THE “A” WORD

     When I was a teenager, you had your mouth washed out with soap if you used the “A” word.  Now I hear it almost daily, coming out of the mouths of baby boomers, but it stands for something else:  Alzheimer’s.  Statistics now say half a million people will be diagnosed with it this year alone.  As little as six months ago that ‘statistic’ was considerably lower.  What’s happening to us?  We’re losing our marbles at an alarming rate. 

     Somewhere along the road of “peace” and “free love” we got complacent.  We ‘did our thing’ and ‘found ourselves’ and now many of us, despite the transcendental meditation induced stupor of all things Beatle are losing those same ‘selves.’  The bell-bottom generation is bottoming out.  Some of their kids are already reserving spots in nursing homes and they’re not ‘gone’ yet.   So, when The Wall Street Journal (March 30) tells you things aren’t looking so good, you pay attention. 

     But I’ve been paying attention since 1982 when my grandmother moved in with my newlywed husband and me.  Granny, my best friend and Smith college graduate, was as loony as a tune the afternoon she walked through our front door carrying Alzheimer’s along with her suitcase.  She kissed tomatoes in the market, talked to the TV set when it wasn’t on and covered our house with Kleenex to protect us from evil spirits. 

     Within weeks of feeding her regular, healthy meals, insisting she exercise daily and getting her involved in the world again, she was beating us both at Scrabble.  It works.  Okay, so it took science & a slew of researchers the last 30 years to figure it out–but it works.  So before your kids start reading you nursing home brochures, do yourself a favor:  Flip off the TV.  Shut down the computer.  Push those last 3 doughnuts down the garbage disposal.  Walk out the door and start singing, “Here Comes The Sun.”  (Yeah, they’ve discovered music is good for us, too).   http://www.helen-hudson.com    

NO ALZHEIMER’S IN THIS GYM!

     As I headed towards the YMCA pool this morning, all the ‘old’ ladies were coming out of their water aerobics class.  One said, “Hey!  How did that Alzheimer’s talk go?”  At the mere mention of the “A” word, another piped up:  “Girls if you don’t wanna get Alzheimer’s, throw out ALL of your aluminum pans.”  As another removed her chlorine-chewed, flowered bathing suit, she chimed in:  AND don’t eat junk, just lots of fruits and vegetables.”  “I hate salad,” muttered someone in the distance.  “Oh, and NO hydrogenated fat.  It clogs your arteries.”  “Got that,” added another pulling on her pink velour sweatpants.  “But the BEST thing we can do is exercise.  That’s why I’m here 3 times a week.”  A locker slammed to my right.  “3 times a week?” said the semi-naked, locker slammer.  “I read you have to exercise EVERYday.”  Indeed.  But ALL of them were also ‘exercising’ what science has now proven:  increasing our social networks & contact with others will slow or even stave off the progress of the disease.  (http://www.helen-hudson.com)

CAREGIVERS, UNSUNG YET SINGING

     It has been less than a week since my first post and so many of you are ‘out there.’  I heard from a friend my freshman year in high school.  She took her father out of a locked-care facility & brought him home:  “It was the greatest gift I could have received having my father in my life during his last years.  Sometimes it’s harder to care for a loved one than a stranger because the person you knew has changed so much.  Many feel embarrassment and shame at what is going on in their home but I always found the humor in what Dad was up to.” 

      A stranger writes:  “I feel so blessed to have my mother with me.  She may be forgetful and can’t do many of the things she once did but she IS enjoying life in the comforts of familiar surroundings.”     

     From a fellow songwriter on Facebook:  “My father had early onset Alzheimer’s when I was a teenager.  No one knew what it was then.  The first thing to leave him was his creativity.  I have written songs about it.” 

     One of our happiest memories caring for my grandmother was her almost daily rendition of “Happy Birthday.”  Because she had no memory, we often told her it was our birthday simply to have the joy of hearing her sing that familiar refrain to us.  (http://www.helen-hudson.com)

ALZHEIMER’S AND “KISSING TOMATOES”

     Spoke last week at the American Counseling Association’s national convention in Pittsburgh.  My topic was, “There’s No Place Like Home:  Caring for the Alzheimer’s Patient At Home.”  Having cared for my grandmother for 13 years in our home, this is an issue both personal and philosophical. 

     In 20 years, the US is predicted to have 11 million people diagnosed w/ the disease.  Add that number to the families & caretakers that will be involved & you have some idea what lies ahead of us.  If we don’t figure out how to care for our elders in their final years with both dignity & compassion, as other cultures have done for centuries, America will be sadder for it.  So will we.  We are all going to die.  If we are fortunate, we will all live to old age. 

     Our LAST chapter should be just as important as our FIRST one.  Indeed, by then one hopes we will have added something real and of value to the world at large.  Our babies, while precious and sacrosanct, have yet to offer us anything.  That will come with time.  Our elders have given us EVERYTHING and yet we abandon them in their last chapter.  It is their loss.  If they have Alzheimer’s, they will likely not even know it.  But we know it and ultimately it is OUR loss.  (http:// www.helen-hudson.com.  Read the first chapter of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” my memoir of those 13 years with Granny).