Where’s Maria?

What does it feel like to have dementia? In Where’s Maria, you experience first hand the confusion, anger and humiliation that people with dementia experience every day. Could this be your mom? Could it be you someday?  I don’t remember much before this moment.  I don’t recognize exactly where I am, although this recliner chair fits me like a glove.  A female talk show host on the television is blathering on and on about some burst of insight, but it’s not Oprah and I don’t care for the knock-off, dime store psychology.  The imitation is enough to make me shift in my seat and utter something in annoyance, more of a raspy croak than my usual gentle voice.  I glance to my right and the grey-haired man next to me smiles with his eyes and a tangle of memories are suddenly swept out the corner and set adrift, cascading down in my mind as sparkly as water splashing off of sun soaked rocks. hands  Where’s Maria? hands I feel a flood of joy and break into a face-splitting grin, which is quickly replaced by a concerned and furrowed brow.  He looks surprised as he reaches for my forearm and gives me a gentle pat. “Are you getting Maria off the bus?” I ask him. He continues to pat my arm, turning his attention back to the Oprah Winfrey imposter. Typical.  He never responds to anything I ask the first time.  I guess I’ll have to go get her myself. I start to stand up, my knees grinding in revolt, and somebody rushes from the across the room and pushes me back down into my seat. This actually hurts a little.  I must have strained my back carrying laundry up and down the stairs.  I swear the amount of laundry these kids produce… This lady is pointing her finger at me.  I’m told to stay .  Like a dog-trainer scolding an errant beagle, she says it three times in escalating volume.  Why is she so angry?  The fourth time she is pushing down on my shoulders so hard that I have no choice but to push back. I realize that the bus is almost at the end of our street and, at this rate, no one will be there to meet her.  Sunny must be home with her baby.  I think Shane is at football practice with his son.  Or maybe with his dad.  I can’t keep them straight.  Poor Maria won’t know what to do.  The thought of her standing there, alone, looking lost and afraid, causes me to panic. I am quicker this time, and get to my feet before the lady can bully me any further.  The grey-haired man also protests my actions, reaching for me from his recliner, which makes me really angry considering it’s his six-year-old daughter too. I shout something at Continue reading

Elderspeak: Babytalk Directed at Older Adults

sweetie  Elderspeak: Babytalk Directed at Older Adults sweetie






“The doctors talk to me like I’m an old man,” my uncle grumbled.

“Mike,” said my aunt. “You’re 92. You are an old man.”
“I know,” he said, “but no one wants to be talked to like they’re an old man.”

The blog below is from guest blogger, Karen Austen.

About a year after I started volunteering at a skilled nursing home, I observed a set of new teenaged volunteers who came to help with a craft at the monthly meeting of the Red Hat Society. I heard several of the volunteers speak slowly and loudly, using a sing-song voice. In response, I saw many of the residents roll their eyes.

Unfortunately, I had flashbacks to when I also first started as a volunteer. I altered my speech inappropriately as well, hoping to be supportive but coming off as patronizing instead.

I have since learned to identify the features of elderspeak. Continue reading

Why My Purse Was in the Freezer

Why My Purse Was in the Freezer memory photo 189x300I found my purse in the freezer this week. After appropriate jokes about new meaning for the term “cold cash,” I considered what this might really indicate. The thought was chilling.

As a Senior Move Manager, I have taken courses on how memory changes over time, so I know that short term memory loss increases as we age, and brain processing speed slows down. This part of aging is referred to as normal age-related memory loss. I know that some people experience more than normal age-related memory loss, and this is referred to as mild cognitive impairment, or MCI. Both people with normal age-related memory loss and people with MCI can live independent, meaningful lives. I also know that 5 million people in the US, and 50% of people above 85, have some degree of dementia. Does finding my purse in the freezer mean that I will become one of them?

Dementia is more than memory loss alone. It is also characterized by problems with judgment, language, abstract thinking, and it interferes with daily and social functioning. So now I am doing what many people above a certain age do when they forget something or notice cognitive changes. I am asking myself if finding my purse in the freezer is a sign of something serious.

Do I forget things like people’s names, where I placed my keys or where I parked? Yes, but I have always done this. Although aggravating, this is common for me and for most people as they age, so I chalk this up to normal age-related memory loss and make a silent promise to write down where I parked and focus more on putting my keys in the same location.

Another warning sign of dementia is difficulty performing familiar tasks. I need to be retaught the rules of cribbage every time I play, but I have always been card-challenged. Other examples do not come to mind, so I cross this symptom off my list as well.

I check to see if I am disoriented about time and place. Do I forget how I got somewhere or how to get home from familiar places? Since I have gotten a GPS, I don’t need to focus on where I am going; the GPS does it for me. I haven’t noticed any changes in this area, however, so I decide I am good here as well.

Do I have poor or decreased judgment, like wearing heavy clothes on a warm day? Nothing jumps out as worrisome, so I move on to the next symptom.

Do I have trouble with abstract thinking, like forgetting how to balance a checkbook? I use Quicken to balance my checkbook, and I remember how to use the software each month. I decide this is not a problem area either.

Do I put things in unusual places,  like a purse in a freezer? Ooops. I need to delve into this one a little further. I have a tiny purse, just big enough for my cell phone, cash and credit cards. It is black, of course, and hard to find when it is misplaced, which is often. But how did it get in the freezer?  I consider my habits. While there is no reason the purse doesn’t stay on my shoulder, it seems I often place it in whatever I am carrying into the house… like a bag of bagels, for example, which is where I eventually found it when we defrosted the freezer. I decide to mull this over as I read the paper, and find my replacement purse, equally tiny, in the plastic bag next to the paper. I conclude that given my habits, a purse in the freezer, although bizarre even for me, is understandable.

Then I recall that six months ago, I found orange juice in the cabinet next to the refrigerator –another unusual location. Once again, I do a self-check. Since the cabinet is immediately next to the refrigerator, I decide I was probably multi-tasking and got distracted.

I think I am safe, for the time being. But I realize that I have crossed some threshold, after which actions that were laughed off decades ago, are now taken seriously. A worry lingers in the back of my mind each time I notice a change or something out of the ordinary. I’m OK with that. I’d rather be informed and worried, than unaware and untroubled.

I am glad to have my old purse back, and I am happy to report that 6 months of being frozen appears not to affect credit cards or cash. Will I experience other signs of normal age-related memory loss? I hope so, for decades to come.

To learn more about cognitive changes as we age, visit eSMMART.com and look at two courses: Memory and Forgettery, Parts 1 and 2.