Caregiver identity is subject to change — especially if you spend years caring for a #dementia patient. Some days I barely recognize myself as the person I was at the start of my mom’s illness. This week I plan to resurrect my “old self”, if only for an hour or two. On Tuesday I’m leading a Girl Scout workshop about voting.
As the Presidential election approaches, I recall how much I used to enjoy researching the candidates and talking about political issues. Maybe it’s me — or maybe it’s the candidates — but today I’m turned off by the constant media coverage. However, I still think it’s important for young people to vote. I want to help them learn how to register. I also want to teach them how to evaluate candidates and understand their platforms.
Back in the old days, I was immersed in civic issues. The declining quality of public schools disturbed me so I got involved in education reform. These days, my caregiver identity casts a shadow over other concerns. I still worry about schools, but now I have a stronger interest in health care and services for the elderly. I want to help the Girl Scout group understand how the Presidential election can influence all these critical matters.
Me Before You
My life was totally different before I became my mother’s #caregiver. I traveled across the country and around the world as I pursued my writing career. Freedom of choice was important to me. The limits of my choices were set by my bank account and my physical stamina. Physical stamina is still an important issue, but for completely different reasons. Most of my daily energy is spent supporting my mom. I lift her, hold her, and help her all day long — and during the wee hours.
Sometimes I miss my old life, but I recognize that being a #caregiver has made me a more compassionate, loving person. When your world is focused on someone else’s well-being, you can’t avoid being changed by the experience.
Every now and then I long to feel some fragment of “old me”: racing to catch a plane or planning an international trip. This week I’ll give myself the treat of one brief hour as “old me” during the #Girl Scout workshop. Can you still remember what it was like to be the “old you”? Is there one thing you could do this week to let your former self out of the box?
Seasonal change and dementia symptoms are definitely linked. My mother’s condition remained steady through the warm summer months. But I see a shift in her behavior now that autumn has brought some chill to our evenings. Sometimes Mom can barely move.
It’s not surprising that changing seasons affect the behavior of people with #dementia. Squirrels in our forest speed up their scavenging when fall arrives. Hungry bears start rooting through our trash. The first red and gold maple leaves make me check the oil tank. The Pocono region — where Mom lives — has a beautiful fall foliage season. Though autumn leaves bring tremendous beauty, they are accompanied by big symptom shifts. #Caregivers need to be aware of new needs.
Seasonal change and dementia symptoms
As soon as the weather turns cool, my mother’s joints seem to freeze up. I crank up the heater and drape her in blankets. These things help but there’s no treatment that fully relieves her stiffness. Lately she’s been pinching us really hard while we’re changing her clothes. She’s incapable of loosening her grip once she has a hold on something — and that something is usually me! Chilly mornings make her teeth chatter, too. I have to dress her in layers even if it will reach 80 degrees later in the day.
I always thought Mom’s need for heat was driven by her peculiar body thermostat. But this week I came across some research that found a link between body temperature and the progression of dementia. A Canadian scientific team has been examining how dementia develops in transgenic mice [mice that carry Alzheimer’s genes]. Their evidence suggests that dementia symptoms get worse in those who have lower body temperatures. The research team, led by Dr. Frederic Calon, discovered that “symptoms of Alzheimer’s were mitigated when the transgenic mice were exposed to warmer temperatures.” Dr. Calon believes that this could lead to new treatment options, since “body temperature can be increased through physical activity, diet, drugs” or raising room temperatures.
I’ve often rolled my eyes at my mom’s compulsive need for warmth. Her desire for a blanket in mid-summer seems totally irrational. But after reviewing this research, I see that her craving for heat could be an instinctive effort to heal herself. The autumn leaves always make me pause for reflection and, now, so does this research.