And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. –Hebrews 11:6
Howdy all! Back from vacation and oh the stories I can and will tell over the next few months. If you missed the quick post I did explaining my vacation, my bride and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary last week. We sequestered ourselves in a cozy cabin near Silver Dollar City that we frequent and did very little: an ideal vacation for 2 people who normally do a lot. Other than a trip to urgent care ( a story for another day), the trip was absolutely wonderful. I am super blessed to have the best wife on the planet. 🙂
One of the activities we did on our little break was hike. The couple of hiking trails at the area where the cabin was weren’t exactly monsters, but they were super pretty and afforded us some opportunity to commune with nature a tad: something we all need. Reflecting back on these hikes, it does call to mind dementia. Here is how:
10 Things You Can Learn About Dementia From a Hike
- Uphill is tiring– As we debated what we wanted to do on the 3rd day of our little trip, we settled in on hiking. We had notices a few signs nearby that said “Lake Trail” and “Nature Trail”, but, being the rugged indoorsfolks that we are, my bride and I passed them by in previous visits. This time we had 5 nights and 6 days and knew we had time…so we bit the bullet. First, I emailed the owner to ask about them. She recommended the Lake trail. I asked if it was a long trail and her response was “It is a 1/4 mile to the end and then 5 miles back”. Knowing geography and logic like I do, I was perplexed…until we tried the trail. It was very steep own a winding trail to the destination: a covered dock and a large pond/lake at the bottom, with a waterfall nearby. We had a really nice time laying on the grass looking up at the sky with the sun providing its life-giving bounty to us. We could hear the train from Silver Dollar City echoing in the valley and could see all sorts of cool nature. Then we had to return. In caring for a loved one with dementia, there are all sorts of analogies here. Getting a day off, in and of itself, often leads to a harder day reacclimating. The uphill part of the hike also represents the mid-stage to late-stage of your dementia caregiving journey…a very hard time where you will likely feel like your 1/4 mile just turned to 5.
- Downhill is also tiring– Downhill, when hiking as in last week, or running as I am trying to do more and more, has its pitfalls as well. Some of it is strictly mental: “Remember, the further you descend, the more you will have to ascend later”, you tell yourself. You may start to doubt yourself here. Also, you get muscles worked when going downhill that you don’t normally get worked out. Shins and other muscles, typically not worked real hard when things are flat, are suddenly thrust into the spotlight to keep you slow enough to not fall. Downhill is a unique challenge…but it seems to go fast. In caregiving, downhill can represent the early, perhaps pre-diagnosis stage. You will experience denial and dismay as you try to figure out just how hard this mess will be…and evaluate how hard it will be to the end. I wrote about the downhill journey here although my take has pivoted some since then,… How about we summarize this hill talk by saying the hill itself is hard…but well worth it.
- Stop and look at the moss– As we walked we were amazed at the varieties of flowers and, perhaps even more pretty in mid-fall, the moss. Supposedly moss can help you tell direction (I saw moss on all sides–I wouldn’t trust that with a 10-foot hiking stick.)? Regardless, if you stopped and got your face closer to it so that you can “see it”, there are all sorts of interesting features in the stuff. One type we saw had a fern appearance, others more like carpet. There were flowers in some and an occasional, tired-from-the-cold bug or two in others. BUT, in order to see this, we had to stop and seek. When you care for a loved one, please stop and seek. Make eye contact. Take your time. Tell stories. Share pictures. Inhale and exhale when things get frustrating. Focus on what is there, not what is missing. Every minute has an opportunity to collect new, positive memories and every minute gives you time to improve their situation…and your own in the process. Take your time. 🙂
- Snakes…real and perceived- I was very thankful to NOT see snakes on our hike. They were there, mind you, we just didn’t see them. Ankle-deep hikes in brown leaves of varying hues lend itself to accidentally stepping on these creatures…and getting bit (if they have enough energy this late in the game). In dementia, there are real snakes and perceived ones. Be sure which is which… and think of them differently. A real snake in the world we live in is perhaps someone who would steal from your loved one…a real and, unfortunately common reality. It may also be a purveyor of snake oil–the ilk I have written several times including here. (Please note: there is NO cure to dementia as of 11/6/2020. Have one? You are wrong… or are being conned.) However, not every stick is a snake. Don’t mistake everyone who tries to help as having ill motives. We NEED help. Dip the toe in the getting help water if you like…but get help. There are lots of good folks out there who just want to help…and you need it.
- The journey– I won’t beat this analogy to death, but remember…whether hiking or caregiving, you are on a journey. Lots of ups and downs. Good times and less good. Don’t throw up your hands…just rest and start back in again.
- Refreshment is hard– When we made it to the bottom of our hike, we sat around and enjoyed the scenery. Deer paths lines the steep banks of the pond lake and we really wondered how those poor Bambis could physically get to the water to drink on the 45 degree incline. I mean, in winter, with a glaze of ice, it would be very hard to get some refreshment…but they worked it out. Getting respite help is also hard for a few reasons. Just getting it can be a challenge. Who do I call???? Here are two suggestions: The Alzheimer’s Association (alz.org) has a toll free hotline at 1-800-272-3900. It is a 24/7/366 line answered by professionals who are experienced in helping with questions similar to what you undoubtedly have. Secondly, call your local Area Agency on Aging. Here is the website to help you find yours: Link. Another area of getting refreshment that is hard is caregiver guilt, of which I write about often here. Type Guilt in the search box at our website and you will find many pieces on the topic. Please allow me to lovingly shake you by the shoulders to impress this on you: You do your best…but also take care of yourself. You need to stay strong s you can be the best caregiver you can be. Rest. Pray. Meditate. Exercise. Relax. Find time and make it happen…then resume with renewed strength. Getting a break also involves you extending grace. Your respite helper will NOT know your loved one as well as you do…but they can handle it. It is worth the break for you and for your loved one. Do it. 🙂
- Layers of obstacles– Hiking in the fall is somewhat treacherous. There are rocks everywhere, covered by leaves. Besides the beforementioned snakes, the whole area is a trip hazard and a half. It would be terrible to get to the bottom of the hike and twist an ankle! One can also lose their way as the paths are a little less pronounced when covered by dying foliage. Peril and mayhem are real possibilities….all because it is fall. In dementia, there are layers of problems too. The disease can kill you all by itself…I get that…but it can also cause many, many other problems that, in and of themselves, can prove fatal. Falling (caused by loss of dexterity, confusion, disorientation) is a huge problem. Rewind 2 years in this blog and read about mom falling over and over. 🙁 Choking/inhaling food is also a huge problem bright on my this disease. Whether being unable to swallow, forgetting how to swallow, or a combination, this is a huge problem and will need help addressing. Talk to your physician about specialists who can help. Infections are another layer of the challenge. Bed sores, UTIs, and the like kill many loved ones. Watch for and treat these early and often. Dangers abound…be aware. 🙁
- Unforgettable sounds– One of the things I love about the woods, especially at night, is the sounds. The Hoot Owl tells you hi, by the way. We saw and heard chipmunks, squirrels, Yetis (?…something bigger) and other creatures at various times in the hike. There weren’t many bug sounds, unfortunately, but the forest was still alive with a symphony of sounds…and we loved every minute of listening for these unforgettable tunes. Dementia has its sounds too, and they are unforgettable as well. Some create an almost PTSD feeling in the nursing home as a patient falls like a sack of potatoes with a familiar and tragic thud. The monitors beeping. The intercoms beckoning. The yells and whimpers of the Sweet 17, of mom, and of others. he questions from one Mary, asking the same questions day after day: “When am I leaving?” or “Why am I here??”. Then, a year ago (or longer) I catch my already non-verbal mom playing the piano and a chorus of similar ladies suddenly singing the old hymns after not speaking for a week…amazing. Just amazing. These sounds are burned in my brain and will likely never leave.
- Connecting is so important– I am NOT a tree hugger. I am just as happy with a tree in desk or Christmas tree form as I am in the forest. However, I love nature. We have to balance our dominance over nature with the need to reconnect to it, somehow. I love national parks for that reason…at least we will always have them. Something magical happens in a day in the woods, or fishing on a lake, or watching a meteor shower. We reconnect with the fact that the world is a huge place created by an even more huge Creator. I rest in this truth and cannot understand how one would think that out of nothing everything suddenly exploded and became an organized everything all by itself. I just don’t have enough faith NOT to believe in my Savoir.
- All paths lead somewhere– All hiking paths to lead somewhere. Some lead in a big loop as ours did last weekend. Others lead to the water for a drink…or, likely in my case, a fall into the 40 degree water. Some lead to lostness. Others to some strange road that may eventually lead home…or not. But they are all going somewhere. The winding path of dementia does so as well, but there is no good path home as of now other than heaven itself. This mess is super hard. I love you too much to sugarcoat it. Enjoy, as best you can, the hike. Smell flowers. Watch for deer. Inhale and exhale. Get help. Love lots. Someday we will have a cure…I just know we will. New treatments are coming. Let’s agree to be there for each other all the way, shall we? It is a long, sometimes scary path…but, together, we can make it home. #EndALZ
Update: Not much to report with mom. We had a nice video chat as a family, and tried to lure her back out to visit with children and kitties, two of her favorites, to no avail. Some days she connects, most she doesn’t. However, we still love her the same and will keep trying until it is to late.
WW Update: I almost made it to my 100 pound goal by my anniversary. I was in the mid-90s lost. I still have about 50 to go, but I have donated bag after bag of my bigger clothes. I am all in.
Dad joke of the week: What do sprinters eat before a race? Nothing, they fast!
A couple more that couldn’t be embedded yet: