Author Archives: Colleen Davis

The Power of Memory

The power of memory may seem puny if you’re caring for someone with #dementia, Words, plans, and even regrets just disappear. Yet there are moments when a song, a smell or a taste can quickly spark some hint of the past. Smell an #Easter#lily or a hyacinth and you’ll know what I mean.

The Power of Memory

I attended church every Sunday as a child. We were not allowed to skip a service unless we had mumps, measles or some other serious disease.  Our town was small, but it was filled with places of worship. There were Slovak, Lithuanian, Polish, and Russian churches. A tiny Jewish synagogue sat next to my elementary school. A large Roman Catholic parish, with its own school, was just one block away. My parents took us to church so we’d develop a strong moral compass. They also made us feel that membership in a faith community was part of our identity.

We belonged to a Lutheran church, which had no ethnic affiliation. The congregation included families with German, English, Irish, Welsh and Dutch roots. Our lives were tied together by the belief that religious commitment is an active matter. Faith wasn’t something proclaimed from a pulpit. It was something we did by donating food for the homeless or visiting elders who couldn’t get out.

Our church was built from hewn blocks of grey granite. Every Sunday the altar was decorated with tall bouquets of flowers. Families donated additional plants to fill the front of the church on holidays. Easter was special. Dozens of lilies filled the air with a mesmerizing scent.

Easter was always a big holiday for us because we each got a new spring dress. We wore our pastel clothes to church with a fresh pair of shoes. Often they squeezed our feet because they were stiff and new. We had to scuff them on the sidewalk to add a little friction to the soles.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten many details of childhood, but those memories are still magnetic. When I try to think of ways to engage my mother, I often fall back to songs we sang in church. I don’t have a great voice but I can still sing a few verses. Her eyes tell me the tunes are familiar.

The power of Memory = the sense of smell

I picture my mother wearing a short pink dress with a scalloped neckline. Her dress matched my sister’s and mine. We all carried small purses. My father, who had a tremendous voice, sang solos from the front of the church. The smell of lilies buoyed each musical note like a fragrant mist. That scent is imprinted in our minds. It’s an invisible code that time hasn’t erased.

At this point, language has deserted my mother. She can’t tell me what she remembers or enjoys.  But when I push her wheelchair close to the white flowers that proclaim the arrival of spring, her eyes open wide. Scientists say that smell is the first sense developed by humans. Judging from my mother’s reaction, it may also be the last to go.

When I hold a lily close to my mother’s nose, the power of memory seems even stronger than #dementia. Our brains are mysterious enough to baffle the greatest scientific minds. At times I feel my mother’s brain has betrayed her. Yet in these odd moments when a smell sparks the light in her eyes, I’m amazed at what her mind can still do.

If I’m lucky enough to grow old, I hope these intense sense memories don’t desert me. I hated wearing those stiff new shoes, but I can’t feel them at all when I close my eyes and remember all the lilies.

Caregivers Need Emergency Plans — Do you Have One?

Caregivers need emergency plans. Natural disasters have hit almost every part of the United States in recent months. Wildfires and mudslides on the West Coast… hurricanes in Puerto Rico and the Southern U.S…. blizzards in the Northeastern corridor… What’s in your emergency kit?

Caregivers need Emergency Plans

I live in a region that’s been smacked hard by dangerous snowstorms. Pennsylvania and New York are magnets for Nor’easters  —  there were four in March alone! Our house lost power for four days during the first March blizzard. When the electricity stops, our water supply also quits because it’s pumped up from an underground well. Problems like these have an even bigger impact on #caregivers because we’re often responsible for the safety of loved ones with poor mobility and complex medical needs. There’s a high number of #family_caregivers in my region. Many people move to the Poconos after they retire. Recent retirees often lack a social network to assist them in a crisis.

caregivers need emergency plans

Snow storms here can be brutal. It’s treacherous to drive out to buy food or medical supplies. The National Weather Service considers winter storms to be “deceptive killers” because most deaths and injuries don’t occur as a direct result of the storms. People are more likely to get hurt or killed in car accidents. Many also suffer from hypothermia if they lose heat for a long period of time. The Pennsylvania Emergency Guide urges families to develop an emergency plan to help everyone safely navigate through this type of crisis. If you’re a caregiver, it’s also important to plan an escape route from your home. You need a strategy to help loved ones in wheelchairs. They may not be able to push themselves to safety without your assistance.

How do you prepare for an Emergency?

Our house is located in the woods. There is only one way in or out. Together with a few neighbors, we pay someone to plow our lane so we can escape if necessary. Over the past year, someone in each neighboring household has been critically ill with cancer, blindness, or dementia. We check on each other to make sure each family has food, water, and some source of heat. None of us take the weather for granted. Even this morning — days after the official start of spring — I woke up to find another inch of new snow on my car. Winter just refuses to end.

I’m fed up with the snowstorms, but very grateful that our infrastructure hasn’t been destroyed as it was in Puerto Rico and other places. What types of challenges does your household need to prepare for? If you’d like a guide to help you do some emergency planning, click this link. Your state should also have a similar link to help you plan for the most common situations emergencies in your region. None of us can predict the future, but we can certainly try to be ready when it gets here.