Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.- John 14:27
Hello Friends and Family! Tis’ Christmas season. 🙂 I love this time of year! I love it. I love everything about it. I am ok with coping with a bit more stress than the norm in exchange for chestnuts roasting and stockings filling. I wish you a blessed, a life-giving, and a joyous season. I know fully well that caregiving stress is hard…but exhale some this season. Find some helper elves and drive around and look at the lights. Read the first few chapters of each or the Gospels. Reflect, recharge, then resume. 🙂
I was just reading through what I have written the last 4 Christmases: LINK I write a lot at Christmas most years and would this year as well, but I am booked all the way to my star with appointment and activities. 🙁 Here is one of my favorite pieces from my Christmas playlist, if you will: LINK Here is one a bit more practical: LINK
I was also reflecting as I reread these posts just how far we have come. I fully expected that mom’s last Christmas was happening each of the previous Christmases. I was quite uninformed. Mom is still physically (heart/BP/O2, for the most part) strong enough to survive even until tomorrow or next Christmas. Her last day is far beyond my pay grade to discern. I can tell you this: there are only 3 left of the Sweet 17: mom, Sue and Jo Jo. The latter two, like my momma, are fighters, but Mohammad Alzi has floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee far too much on them. 🙁 I would not be surprised if the Sweet 17 are all gone by Christmas 2023….but what on Earth do I know? I can tell you, with sadness, that mom’s remaining brother passed away this week with no fanfare. 🙁 My Uncle Don had struggled with several issues and, sadly, I had lost track of him until my stepdad got a strange call while in a bad signal area from the coroner. He once lived in the same nursing home in which mom currently resides, but was transferred away several times and I lost him. And now I really lost him.
My uncle’s tragic passing reminds me of a seldom-discussed, even by me, issue within dementia blogs and discussion: mental illness. Here are two super critical tie-ins. No shoehorn required…:
- Mental illness, left untreated, is a risk factor for dementia. LINK How is this a risk factor (from the NIH article) “Of the total study population, 3.8% of the individuals were diagnosed with a mental disorder and 2% with dementia. Within these groups, the researchers found that individuals with a mental-disorder diagnosis were more than four times as likely to develop dementia than those without a mental disorder. Notably, the increased dementia risk was stronger for those with prior mental versus physical disorders, similar in magnitude to the risk associated with the APOE4 gene, a well-established genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s. The researchers also found that, on average, individuals with a prior mental-disorder diagnosis developed dementia more than five years earlier than those without. Importantly, these associations were found for all types of dementia, as well as for all types of mental disorders, including psychotic, substance abuse, mood, neurotic, and self-harm disorders. The analysis also indicated that psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, were associated with a higher risk of developing dementia than neurotic disorders, such as depression and anxiety. All of these findings were consistent for men and women across all age groups, even after accounting for physical disease histories and socioeconomic risk factors.” There are limitations and all sorts of factors, so don’t put all of your causation eggs in this basket, but know that it is a real thing…
- Dementia manifests, for lack of a better term, a stew of mental health symptoms. Depression/suicide (see Robin Williams if you need an example 🙁 RIP ), anxiety, agitation, extreme restlessness…and a huge one: paranoia.
- Lots of symptom-relieving drugs overlap in these two conditions.
- Special, behavioral health hospitals (aka, somewhat flippantly, “psych wards”) are very commonly utilized for those with dementia to figure out the meds and get symptoms under control so as to keep them safe.
- Stigma is rampant in both umbrellas of conditions and they tend, for some reason, to distance themselves from each other.
- You can’t CATCH either. Suck it up and treat each as they are: image-bearers of God stricken by hardship.
- Both are super complex and the meds are all over the map. Holy Moly, mental health meds have a warning label that makes cigarette smoking sound good. When you scratch the surface a bit, it is also common for both to cite the following sentence beginning “(Drug name) is THOUGHT to work by blah, blah, blah, blah…). It doesn’t scream encouragement when they charge you $100 for a month of pills that they are unsure just how it works. What, does the Magic School Bus drive to the bad spot and fix it??? Mrs. Frizzle, a little help here?!?! But they seem to help if not do anything as a cure…so we hop on the pill bus…
- Uncle Don, mom, and several people I know and love struggle with mental illness to varying levels. I hate it for them. They are all wonderful people.
- The first of my playlists featured a now-passed Sweet 17 member named Wanda. I referred to her as an abbreviated name in posts of old, but she is now gone and there are many other Wanda’s in the nursing home anyway, so I will honor her by using her name. She was a wonderful, sweet, kind, caring, Christian woman who was stricken by Lewy Body Dementia. This stinking type often includes another mental health symptom: hallucinations…and Wanda had a lot of them. She managed them well, though. They were “matter of fact-ish” to her. She talked to me one day for a bit quite clearly, then warned as I left to beware of the snakes at the end of the hallway. I considered that just another loving statement from a woman who loved me too.
My point here? Care for your brain. That includes caring for your mental health. Is there a better time than during the hustle and bustle of Christmas to remember this??? Just driving to work, I am reminded of the frailty of the mind…every single day. Homeless folks, some of whom are clearly mentally stricken, are lined up and down Kansas Expressway on my drive in. Every day, including today. Very sad. 🙁
One more thought: Prevention is important for dementia and mental health. Dementia, in as many as 33-40% of the cases, was completely preventable. In a disease that is 100% lethal as of 12/20/22…but hoping soon to erase this…, with prevention rates that high, it is worth a look. Mental health is not that cut and dried, but it is typically not lethal and is manageable if you will nip it in the bud and take care of yourself. “What is good for the heart is good for the brain” could have a footnote that says “What is good for the brain and the spirit is good for mental health.” Please take care.
Now, after talking a bunch about mental health, I resume marching on toward Christmas. However, before I can get to Christmas, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention something super important: Winter Solstace. LA Times explains it thusly: “Although shrouded in myths, the winter solstice is a physical event that occurs this year on Dec. 21. It is the day when the North Pole reaches its farthest tilt away from the sun, resulting in the shortest period of daylight of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, followed by the longest night.” The only real reason I bring it up, since it isn’t a full moon, is The Longest Day celebrations light luminaries on that day. I will be lighting mine and will shoot a TikTok and a Facebook live to discuss it. 🙂 If you would be willing, please donate to my Longest Day event HERE. I will be doing some stupid numbers of stairs in June and am just kicking off the fundraising for it. 🙂 It will cost a lot to treat every patient and to find a cure. I want to be part of the solution and, if you give, you can be too. Here is the link again in case you missed it earlier in this paragraph. 😉 Here is the SeniorAge donation link as well: LINK
One last thing…sigh…I wish I had more time. 🙁
I got back my results from the Vanderbilt longitudinal study. Here is a picture:
It was grueling. I didn’t check my watch, but I am relatively sure that I was tested for at least 2 hours. Here is the short one many seniors get during their physical: LINK Mine was about 20 times that long and much harder. Did I do great? Nope…but not bad. I need to work on my physical and mental health. Prevention is, as mentioned earlier, very wise.
Now off I go. Please have yourself a merry little Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!
By the way…You are each very special to me. You are better than any Christmas gift, minus this one: (Another vesion)