Dementia: Finding Ways to Connect When the Connecting Gets Tough.

Every time I visit my Mom, it’s a crapshoot. I never know who I will find when I punch in the code and open the door to her memory unit. Will she be wandering the living area talking to herself? Will I find her marching down the hall as though she has something important to accomplish? Or will I find her sitting on the sofa, her chin hanging to her chest, fast asleep? It is hard to know what her mood will be like after days upon days in the same room. And when she finally sees me, I never know how long it will take for her to recognize my face. I try not to have any expectations. It seems each time I come in, it takes a little longer for her to light up.

I know I’m blessed that she still knows me, but it’s so scary when someone you love has an incurable disease that erases bits of them one day at a time. So rather than lament what’s lost, I’m trying to enjoy what’s left. That means shifting the way I connect with her and finding new ways to communicate. She no longer can have a conversation because she can’t reach the words. But she can still laugh and sing and dance.

Lila’s Health Report:
In order to stay healthy, you need to stay active and engaged. In addition to exercise, good nutrition and sleep, you also need a good dose of adventure. So each month I’ll share ways to boost the excitement and passion in your life with adventurous ways to create more wellness in your body, mind and your spirit.

My Mom has always loved the arts. She was the founder of the JET Theatre and she loved opera, symphony and ballet. And although her dementia continues to progress, turn on a tune and you’ll find she hasn’t lost her love for music. Plenty of research shows dance and music can clear the dust that accumulates with dementia and Alzheimer’s and actually create better connection and communication. It seems to open a backdoor to her brain so she can still access good feelings and memories. Just hearing the music seems to wake her up, lift her spirits and bring a big smile to her face.

While she was never a singer before, she is now. And even though we never used to regularly jump up and dance when we were together, we do now. Without words, she seems to do better with experiences that connect us rather than conversations. Music always seems to get a positive response. Recently, I walked in to find her sitting by herself, mumbling words and looking so forlorn. Then the music started and everything changed. (Check out this cellphone video!)

She loves to move, go for a walk, play catch with a balloon. Exercise is both invigorating and calming for her. And it’s a relief for me to have something I can do with my Mom that brightens her day. We can bond without even a word.

If you’re a caregiver to a person with dementia, do what you can to incorporate their senses. Put on music, give them colorful flowers to arrange or something delicious to eat or a fluffy pet to hold. My Mom was never a dog lover but she is now. I think she relishes their unconditional love. So I usually will bring my dogs, Yogi and Lulu, when I visit.

And when the visit is over, make sure to hold their hand or give them a strong hug. I love when my Mom throws her arms open for a hug. It reminds me she’s still in there. A good hug is sometimes all that’s needed— just as much for me as for her.

Looking for a doctor specialized in memory care?
Visit stjoeshealth.org to find a doctor near you, or call 1-800-231-2211, and we can guide you through the process.

Wanted: A Primary Care Doctor

by Lila Lazarus

Adventurous, fun-loving, healthy, 50-something woman seeks intelligent, compassionate, patient, trustworthy and attentive primary care physician for a long-term relationship.

Hard to admit, but I don’t have a doctor. Last year, my general practitioner went “concierge,” meaning his services now cost an extra $3,000 a year— a retainer fee paid by some patients to avoid crowded waiting rooms and get more personalized service.

While that may appeal to me someday, for now, the extra price tag seems exorbitant for someone I see maybe twice a year. So now I’m in search of. And I’m not alone. One out of eight people are looking for a new doctor, either because their doctor retired or changed plans or because of the quality of care from the doctor or staff.

Continue reading “Wanted: A Primary Care Doctor”

Yes, I did that.

St. Joe’s Health Reporter Lila Lazarus broadcast her routine colonoscopy on Facebook Live to raise awareness about the importance of screening and prevention.

“You did what!?”

That’s the usual reaction when people hear I had my colonoscopy on Facebook Live.

Why on Earth would you do that?” is usually the follow-up question.

In case you don’t know what a colonoscopy is – it’s when a trained specialist, in this case, St. Joe’s colorectal surgeon Dr. Amanda McClure, takes a probe with a tiny HD camera and goes six feet in through the patient’s rectum and colon. She examines the lining of the colon – which is where colon cancer starts – and searches for pre-cancerous polyps.

Only this colonoscopy was a little more…public. My colonoscopy was broadcast live on social media. Thousands have now seen the inside of my colon and rectum on Facebook. They watched as Dr. McClure narrated a journey through my large intestine looking for growths on the lining— precancerous polyps. 

Continue reading “Yes, I did that.”

You Gotta Have Friends

Remember American Top 40 on the radio?  Casey Kasem would do a long-distance dedication with a sappy story of a soldier sending back love and a song to his sweetheart back home. As corny as it was, every one listened. Well, I’ve decided to make a special dedication for this new year 2019, and I hope you’ll listen. This dedication is going out to all my friends whom I didn’t spend enough time with in the last year. That’s right. In 2019,  my priority is going to be my friends— not work, not home, but maintaining my relationships and creating new ones. I’m not talking about making new acquaintances.  What we need to foster are real bonds of friendship. And it’s in all our interest to do the same. Why?  Because it’s good for our health.

Continue reading “You Gotta Have Friends”

Time is Moving Too Fast

by Lila Lazarus

Stop it. It can’t possibly be the end of the year. How did the months fly by? Where did the time go? 2019?! That sounds like some futuristic date in an Orwell novel. Yes, we’ve all heard the older you get, the faster time flies. But this was warp speed.

I remember people saying that if you do the same thing day in and day out, your days will just blend together and move faster. But that’s not my situation. No two days are alike and yet they’ve vanished. Twelve months passed in an instant! I think it slipped by because I wasn’t being a very good witness. I didn’t observe as closely as I could have.

In yoga, we’re told to stay in the moment. Be present.  You’ll be more aware, more focused and less apt to let time drift by unnoticed. I don’t do this on a regular basis,  but I’m determined to savor every last moment of 2018.  Here’s how: Continue reading “Time is Moving Too Fast”

Alone for the Holidays?

by Lila Lazarus

This feeling comes on every year just before Thanksgiving. It’s a big, empty feeling. There’s a pit in my stomach and a lump in my throat. As discussions turn to holiday plans and family dinners, I can feel my eyes start to water.

If you’re blessed with a big family living close by, you may not understand the pain. But for those of us with small families or families living across the country— or, in my case, around the world — it’s sometimes unbearable. Being without family or a tight, core group of friends can leave you feeling disconnected and depressed. This is the time of year when we count on our tribe. It’s priceless. And if you don’t have a tribe readily available, well…it’s tough. It’s hard to accept that Thanksgiving isn’t going to look like that Norman Rockwell image of the perfect family dinner we grew up with or hoped to have some day. Continue reading “Alone for the Holidays?”

Questions and Apertures

by Lila Lazarus

DSC_0218
Photo credit: Costello Candids

It wasn’t a question I wanted to ask. We were sitting with my Mom in her new assisted living facility having coffee and I was going to ask her if she wanted another cookie but instead blurted, “Mom, do you want to be buried or cremated?”

Perhaps I could have been more delicate. Perhaps I could have waited for another time. Perhaps I was insensitive. But the right time never comes for the tough questions. All my siblings were in town to help move my Mom into the new facility. This seemed as good a moment as any. Some say the ideal time for this conversation is before you turn 40 and your parents turn 70, whichever comes first. But that ship sailed for us a while ago.  Mom is 86.  It was now or never. Continue reading “Questions and Apertures”

No Regrets

by Lila Lazarus

Lila Swing
Photo by Costello Candids

We’re moving my Mom this week to an assisted living facility. While her health is good, her mind is slipping away. It’s hard to believe just a few months ago we were talking about traveling together to Poland and the Ukraine to see the towns her parents emigrated from. There’s no chance of that anymore. She always said she was going to learn how to play bridge and mahjong. She never found the time, and now it’s never going to happen.

Thinking about all the things my Mom can no longer do is a powerful wake-up call. When I think of all the places she wanted to travel, the people she lost touch with because she was “too busy,” the hobbies she planned to take up someday… it’s painful to think about. And it’s also a major motivator for me. I don’t want any regrets. I don’t want any guilt. So, I did some thinking about how to live without any. Here’s what I’ve come up with: Continue reading “No Regrets”

The End of Summer and the Beginning of Now

by Lila Lazarus
Be-Here-Now-image.jpg
The end of summer? Are you kidding me? It happens every year but somehow always catches me by surprise. I can’t stop thinking: “Where did the summer go? How are kids already going back to school? Is that a chill I feel in the air?” I’m creating a feeling of impending doom in my gut. I start imagining the misery of scraping frost off the windshield. My mind starts to wander.

But not this year. This year, I’m trying something new—and you may want to try it with me.  I’m making use of a superpower we all have. I’m staying right here in this moment. We spend so much time worrying about things to come. And it gets us nowhere. It just steals the magic of the moment. Our bodies may be rooted in the present, but our heads are hijacked and time travel into another place entirely. A wandering mind can lead to anxiety and misery. When I don’t stay in the date on the calendar, my head often fills with negativity. So, I’m celebrating this day by staying right here in the present moment without needless worries. If you’d like to join me in this moment, here are simple ways to stay right here right now without worry. Continue reading “The End of Summer and the Beginning of Now”

Let’s Play

by Lila Lazarus

“You’ll find more happiness growing down than up.” – Anonymous

Being an adult stinks. There’s pressure, stress, bills, constant obligations and a growing list of aches and pains. Going to work every day means putting on work clothes, sitting in the car, sitting in the office or cubicle, being serious, doing so many “important” things and then sitting in traffic on the way home again. So, I’ve made my decision. I’m going to be a kid for the rest of my life. Forget the fact that I’m more than a half-century old, I’m no longer going to act my age. (Actually, if I’m honest, I never have.) Continue reading “Let’s Play”