Day 19 of mom being on lock down from the public due to the global pandemic. The clock is a tick’n, unfortunately, and we need this stinkin’ virus to go away so we can get back to hanging out with mom. The double whammy of the two scenarios make for stress, anguish, frustration, and cynicism….but it doesn’t take a brain scientist or a rocket surgeon to see what happens to nursing homes when the virus visits…. so we sit and wait and look in between the bars. 🙁
I wonder, should I ever find myself in prison, what I would stare out the barred window and dream about? Besides the obvious–my family and friends– there are foods I would miss, activities that would drive me mad to do without, and the general freedom of stretching out and doing my thing. I was thinking about mom and some of the things she would miss had this disease not stripped them from her mind, and, interestingly enough I expect one thing, perhaps a little down on her list, but there nevertheless, would be playing golf. Now I am not certain mom has played since I was a kid, but she told me long ago that she learned to like the sport and spoke fondly of a few stories about it. She told me her and her dad would occasionally play and that her dad pretty much was a putter-only golfer. Playing at a nearby par-3 course (a very short course, distance-wise, designed to help you learn to use irons instead of the longer-hitting woods), this probably made this more possible, but apparently he would hit nearly all shots with this flat-fronted, no loft club…and do pretty darn well, thank you very much. She mentioned times playing with my dad and with others while she proudly used her baby blue clubs. I can see mom, being a lover of the outdoors and being pretty patient having dealt with the Applegate boys for a generation, really enjoying golf. Daydreaming of socially-distanced sports like this made me wonder: can we learn about our topic from golf? You bet’cha!
Ten Things You Can Learn Dementia from Playing Golf
- The club selection matters. In golf, as alluded to above, certain clubs serve certain roles better than others. My grandpa went against the grain of convention being a one trick pony that way, but bring him to a different course–a big one with par 5s everywhere—and he wouldn’t have been as successful. Some clubs make the ball go higher–perhaps to evade a tree–while others like the “driver” are designed for brute power/distance. The same things could be said for your care team. Piece together a bag of helpers who will serve roles based on their unique gifts and talents. If you have a loved one with organization skills, have him/her help organize appointment scheduling and meds. If you have a mechanically-inclined loved one, have him/her help with bed rails, locks, and other gear to protect your loved one with the disease. If you have a loved one who understands medical terminology, slap them on your HIPAA paperwork and bring them with you to appointments! We all have our skills…”use” them how they work the best.
- Sizing up a shot is half the battle. (Blogger pulls out divot-fixer, which doubles as a shoe-horn) Have you noticed that all of the best pro golfers on TV have a caddy/caddie to not only carry clubs, but to size up every situation that comes up. . These well-paid professionals are called on to help see past the golfer’s bravado to assess the situation using science and reason. Are you concerned that you may have dementia? Take out the emotion as you think the situation through and ask a professional: your doctor. He/she has likely seen many, many similar cases and can help you know where you stand. Remember, there are dozens and dozens of things that can mimic dementia. It may be them…and you can get the underlying problem treated. Even if you do have dementia (and I pray you don’t), knowing will help you plan and gather your care team. Ask the
- Every round is different. One of the things that makes golf interesting, to me, is that you can go to the same course 100 times and things will go differently all 100 times. Weather conditions, muscle aches, cup placement, and skill levels change. The game does too. In dementia, every course of the disease is also different. Sure there are patterns that we can all share (sundowning, anxiety, swearing, etc…) but a lot will be different as well. That is part of what makes the disease so frustrating. Just when you think you understand something, you will putt on the green and someone will have left a bounce divot on the surface that will throw you off. This is one of the many reasons why this disease stinks.
- Cheating is OK. Unless you are playing for money/professionally, it is generally acceptable to cheat in golf. Most groups I golf with will allow X number of “mulligans” per day, unless they are serious. For me a mulligan is knocking the ball 200 feet in the wrong direction through the woods toward grandma’s house… In dementia, stretching the truth in caring for your loved one is not only OK, it is a great plan. As they start progressing, especially in certain kinds of dementia, they are likely to be confused and ask you how such-and-such person is doing. (Typically a long deceased friend/family member). For the love of them and God, feel free to lie and say “Outstanding!”. Number one, lying, in a Biblical sense, is like any Law. Breaking the commandment against lying is a heart matter. You are not deceiving to hurt them, to steal, to gain something yourself…you are lying to provide compassion and show love. I am not quick to pull out the legalism card, but this is a good example. Fighting for the letter of the Law and ignoring the heart of the Law is not Biblical. Another reason: why subject your loved one to confusion/sadness/grief again? What about tomorrow when they ask? Tell them again so they can grieve all over yet again??? Nope. Lie. (NOTE: If it tweaks your conscience, just change the subject instead of answering. I am not your Holy Spirit…waaaay above my pay grade. In changing the subject/misdirecting, you don’t violate your conscience and you don’t hurt your loved one.)
- Speaking of a lie. In golf, after you hit your ball and spend 15 minutes chasing it where it seemed to go (maybe that is just me??), you discover the ball’s “lie”. The ball could be sitting in a nice, clear place ready to be struck. However, when I golf, there is likely a rock, a stick, a skunk, or something impeding where it lies. In order to be best positioned to move on, you hope for the former and expect the latter. I would compare this concept to nursing homes. Not all nursing homes are the same. Some are great. Some are atrocious. Some cost more than others. Some are private concerns while others are owned by large corporations of varying quality. If you are to have the best chance of the nursing home being a better than bad experience, you need to a good lie. In Missouri, and I expect in other states as well, there is a book at the front desk that you can examine to see how a nursing home compares to others in all sorts of ways. Use them. Study and compare. Changing nursing homes, while possible, gets harder and harder the more the disease progresses. One final thought here: (Unless you are a pro) examine the lie you are given frequently…and cheat! Move the stick out of the way. Shoo the skunk carefully. Reset the ball. Visit the nursing home daily. Visit at different times too. Check up on your loved one. Fight for their care. Make a bad situation better.
- Some are good at golf… and then there is me. I am a bad golfer. One day I took a full swing and absolutely devastated the ball. The ball hit my cart to my left and bounced right back at me and hit me in the small of the back. Yes…I have to call FORE!!! with myself when I drive off the tee box! Similarly, sadly, some doctors aren’t good with helping with dementia. Some throw up their hands and don’t prescribe useful drugs early in the disease that prolong the “desirable” early stages even though they do not expand lifespan. Some are ignorant of the topic. They drive the golf ball into their own back. If you have one of these doctors, change to another one. If you want a golf coach, don’t ask me to help. Find an expert.
- Golf is contagious. As you know from above, I stink at golf. However, I do love it. One good shot, not unlike catching one good fish when fishing, has me doing it again every chance I get. Dementia isn’t contagious. Not gonna catch it by visiting. Two thoughts here, though: One–sickness is contagious and to a nursing home it can be deadly. I am not only talking about COVID-19. If you are sick, wait until you are well to visit! The nurses/doctors don’t need your bug and neither do the residents. Secondly–there are rare scenarios in which some forms of dementia are hereditary, either in a primary sense or in inherited lifestyle propensities such as alcoholism. Understand the odds…the par… and act accordingly.
- Learning (and practice) helps. Golf is such a muscle-memory sport. That is why good golfers spend more time practicing and learning than they even do playing. Driving ranges are full of folks trying to figure it out. In dementia, learning is important for all of us. There are millions and millions with the disease. If you have a loved one advancing in age (the leading factor of who is likely to get the disease), start learning and studying now! Alz.org has volume and volumes. Your local Area Agency on Aging has programs. Nursing homes and hospitals often have programs. Learn before you need it so that when you do you won’t have to “scramble“.
- The cost is high… The cost of golf is very high. Clubs can cost thousands. Golfing with me may cost a hundred bucks in balls!! It is not a great sport for those with a 1991 Ford Tempo in the driveway (like me). Dementia costs hundreds of thousands of dollars per patient. Retirements drained. Jobs of caregivers given up. Meds are high and generally iffy quality-wise. Nursing homes? Cha-ching!!! Due to these factors and others, it is estimated that a cure for dementia will be worth trillions of dollars. (With a T.) These things don’t even account for the human cost to patient and caregiver alike. The cost is stinkin’ high! Note: Finding a good elder law attorney can also potentially help.
- The reward is amazing. The analogy here is a tad weak, but, as I mentioned before, one good shot and it makes golf worth it for a long time. And heck, even if it wasn’t worth it, there is always the “19th hole” at the end for a nice burger and a beverage to celebrate. Caring for a loved one with dementia is a true form of love and respect. It will stink many days at the time, but the satisfaction of knowing you helped guide your loved one down the fairway and out of the roughs on each side is worth a tremendous amount. Will we be (metaphorically) tired carrying clubs and walking miles with these folks? Sure… However, helping others who are also struggling will help you make sense of the mess as well. In the end, helping the “least of these“, those with minimal ability to actively reciprocate, is one of the many beautiful expressions of our Christian faith and one that can show how much we appreciate our Lord for all He has done for us. He is worth the effort and our loved one is worth it too. —-Now hit the course, folks. We can get in 18 before dark!
Update: I will Facetime with mom today. All seems to be ok, from the outside of the Shawshank prison wall looking in. Praying? Yes…me too.
Diet update: Lost another 5 pounds. I have now lost 48.8 pounds since the week before my first WW meeting in January. Great diet and great folks, even if we can only meet by Zoom teleconference for now. 🙂
Note: Not an advertisement here as such, but if you could donate to SeniorAge so we can further expand our meal program to seniors, I would really appreciate it. We are currently feeding tens of thousands of folks…well beyond our capacity to afford! Your donations are really helping!!!
Please donate as well to the Alzheimer’s Association so they can cure this stinking dementia mess.