of life for prolonged setbacks and trauma. The literature is most clear and positive when it says the patient must be treated with comfort and dignity and I couldn’t agree more with that.
  • Those are the qualities of life E provided for me when I was a newborn and that is exactly the stage towards which she is regressing now. I read, “Capacity to feel frightened or at peace, loved or lonely, and sad or secure remains. The most helpful interventions are those which ease discomfort and provide meaningful connections to family and loved ones.”
  • Some few months on, I dread to think, I may find myself living in a poorer world, deprived of Enid. She is my compelling reason now to go to Toronto to stroke her forehead, lay my hand on hers, tell the world in her eyes that I love her and sing her a lullaby.
  • I pray she will die naturally in her sleep with comfort and dignity after suffering her prolonged tragic fate so courageously. She will always be my hero.

Margaret Kell Virany is an Ottawa-area author of memoirs based on the raw emotions of love and adventure found in generations of her lively, devout family. Right now she is usually glued to her computer loom, working on a novel about the journey of a 60-year marriage. On June 4th she will be at the Media Club of Ottawa‘s table under the tent at Prose in the Park. Try not to miss this stimulating, free, open-air book event. Impeccable, aristocratic host William tenHolder of Café Wim fame, and MCO president June Coxon who has written about Ernie, the most worthy cat ever, will be at the table with Margaret.