Thursday, April 13, 2017

Talking to Kids about Alzheimer's

My father had a long journey with Alzheimer's that spanned over 14 years. When my Dad started showing symptoms I was a young adult living in another state, focused on my own life, madly in love and planning my wedding.  It took me awhile to take my Mom's updates seriously and to recognize the symptoms.  

The first time I acknowledged the reality that my Dad was changing was during a visit when he kept repeating the same conversation over and over.  He also read newspaper articles and headlines (out loud) repeatedly.  And most alarming at a family function I overheard him talking and realized that he had forgotten that I was there even though I was standing just a few feet from him.  At this point I was newly pregnant with my first baby.

By the time my baby girl was born Dad was clearly confused.  He didn't know where he was or what we were doing, but he was (mostly) content.  He was also a fantastic grandfather.  

My parents came out to help after my daughter was born and he would hold her, love on her, tell me how beautiful she was and remember her name.  

As she grew he celebrated her milestones along with us, rejoicing over her walking, eating foods and generally being an adorable baby.  By the time she turned 3 he was asking over and over when she'd be starting kindergarten since she was so advanced.

When my oldest was little he would read to her for hours.  Repeating the same favorite book over and over didn't bother him in the slightest since he didn't remember that he'd just read it.  They would talk and read in the backseat of my car happily, he thought she was marvelous.

I didn't talk much to my oldest about her grandfather's disease at this point, since she didn't know anything was different or out of the ordinary.

By the time I was pregnant with my second daughter my Dad had slipped quite a bit more.  Multiple times a day he would see my big belly during visits and ask when I was due.  He was sweet and excited for me but becoming increasingly less patient with my 3 year old since he was regressing in his emotional maturity at this point and starting to match hers.

He would get angry with my oldest and had a hard time sharing or dealing with her typical 3 year old behavior.  As a result we had to move Dad to the front seat to keep her safe and make sure she always had mom or grandma with her when grandpa was there.  This was a really tough transition for me and also for my daughter.  She started to realize that sometimes grandpa would react "funny" or "scary" and didn't know why. 

I purchased a couple books around this time to help explain his illness to her.  For the most part they were pretty wordy and advanced so I had to simplify it for her.  It's also tricky because every Alzheimer's journey is different.  Some symptoms are similar but we couldn't relate exactly with the stories in the books.

Still My Grandpa
What's Happening to Grandpa

In time I found that just talking about his disease was easier.  We would talk ahead of a visit (we saw them about 4x a year), during the visit and after the visit.  But I kept the books around so they could grab them for me to read (or read to themselves) whenever they wanted.

How I explained Alzheimer's:

Using developmentally appropriate words I explained that grandpa's brain isn't working well anymore.  That he has an illness that is progressing and parts of grandpa keep going away.  I gave examples of brain-parts that no longer work as the deficits kept progressing such as: his patient part, the part that tells his tummy he's full/just eaten, the part that takes turns, the part that says please and thank you.  Later I had to explain that the part that tells him it's time to use the potty or go to sleep (this was easier to explain as her little sister was potty training around the same time).

I told her that he was slowly going backwards in his brain, that he was getting younger while she was getting older.  

These simple explanations seemed to satisfy my oldest, and later my youngest.

Focus on Strengths:

At the same time we were talking about what wasn't working with my Dad I also highlighted what he could still do.  To focus on his strengths!  What he still tolerated/appreciated: hugs, a picture, reading to him, watching a show he likes, taking a walk on the beach, etc.

I also pointed out what my kids did that Dad loved.  How he lit up when they talked to him.  How he hugged back.  How he smiled whenever they came close.  How he remembered my youngest daughter's middle name (which was amazing!).

Talk about the Past:

Since my Dad was not able to tell them stories about his childhood or mine I filled in the blanks for him.  I told my kids about what Dad used to be like (and I still do!).  Showed them photos, videos, slides and especially highlighted the good memories as well as my Dad's character qualities/personality.

Reassure and Answer Questions:

During our regular conversations about Dad I found that their most pressing concerns were about me.  They needed to hear that I wouldn't get Alzheimer's and leave them.  So I made sure to tell them over and over that scientists are working really hard on a cure right now and that although it will be too late for grandpa it will be in time for me if I was to get the illness.  This seemed to satisfy them.

I had our family participate in a Walk to End Alzheimer's and pointed out all of the people coming together to raise money for a cure.

Remember to:
  • Allow your kids to ask questions freely (or not, don't push the topic if they are not ready).
  • Have time before, during and after visits to discuss what they see and feel.
  • Be honest, if you don't have answers let them know that.
  • Reassure them and point out what they are doing well.
  • If your kids aren't big on talking try using art.  Ask them to draw how they feel, or draw the grandparent, visits, etc.
  • Let them know that it is hard for you too.  Share your feelings so they know they're not alone.  Don't hide all of your pain or they won't learn that it is normal.
  • Take LOTS of photos of your kids with their grandparent.  You can look back on these photos together to remember, reinforce their relationship and to fill in gaps once grandpa is gone.
  • Reach out for help if you need it from a professional counselor or support group.

If you have a parent or loved one with dementia I highly recommend the book "The 36-Hour Day".  This book was very helpful for me to understand what was happening to my Dad, what would be coming and ways to make our relationship (and his relationship with my kids) go more smoothly.

For more on Alzheimers:

Recordable Books Treasured Memories
Goodbye Dad
Visiting Memory Care/Nursing Homes with Kids
Gift Ideas for Loved Ones with Dementia

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Bye Bye Big Baby

During the process of de-cluttering our house we also got rid of quite a few of my girl's toys, dolls and books (even FPLP!!!).  One of the toys that left our house was the much loved "Big Baby" doll.  Big Baby got her name back when my oldest was only 2.  At the time all of her dolls had inspired names like: Pink Baby, Blue Baby, Little Baby, etc.  So obviously this huge doll had to be named "Big Baby".

Big Baby was fantastic since she was big enough to wear my daughter's baby clothes and she looked like a real baby (which sometimes gave me a start when I'd come into a room and see her sitting there).

Often my daughter would insist on pushing Big Baby around in her stroller and would buckle her into the seat next to her in the car.

Big Baby was still in the house when my youngest daughter was born.  She also loved Big Baby and we took many photos of them side by side.

These are just a few of the dozens of photos we've taken over the years with our girls and Big Baby.  So you can imagine that I was a bit sentimental about this big huge doll that had been with my girls all this time.  But, following the De-Cluttering checklist I saw that it was time.

So we took one last photo of Big Baby with the girls before we donated it.  Now hopefully another little person is loving on Big Baby!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Downton Abbey Sighting!

Downton Abbey may be a fictional show but it was filmed at a real English Castle, Highclere Castle.  This lovely estate has been the backdrop for quite a few British films and also hosts special events and even overnight guest!

I happened to recognize the lovely estate while watching a film with my girls last night.  So if you have missed seeing Downton Abbey check out the movie Back to the Secret Garden on Netflix.  Made in 2000 this (made for TV) children's film is based on the classic The Secret Garden but takes place in the 1940s when Mary and Colin are adults and there are new children living at Misselthwaite Manor (orphans).  The secret garden still needs help and love and fortunately there is a new character (Lizzie) to save the day.

There are no familiar actors from the Downton Abbey show but there is a "Lady Mary" that owns the estate, so that's close!

It was a cute, clean and sweet film.  My girls enjoyed it (the 9yo more than the 5 yo), especially my oldest who had just finished reading the novel (again).  They were able to learn a few British words and phrases.  And we had opportunities to talk about what makes a good friend (just wait, there is a jealous mean girl in the story).

So make a cup of tea, get some biscuits and gather your kids on the couch for a movie this weekend!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

I still have napkins from my wedding: De-cluttering Tips

This spring I've been motivated to de-clutter and minimize my house and simplify my life.  I think it was the combination of friends doing the same, watching The Minimalists on Netflix (great film!) and also needing an activity to keep me busy after Dad died.

I started going through my house one room, one drawer and one closet at a time.  I walked through this de-cluttering checklist and before I knew it I'd filled my van twice with stuff to get rid of. 

Now the fact that I have so much crap is nothing to be proud of, but I am feeling better/proud of seeing it leave my house!

I'm also working on minimizing what I bring into the house by buying less but that's a story for another day.

During my room by room process of getting rid of items I found a few interesting discoveries including a box full of cocktail napkins from my wedding.....13 years ago.

Now you may ask how that box had managed to move across the country and across town into 3 different homes?  Well...I guess I was sentimental and thought I'd use them someday.  You know for my 25th anniversary or something.  Ha!

To make the saving situation worse the napkins weren't even personalized, they were just purchased at a wedding supply store.  Sigh.  

So I realized that I needed to get rid of them (#1, #4 & #8 on the list above).  I had the realization that they'd be a perfect size for my girl's lunch boxes.  They loved the idea of having a piece of our wedding at school each day and told all their friends about it.

Hooray, it's a win-win.  My kids get napkins (which they needed) and I get more space in my cabinet.  I plan on keeping the very last one for my wedding scrapbook, but it will be awhile before we use all these.

I'm sure I'll be back with more de-cluttering discoveries, you never know what you'll find in a box or drawer around here. :)

Monday, March 27, 2017

Vegetable Beef Instant Pot Soup Recipe

My love of my new Instant Pot is increasing with each successful recipe!  Last week I craved some vegetable beef soup and this was SO. EASY.  I'm talking easy.  I simply sautéd the meat and onion (in the pot!) and then added the vegetables to the SAME pot.  Oh man, my life may never be the same.

The family gave it two thumbs up, everyone liked it.  I'll be making it again soon.

Vegetable Beef Instant Pot Soup

1 pound organic ground beef 
½ medium onion, diced 
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups frozen (or fresh) Lima beans 
2 cups organic frozen mixed vegetables 
2 cups frozen organic corn 
3 cans of diced tomatoes 
2 cups water (more if you prefer more broth)
1 TBSP dried basil 
Salt and pepper to taste 

Instructions 1. Set your Instant pot to sauté setting. Cook meat and onions until brown and onions are soft (about 5 min). When they are almost cooked add the garlic and sauté for one more minute.
2. Add all the other ingredients to the Instant pot. 
3. Add lid and and set to sealing. 4. Click the manual button and set the time for 4 minutes. Allow it to naturally release the pressure for 5 minutes and then do a quick release.
5. Remove lid, stir, and add more salt and pepper to taste. 

To get your own amazing Instant Pot check out the link below.

For more Instant Pot recipes check out: