Friday, February 28, 2014


When I was teaching first grade, I decorated a spring bulletin board featuring construction paper hats flying through the air in a wild March wind.  With this in mind I  wrote the rhyme below for the March installment of the caregiving column I write for our small town's monthly newsletter.  I trust my fellow caregivers will catch the nuances of heartache and joy behind the frivolous words of this semi-autobiographical ditty.  (I know being able to rhyme is not at all the same thing as possessing an ability to write poems, but hope you have fun reading this anyway).  


A daughter went to town one day
And chose a brand new hat
She took it to her mother
Who said, “We need to chat.”

“I’m getting on in years now,
My mind’s begun to flee
I think you’d better shed that gear
And act responsibly.”

The daughter loved her tasseled hat
It was a mortarboard
Her style! Her class! She truly thought
A change of hats untoward.

But Mother doffed old garments;
The apron and chef’s hat,
Exchanged them for a patient’s gown
And frivolous nightcap.

The daughter put her hat aside,
With drama, tears, and woe…
 “I sometimes overreact” she owned,
The mother said, “Just so.” 

“You were a child, and thought like one
Your childish days are past
It’s your turn now to be grownup.”
Her offspring was aghast.

The daughter struggled hard at first
But then as time went on
The burden eased and blessings came
Through battles fought and won.

We don’t choose the hats we wear
The Sovereign holds control
And if we balk beneath His hand
We do so to our woe.

Love is the one best constant
Holds firm through every test
Though hats and people fade and change
God’s love always knows best.
"We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan" (Romans 8:28 The Voice Translation).  

Friday, February 21, 2014

Avoiding Elder Abuse

Early in my caregiving journey with Mom, I attended a support group meeting that featured a speaker who was an elder law expert.  In her talk this woman said, "If you are considering taking care of an elderly parent, you must give up this idea if you were ever abused by that parent in the past.  You will become an abuser yourself."

I doubted her words then.  I am a Christian and I know about forgiveness and walking in newness of life.  I'd been raised by a mother who never hit me, but I believed that even if caregivers had suffered ill-treatment, they nevertheless ought to be able to keep from becoming abusive toward an elderly parent.  But after ten years of caring for my own mom, I think I understand that elder law attorney's reasoning.

In the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, patients retain intellect, but lose memory.  As the disease progresses and the patient loses the ability to perform daily tasks that were once routine, caregivers might not realize that although the patient's analytical skills are diminished, they may nevertheless still be in fairly good working order.  For example, a dementia patient who has developed paranoia might still possess the skill to offer a bitingly accurate commentary on the caregiver's perceived failings. 

When the care recipient is a loved one, he/she is able to draw upon long term memory for ammunition to make arguments and insults all the more upsetting; the barbs become custom tailored. If a new acquaintance tells me I am a hateful person and always have been, I might be able to smile and respond with gentle humor.  But if my mother spews these words, the arrow pierces my heart. 

I'm always surprised by the hurt Mom is able to cause me by just a few well placed insults.  "Well," she says when I ask her for the third time to wash and dress for the day, "You have to get me to do what's most convenient for you, that's what you're like!"  I'm sure that when I was 14 and practiced diligent avoidance of household chores, these words had some basis in truth, but now the injustice and ingratitude of her mocking deprecation is beyond upsetting.

"I've given you ten years of my life, I don't always do what's best for me--I spend a lot of time thinking about what makes you happy," I protest (maturity has fled, drama reigns). 

"Ohhhhh poooorrr you.  Big of you to try to make me feel guilty," she says. 

And that's it.  My switch is flipped, I clamp my lips tightly closed over the angry words I'd like to speak, and I leave the room, closing the door firmly behind me.

The possibility of these kinds of caregiver/patient interactions are why someone who has suffered abuse in the past should not become a caregiver; dementia patients often have great skill in eliciting anger of the sort that creates intense emotion.  And when the care recipient is the former abuser, the chances for the tables to be turned increase exponentially.  My mother never harmed me out of anger when I was a child--although she often raised her voice.  To my shame, I sometimes am unable to keep from raising my voice to her now when she is sarcastic or rude.  If she had hit me in anger when I was a child, how might I respond to her now?

I have come to believe that if a parent was verbally or physically abusive in the past, that it is best for all involved if a non-emotionally involved party becomes the primary caregiver for that person.  There is no shame or failure in the acceptance that you are not the best person to care for your loved one.  God's love does indeed cover our sins and removes them as far as the east is from the west.  However, it is unwise to place ourselves in testing circumstances that could result in a tragic outcome for the physical well-being of the care recipient and the emotional stability of the caregiver.

Addend:  The impetus for this article was a news report I saw about elder abuse in nursing homes.  Although abuse is more likely to occur between family members with shared histories, I think it best if those who have suffered physical abuse avoid working closely with dementia patients as, say, nursing home attendants or hired caregivers.  Family members should be aware of the signs of abuse and advocate strongly for their loved ones.  Observe interactions between staff (including night staff) and your loved one and follow your gut feeling.  Meet every person who provides your loved one care.  I'm sure most facilities are safe.  But just as we teach our kids about the the danger of interacting with strangers even though bad things don't often happen, we need to be vigilant to protect our elderly from the danger of abuse, even if the rate of incidence is low. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Hope in the Face of Alzheimer's

In September of last year, a Home Extension group asked me to speak to them regarding fear of Alzheimer's disease.  One member had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and had begun medication, and others in the group felt fearful for themselves.  In my talk I addressed reasons we might have hope in the shadow of the possibility of a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease for ourselves or for someone we love.

The antidote to every doubt and fear is faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and no avoidance strategy or method of coping has basis in reality apart from Him.  With Christ as our foundation, interesting concepts such as the possibility of "pleasant dementia" provide information that, grounded in faith, can help us to rest in Him.  

Because this was a book signing there is a brief introduction to each of my books.  If you want to skip this portion begin at minute 3!

Note:  In the conversion process from slide show to movie, the final few slides became out of synch with the voiceover.  The narration remains intact. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Spring Will Come

I have a pretty severe case of winter/caregiving doldrums, and so I spent time this morning gathering some encouraging reminders in the form of favorite quotes that I've shared below.  Spring will come! 

A caregiving journey may seem long and arduous.  The following quote always reminds me that taking care of Mom isn't an interruption in my life plan, but a holy purpose for both my life and Mom's, ordained by the Lord:
Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times; but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought (  The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (film). (2014, January 14). Wikiquote, . Retrieved 15:48, February 13, 2014 from

In Psalm 84 "The Valley of Baka" is translated elsewhere as "The Valley of Weeping."  I've shed so many tears over Alzheimer's disease, this horrid entity that has infiltrated our lives and taken so much away.  But if I shift my focus from what I have lost to how the Lord has provided for me through this time, I feel blessed, richly blessed.
"Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. 
 As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
    they make it a place of springs;
    the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
    till each appears before God in Zion" (Psalm 84:5-7). 

Caregiving entails many unseen and apparently unappreciated acts of service.  Discouragement is a constant danger.  Every day I need forgiveness for the ways I sin and fail, but this verse reminds me of the Lord's perfect knowledge of all I've given.  

"This is what the Lord says:'Restrain your voice from weeping
    and your eyes from tears,
for your work will be rewarded,”
declares the Lord'" (Jeremiah 31:16).  

I'm praying encouragement for my fellow caregivers who read these words. God is with us in our trial and we have hope through the certainty of His promise: winter will pass, and spring will come!  

"See! The winter is past;
    the rains are over and gone.  Flowers appear on the earth;
    the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
    is heard in our land" (Song of Songs 2:11-12). 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Faith Trumps Melancholy

TV commercials from pharmaceutical companies make me smile.  They feature idyllic scenes of a person who has taken the promoted medication and is now living happily ever after as a result, but all the while a voice-over warns of dire consequences that may occur as a result of ingesting that very drug.  The cautions are delivered in a quiet, soothing voice, as though our senses might be overwhelmed by beautiful visuals to the degree that we disregard warnings of occasional side-effects of things like paralysis, disease, and even death. 

Perhaps advertising executives need to understand a Biblical truth:  faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17). If the senses were played like a game of rock, paper, scissors, what we hear would trump what we see. God created us with the capacity to believe in what we have not seen, then He planted the hope of eternity in our hearts. 

Yesterday morning during my devotion time the word "melancholia" came to mind.  I remembered a college Psychology class; "melancholia" was one of the four personality types put forth by Hippocrates.  Gloom and sadness are characteristics of this personality, and when the word came to my mind as from the Lord, I felt vaguely reprimanded, though no less sad than before.  But later in the day I was reading a novel that used that unusual word, melancholia, to describe a character.  Another character said something like this, "He fell to sorrow because he didn't have faith."

These words brought a flash of insight: when I stop believing that what God has promised is true, I sink to my natural personality type, an Oscar-the-Grouch kind of cup-half-empty melancholy. I'm not talking about clinical depression, which is a disease that needs medical intervention and can't be overcome by making a decision to believe (that would be like trying to cure physical starvation with beautiful music).  I refer to a personality type that, perhaps as a result of God-given gifts of perception and empathy for the suffering of others, is prone to gloom.  

If a commercial advertised the blessings of caregiving, the voice-over would warn of possible side-effects of heartache and loss of hope.  Caregiving truly does bring many blessings, but apart from faith in God's promises, the hard facts of caring for someone with dementia can bring the heartache of melancholy (particularly to those of us naturally predisposed to gloom).  The cure for this ill (and most others) is to look steadfastly at Jesus' face, abiding in Him through prayer, praise, and most importantly, Scripture.  Hearing the word of God as spoken to our hearts through the reading of His word offers a a choice, "Will you believe?"

When the answer is "Yes, Lord, I believe," melancholy gives way to the peace of faith.

Jesus prays for all believers:  
  “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message..." (John 17: 20).  

"'...if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.'

‘If you can’?' said Jesus. 'Everything is possible for one who believes.'

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, 'I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!'" (Mark 9:22-24)