Saturday, August 1, 2015

Once in a Blue Moon

Photo by L.S. Fisher, color enhanced
There’s been a lot of talk about blue moons lately.

“Why is the moon going to turn blue?” my granddaughter asked a few weeks ago when we were talking about the upcoming blue moon. Her mom explained that a “blue” moon had nothing to do with color and meant two full moons occur in one month.

We just had a blue moon—at least according to some sources, but in our time of too much information, some purists disagree with this definition. Up until 1946, a blue moon was the third full moon in an astronomical season with four full moons. The confusion came about when James Pruett, a hobby astronomer, published an article that said a second full moon in one month was a blue moon. Although the mistake was noted and refuted, the information had already spread worldwide and became the accepted definition of a blue moon.

Let’s face it. It’s much easier to notice a second moon in one month than to determine how many full moons occur in a season.  According to the original definition of a blue moon, the one we just celebrated was not, in fact, a blue moon. One that we will ignore, most likely, will occur May 21, 2016—the third full moon in an astronomical season. But we will easily notice the one January 31, 2018, the second full moon in the month.

By either definition, a blue moon doesn’t occur too often, and the expression, “once in a blue moon” means something that happens rarely. Some reasons for those “once in a blue moon” occurrences:

Something we don’t like to do and put off. In this category are chores like washing windows, cleaning the garage, and pulling weeds. Tedious, time-consuming tasks, that always seem better left for another day. Same goes for uncomfortable, routine medical tests like mammograms, colonoscopies or endoscopies. Procrastination, indeed!

We’ve gotten out of the habit. We haven’t gone to church for a while, so Sunday seems like the perfect day to sleep late. After missing two or three club or committee meetings we are out of the loop, and choose to leave it that way.

Not enough time. Life is so busy now that we don’t have time to phone a friend much less visit a loved one with Alzheimer’s in the nursing home. Busy, busy, busy. That’s how most of us live now. We’re so busy being busy that we miss out on the important things in life.

Maybe in reality, it is fine for some things to happen once in a blue moon but others shouldn’t. It’s really up to each of us to decide what goes into which category—once in a blue moon or much more frequently. Just living isn’t nearly as important as having a life.  

In my world, things that happen once in a blue moon, or rarely, could be considered somewhat common. I’m okay with that most of the time, but sometimes I have regrets that I didn’t make that phone call or visit a loved one. Maybe, at least once in a blue moon, I should just take time to lounge in a lawn chair in the shade of the oak tree, sip a mint julep, and read a trashy novel.

Copyright © Aubust 2015 by L.S. Fisher

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

New Treatments for Brain Diseases

Alzheimer’s is a global problem and scientist from around the world share information in a unified effort to find an effective treatment or cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Representing 65 countries, more than 4,000 scientists have gathered in Washington D.C. for the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2015.

One of the exciting developments of this year’s conference is a report that new drugs have yielded promising early results for treatment of several brain diseases. Finding the key to effectively treating Alzheimer’s disease may unlock the mystery of other neurodegenerative diseases. Scientists have found common components of several brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Lewy Body dementia.

What do these diseases have in common? They all cause brain cell death because of a change in the shape of a protein. This protein can become toxic and affects the nerve cells or synapses. The proteins that affect Alzheimer’s disease are beta-amyloid and tau. Lewy bodies are the protein associated with Parkinson’s and Lewy Body dementia. Misfolded proteins bind to other proteins and form large aggregates.

What are some of the drugs being tested? Richard Fisher, PhD, NeuroPhage Pharmaceuticals, Cambridge, MA, and a group of colleagues are researching NPT088. This drug has been tested on animal models with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. In most cases it reduced levels of amyloid beta, tau, and alpha-synuclein (the main component of Lewy bodies). Animal models showed improved memory. Clinical trials are planned for 2016.

Another new drug, TRV101, is being tested in Toronto, ON, Canada by Treventis Corporation. This group used computer models to screen more than 11 million compounds to find ones that could prevent toxic proteins. In test tubes TRV 101 is capable of allowing natural clearing mechanisms to remove protein aggregates. Clearing toxic proteins should improve cognitive function. This research has moved to animal testing.

Alzheimer’s is a complicated disease and a cure has been elusive. Effective treatment is more likely to be a cocktail of drugs, rather than a single medication. This is similar to how HIV/AIDs and other disorders are treated.

As with other major diseases, lifestyle changes are part of the treatment for Alzheimer’s. Researchers are optimistic that Alzheimer’s risk has declined for recent generations due to better cardiovascular care, blood pressure management, controlling diabetes and realizing the importance of physical activity and a healthy diet.

The great thing about lifestyle changes, you don’t have to wait for a drug to come down the pipeline, you can just jump in and begin! Right now improving a healthy diet is an easy fix with fresh vegetables from my garden. This is one time of the year that something that tastes good, homegrown tomatoes, is good for me.

People today are more socially active. At least I know I am. Reading the news on my smart phone or having articles delivered to my in-box keeps my mind active. For fun, I throw in a few crossword puzzles or read a book.

Between research and common sense practices, we are moving in the right direction to make Alzheimer’s a distant memory.

Copyright © July 2015 by L.S. Fisher

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Anywhere But Here

Serial stowaway, sixty-three-year-old Marilyn Hartman, was caught at O’Hare Airport trying to board a flight without a ticket. While some people are afraid of flying, Marilyn seems to be obsessed with the idea. She’s been arrested several times at airports for trying to board without a ticket.

Oddly enough, Ms. Hartman had a valid ticket the day before her arrest, but caused such a disturbance that she was escorted off the plane. I’m beginning to think she wants to be wherever she isn’t, including on a plane. She’s been arrested on the west coast, Phoenix, and more recently in Chicago—at both O-Hare and Midway. She once remarked to reporters that airports were safer than living on the streets.
Why does she keep trying to stowaway on airplanes when it leads to jail time? She said, “Even smart people do stupid things.” Well, that statement is entirely true, but I believe she can’t help herself because she wants to be somewhere besides “here,” wherever here may be.

Maybe all of us have a little of this compulsion to be somewhere else. Who hasn’t spent a tough day at the job and had a strong urge to be at a favorite vacations spot? This lady has just carried it to an entirely different level.

When we’re young, we long to grow up. Once we are grownups, we want the carefree days of our youth. Time and space can be our friend or our enemy.

People with Alzheimer’s often want to be in a different place. They pace. They want to go home, even though they are at home. They want to be someplace else. Anywhere but where they are.

Wandering is a common problem with Alzheimer’s. It’s dangerous for the person and worrisome for the family. Think about how confusing and strange their world is, and it’s easier to understand why they want to find what they’ve lost. Their shattered memory may tell them they live in a certain house, even though they once knew that it had been sold or torn down.

I knew a man with Alzheimer’s who wandered off frequently and walked across town to the house where once he had lived with his first wife. She still lived there, and when he showed up, she phoned his current wife to come and get him. She offered him coffee, or breakfast, while they waited.

When life gets tough, we often want to place distance between where we actually are and where we theoretically could be. It’s fight or flight. While most of us fight, a few of us flee.

Maybe Ms. Hartman really is smart and finds jail to be safer than the streets. It probably doesn’t hurt to have three guaranteed meals a day. I believe she knows her chances of boarding without a “ticket to ride” are slim. I would say slim to none, but she managed to fly from San Jose to Los Angeles without a ticket.

Some people try to run away from their problems, but could Ms. Hartman be trying to run away from herself? When she is released from jail, we’ll be hearing about her again. And again. A serial stowaway headed for nowhere, or anywhere but where she is.

Copyright © July 2015 by L.S. Fisher

Monday, June 29, 2015

Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me

Last night I watched  Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me on CNN. The film was released in 2014 and documents Glen’s Alzheimer’s journey.

I heard about the documentary a few years ago at the Alzheimer’s Advocacy Forum. My mom went to D.C. with me in 2013 when Glen Campbell was there. He fairly oozed charm and posed to have his photo taken with many of the ladies, including my mom. 

I’ll Be Me was painful for me to watch. It brought back memories of Jim’s loss of communication and musical skills. At least only family witnessed Jim’s problems and not a paying audience.

The family told of their struggles to make sure they walked the fine line between the cathartic benefits of Glen performing and being vigilant of him embarrassing himself. Audiences were tolerant. If he played the same song twice, so what? At least they got to see him perform.

Campbell’s physician felt that performing on his “Goodbye Tour,” doing what Glen loved, helped
him maintain the ability to function longer. Sometimes his daughter, Ashley, had to tell her dad what key to play certain songs in. During their “dueling” instruments, her with a banjo, him with his guitar, she admitted that sometimes he didn’t always follow along. Glen relied heavily on teleprompters to remind him of the words to songs he had sung for years.

During his doctor visits, I heard some of the same questions with similar answers during Jim’s visits. When asked questions, he couldn’t answer, Campbell said, “I don’t worry about those things.” The doctor asked him who the first president of the United States was and Campbell replied, “My goodness, I don’t know. I don’t use that very much lately.” Jim would typically say, “I have no idea,” in a tone that indicated he didn’t care to know either.

Ashley testified in front of a congressional hearing on Alzheimer’s. Advocates in D.C. for the Alzheimer’s Advocacy Forum, wearing purple sashes, packed the room.  Ashley’s emotional testimony explained the changes in her relationship with her dad. She said it was hard for him to recall her name. Their times fishing together no longer lives in his memories.

When watching old family films, Glen asked, “Who’s that?” His wife, Kim, gently supplied the pertinent information: “It’s you, honey,” or “That’s your first wife,” or “It’s your oldest daughter.”

Jim once looked at photos from our honeymoon. I pointed at a photo of me, and playfully said, “Do you know who that is?” His answer, of course, was, “I have no idea.” The devil is in the details. Some of the most hurtful moments are when you realize what had been memories shared, become your memories alone.

The film shows the relentless progression of Alzheimer’s disease. By the time of his final performance on stage, Glen did not know it was his last performance.  Cal Campbell said that when his dad performed, “He actually becomes himself again.”

The story ended with the recording session of “I’m Not Going to Miss You.” At this point, Glen is already fading away but his eyes sparkle when he finally gets into the song. This song really tugs at the heartstrings. The idea stemmed from Campbell’s remark that he couldn’t figure out why everyone was so worried about him having Alzheimer’s. He said, “It’s not like I’m going to miss anyone, anyway.”

Kim finally placed Glenn in a home where he could get twenty-four hour care. His is reportedly happy and healthy. He is losing his communication skills and doesn’t recognize many of his visitors.

As is often the case, family is feuding. Two of his children by a previous marriage have taken legal action against Kim. Family is often at odds about how to care for their loved one. I’ve seen families torn apart at a time they should be pulling together. Each person has to come to acceptance in their own way and on their personal time schedule.

Glen Campbell’s Alzheimer’s story is heartrending and, oh, so familiar to millions who have lived a similar story. 

Copyright © June 2015 by L.S. Fisher

Saturday, June 20, 2015

What Survivors?

I’ve been seeing images of a “Limited Edition” T-shirt for Alzheimer’s Awareness. The shirt says, “Supporting the Fighters, Admiring the Survivors, Honoring the Taken, And Never Giving Up Hope, Alzheimer’s Awareness.” People seemed to be excited about buying these T-shirts.

I don’t want to burst the bubble of enthusiasm, but this shirt certainly does not promote Alzheimer’s awareness. At our annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s, we cannot have a victory lap for our survivors. The cold hard fact is that Alzheimer’s leaves no survivors.

Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and the only one in the top ten that cannot be prevented, cured, or even slowed. Twenty million Americans understand this harsh reality: five million with the disease and their fifteen million unpaid caregivers.

Alzheimer’s does have fighters—millions of them. We have warriors with the disease and care partners who raise awareness and dollars so that we can have survivors someday. These brave people share their stories, their struggles, their highs and lows as they live life to the fullest. They celebrate each moment of joy and refuse to cave in to despair.

Several years ago, I met a forty-year-old woman in Washington, D.C., who had early onset Alzheimer’s. As we told our personal stories to our senators and representative, she said, “I know it’s too late for me, but I want a cure for my children. I don’t want them to have to go through this.” She is gone and has been for several years, but we continue her fight to make her wishes come true.

Family members and loved ones honor the taken. Jim was taken before his sixtieth birthday. We honor the loved ones we’ve lost each time we join a Walk to End Alzheimer’s. We honor them by becoming advocates, or “voices,” for Alzheimer’s research and hounding legislators to push for increased funding.

Advocacy makes a difference! This week we received word that due to the relentless dedication of Alzheimer’s advocates, increased research funding is making its way through the legislative process. The House Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee has approved an additional $300 million in Alzheimer’s research.

Harry Johns, Alzheimer’s Association CEO said, “Should this increase become law, it will be the largest annual increase ever in federal Alzheimer’s research funding. Following today’s actions, the full House Appropriations Committee is expected to consider this legislation next week. We also anticipate that the Senate will begin to move their own version of the FY16 Labor-HHS bill next week.”  

Advocates will never give up hope! The National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease is to find a cure or effective treatment by 2025. With adequate funding to support the bright scientific minds at work on a cure, our goal is within reach.

When our work is done, I’ll be at the front of the line to buy a T-shirt that has “Admire the survivors” on it. Until then, we need to keep the momentum going and stick to the Plan to find the elusive cure and/or effective treatment for Alzheimer’s no later than 2025, but hopefully much, much sooner.  
Copyright © June 2015 by L.S. Fisher

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Most Expensive Disease

Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in America. Our country faces an impending financial crisis. One out of every five dollars Medicare spends is for a person with dementia. This care amounted to $150 billion in Medicare and Medicaid expense last year.

The cost to Medicare for persons with dementia is three times higher than for seniors without the disease. The emotional impact on caregivers contributes to health issues for them. Caregivers pay an additional $9.7 billion for their own health care.

Dementia is costly to families. It strips away at the family finances. This is a disease fraught with unexpected expenses ranging from adult personal care products to hiring a sitter. Whether caring for a loved one at home or placing them into long-term care, families are hit emotionally and financially on a regular basis. It becomes a way of life.

When facing the dementia financial crisis, families sometimes sell possessions they would have never considered under normal circumstances. We sold our lake property. It had once been our intention to retire there, but retirement was never to be for us.

Recently, I read an article about Leon Lederman, 92, that really made me pause. Lederman, along with two other scientists, received the 1988 Nobel prize for discovering a subatomic particle. He said it was just collecting dust. His wife mentioned a more practical reason for the sale. They faced financial uncertainty when Lederman was diagnosed with dementia, and the $756,000 they received for the pure gold medal will make them more secure.

A gold medal doesn’t hold the sentimental value of a home. A story that made headlines in May of this year was about a former Japanese prisoner of war who needed 24-hour care after being diagnosed with dementia. This story could have taken place in the USA, and probably has. This particular article took place in Cornwall and affected ninety-four-year-old Charles Atkins. His family said the government was “throwing him on the scrapheap.”  The dilemma for the family was that unless he sold his home, his two daughters were responsible for his expensive care.

Can’t happen here, you say? Twenty-eight states have filial responsibility laws where adult children can be forced to provide necessities for their indigent parents, including long-term care. Most states don’t enforce these laws, yet. As the crunch becomes tighter for state assistance, they may begin to close their own financial gap. In most states, this involves civil court action, but twelve states impose criminal penalties and three states allow both civil and criminal.

Of course, if you are like me, you want the best care for your parents. Unfortunately, the enormous cost of nursing home care could force middle-class Americans into bankruptcy in a hurry. It’s a sticky situation, and if selling the family home gets you and Uncle Sam off the hook, it may seem the lesser evil.

Yes, Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in America and it looks like it is only going to become five times more costly by 2050. This just puts the exclamation point behind the statement, “End Alzheimer’s Now!” Without a cure for Alzheimer’s, the government, and families, are going to be faced with the un-facable, the impossible, the unimaginable.

There is “Hope for Alzheimer’s.” Science is making great strides toward finding an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s and ultimately a cure. We need to keep pestering our legislators! If each of us help in the fight to end Alzheimer’s through awareness, persistence, and downright refusing to give up, we can make a difference.  A big, life-changing difference. 

Copyright © June 2015 by L.S. Fisher

Friday, June 5, 2015

Alzheimer’s Awareness, Go Purple!

Purple is my favorite color, and coincidentally, it is also the Alzheimer’s movement color. June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month and an ideal time to deck out in purple.

I signed the purple pledge. I changed my Facebook profile photo to the “END ALZ” logo. The pledge is to wear purple gear on June 21, the Longest Day, and throughout the month of June.

The “Longest Day” ties well to Alzheimer’s. As any caregiver can attest, some days are not just long—they are endless. Alzheimer’s is an equal opportunity disease affecting people like you and me and creeping into the ranks of the famous.

It was pretty interesting to see that the cast of  “The Big Bang Theory” have joined the fight against Alzheimer’s. Along with other well known celebrities, they performed at “A Night at Sardi’s” to benefit Alzheimer’s. They were joined by Joey McIntyre, singer/songwriter and a member of New Kids on the Block. The fight is personal to Joey since his mother recently lost her battle with Alzheimer’s. He said, “Mourning is a process, and I have to take my time with it.”

Alzheimer’s can bring families together, and it can tear them apart. Or both. When Glen Campbell announced he had Alzheimer’s, his family was admired for the way they rallied around him. Due to his family’s support, Glen was able to perform well after he had the disease. Eventually, he wound up in long term care. Now the family is at odds with his fourth and present wife, Kim. His children from previous marriages claim Kim Campbell has barred them from seeing their father, failing to provide Glenn with basic personal care items, and being financially irresponsible. Some of his children are trying to get a judge to appoint a guardian to protect his interests.

Often family members disagree on how to provide excellent care for the individual with Alzheimer’s. They fuss and fight and before you know it, they become more focused on having their own way than what is really and truly the best resolution to their quandary.

The more you learn about the disease, the more likely you are to make good decisions. The primary care partner will experience a different level of stress and angst than the occasional visitor. Until you walk in their shoes, be very, very careful about criticizing. This isn’t to say that everyone is cut out to be a caregiver. Some aren’t. Unless you are willing and able to step in full-time proceed with caution. As long as your loved one is not in danger or neglected, be supportive. Be a part of the solution instead of adding to the problems.   

Share your stories, your experiences, and show your support for caregivers and people with the disease. Create awareness with the color purple!

My goal is to wear purple every day in June. This is a pretty easy goal for me since I have a wardrobe rich in purple, even without considering all the purple walk shirts I’ve accumulated over the years. Just in case I get up and forget to don my Alzheimer’s gear, my finger and toenails are both polished purple. My toenails have the addition of a layer of sparkle.

Sparkle on the nails makes them look darned cool, but it is a real chore to remove it. That’s when I have to drag out the super-duper polish nail pads and sometimes finish with a bottle of remover. If only we could remove Alzheimer’s from the face of the earth!

We want to turn the world purple in support of the 47 million people worldwide who are living with dementia. By being an advocate, a supporter, and raising awareness, the brain you save may be your own. GoPurple and #ENDALZ—not just for June, but for a lifetime.

 Copyright © June 2015 by L.S. Fisher

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Chasing After the Wind

Sometimes I’m in the right place at the right time to hear a message that resonates with me. That message may be at a high-priced conference in some exotic locale, or it could be in my hometown during one of pastor Jim Downing’s sermons.

Sunday morning, he prefaced his sermon with the thought that it might be one of the most important messages he would ever give. I don’t remember his exact words, but he gave his self-depreciating smile, and said we might be thinking “Nice words, preacher” and just go on our way and side-step the importance of the message.

His message was based on Ecclesiastes 4:6 “Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.” We seem to think that more is better, but is it?

When I was growing up in a family of eight, we learned that it wasn’t necessary to have a lot of material possessions to get by. Mom and dad bought us school supplies and clothes at the beginning of the year. I had a few dresses to wear and one pair of school shoes. We always had the box of sixteen crayons, not the giant boxes some of the other kids had. Funny thing was, I still received the same education.

I had two dolls and not a lot of other toys. Mom always saw that I had books to read. She ordered a children’s version of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. Through those books, the world of adventure opened to me. One of the first stories I read was “Little House in the Big Woods.” I loved it! I was reading about a girl like me that didn’t have much, but enjoyed every moment of being a kid.

After I grew up, my life has run the gamut from lying awake at night trying to figure out how we were going to pay the bills to the abundance of today. I worked more than three decades to be able to afford enough clothing to outfit a small nation and enough shoes to earn the nickname Imelda Marcos Junior. I have collections to the point of almost having collections of collections.

Which brings us to the first of three of pastor Jim’s suggestions, “throw out.” I’ve been doing some of that with bags of clothes and shoes I’ve taken to Open Door. I know I have to get more serious about paring down on the overload of material possessions.

Pastor Jim hasn’t channeled into my internal self, so obviously, I’m not the only one with a crazy busy schedule. My calendar is often double or triple booked. I’m so over stretched that I have reminders of my reminders. “Cut back,” he said. Cut back on schedules. If I look through my calendar I can see things I want to do, but those are often pushed aside for something I feel obligated to do. I’m retired, but by golly that doesn’t seem to give me a lot more time. My days are full and often hectic. I haven’t found time to write for months and months. Not. One. Story.

Perhaps, part of my time crunch comes from the interruptions of emails, phone calls, social media, Google, and that feeling of constantly being connected. Let’s face it…if I forget my phone on a simple trip to town, I’ll turn around and get it. My smart phone is like carrying a home office with me everywhere I go. It dings, buzzes, and even whistles at me. “Turn off,” he said. He has a really good point. How do you relax when you are at the beck and call of, well, just about everyone. Not just people you know, but people you don’t know. How the heck did that happen?

By de-cluttering our lives, we have more time to enjoy life’s breathtaking moments. We have time to look at a beautiful sunset and admire the way the clouds form in the sky. I remember my brother Donnie and I playing, “What does that cloud look like?” We saw angels, ships, faces, and all kinds of goofy things in the clouds. Now if I look at a cloud, I might see the possibility of rain, but it’s been years since I studied the clouds and tried to picture an object.

I’ve been under the misguided notion that’s just the way life is now-a-days. It doesn’t have to be. Is it possible for me to throw out, cut back, and turn off? I’ve been much too busy chasing the wind to enjoy a mere handful of tranquility.  

Copyright © May 2015 by L.S. Fisher