Saturday, February 16, 2019

Dementia and Alzheimer's and Nuns

I remember that Time article about nuns and Alzheimer's published in 2001. Clearly. Unfortunately, it is behind a paywall now so I can't access but if you're interested and a subscriber you can go ahead and do so. Nuns had not only generously co-operated with studies on these brain diseases but also donated their bodies, postmortem, to science in selfless efforts to assist further research. I remember the autopsies showed that even though advanced degradation of brain cells due to Alzheimer's had occurred in these nuns, other segments of their brains had taken over complex functions like needlework and crossword puzzles thus keeping the Alzheimer's unnoticed by those around them. The personalities of the nuns had much to do with their abilities in later years (90+). Many of them had kept journals from their teenage years exhibiting a positivism about life and a thirst for learning.

I did find a similar article in the New York Times but it's not as detailed as the Time essay - and I am relying on - ahem! - my memory about the original article.

At 93, Sister Nicolette Welter still reads avidly, recently finishing a biography of Bishop James Patrick Shannon. She knits, crochets, plays rousing card games and, until a recent fall, was walking several miles a day with no cane or walker.

I was driven to write this by a visit to an old friend yesterday who is in a third level care home. She is 93 and until the last year or so was taking care of herself in her own home. Reading and playing complex card games and knitting sweaters for her pensioner sons. Then one of her sons died. And the family hadn't told her he was dying. And this shoved her over the edge into mental disarray which has remained.

My grandmother, then in her seventies, was similarly afflicted when my mother died. Within a short period she retreated to an alternative world where Mum was still with us and Granny, our darling granny, never surfaced again.

My aunt, a bridge playing, golfing entrepreneur in her nineties, vanished into her own bottomless dark hole when her youngest child died at 49.

As to my friend, she is like a skeleton in a wheelchair, her caustic P&V with which we were all familiar has vanished, replaced by this gaunt shell with haunted eyes and no memory of us, her former familiars, but a clear memory of her dead son visiting her yesterday.

An unknown percentage of these "long goodbye" diseases is down to circumstances surely? None of those nuns lost a child and I wonder if this has a huge bearing on our emotional and mental abilities in our later years. As I have witnessed, heartbreakingly, first hand.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Words for Wednesday - February 13, 2019

River is hosting February's Words for Wednesday. Please go visit her and see what others are doing with the prompts and maybe, just maybe, participating yourself.

This week's words are:

1. shutdown*
2. wreck*
3. hairclip*
4. marked*
5. old school*
6. brewery*


1. release*
2. hell-no!*
3. cherrie*
4. insignificant*
5. coffee*
6. almost*

The lighthouse stood sullen and glowering for it had seen far too many shipwrecks over the centuries to look upon life with any joy.
From its perch on the promontory its painted colours of white and cherry red stripes flared in bands around it.
As dusk fell, it seemed to rouse itself, as if being released from a shutdown, a hell-no! rousing from its depths. The light at its summit blasted forth, blazing to insignificance the granite on which it stood, beaming fiercely across the savage rocks and waters far below.
"As I'm on nightshift," said Tom, one of the two lightkeepers in the house beside it,"I'll have another coffee to get me through the night."
"Well, I'm going to have one of those artisan beers, or two, from that new brewery before I go to bed," said Amy. Sweeping her hair up in a hairclip, she strode to the fridge, took the beer, and snapping the top off the bottle, almost downed the whole thing in one long swallow. Tom watched her as he sipped his coffee, his wife, his lightkeeper partner out on the edge of nowhere. He was old school enough to long for the days of his father's time when women knew their place and would never drink alone.

Sunday, February 10, 2019


I find dreams can be so revealing of the subconscious. I am really good at analyzing them, I took a short course a few years ago and found that I could analyze other dreams while being baffled at my own at times.

I had this dream last night. Briefly:

A friend of mine in Toronto has this nightmare of a house, she is a hoarder and it's packed to the rafters with stuff. You don't need details - it's all just stuff. Pathways are laid out in the rooms to navigate through the garbage. Her bed's accessed by crawling across boxes. The stairs to the basement is jammed with newspapers and magazines. The window on her door is covered with a garbage bag. And this was when we were allowed in. For the last twenty+ years I'd say no one has entered Hilda's (pseudonym) house. So I imagine it is far worse now. It's a huge concern. We had cleaned her out a few times in the past but it was all in vain, she refused to get psychological help, she accumulated more rubbish and excess was poured into her car so that she could never take passengers. A typical out of control hoarder. I wrote about her here.

Anyway, last night I dreamed of her. Sitting in a tidy house. Surrounded by mannequins in various costumes, elderly clothes, lounging around on the chairs and sofas in her much expanded living room - she had bricked in the front door.

I questioned her as to what she was doing, there were at least 5 of these faux humans, heads down reading, as was she.

"Oh," she said, "Finally, everything is taken care of, see? My friends and I are really happy together. We read to each other."

I had absolutely no trouble analyzing this dream. Dreams are nearly always about ourselves. Very personal.

I realized:

(1) I am isolating far too much.

(2) I have been indoors since last Thursday and the weather has been beautiful

(3) My door to new experiences has been blocked.

(4) My imaginative life is now greater than my reality.

(5) I need to bring some flexibility in to my life. I am getting rigid.

So, I'm heading out today. To interact with some children I know.

It's far too easy to get locked in place.

Friday, February 08, 2019


"You learn that as you grow older, we live in a perpetual state of fear. All the horrible things we do to each other, all our misunderstandings, are because of fear."

The Old Jest. Jennifer Johnston, Page 98. Read in 2016.

Some new fears as I age. They would be unrecognizable to a younger me, then I would have classified them as "silly".

(1)Fear of becoming a crashing bore because of my health issues. So I avoid talking about them. Then, when questioned on my health status, I'm aware of looking shifty from such avoidance and quickly switch conversation to something else.

(2)Fear of the specialist I saw on Wednesday, my nephrologist, who has no time for my avoidance of 3 times daily blood pressure readings, no time for my water shortage ingestion in spite of his instructions. No time for my whiny "I can't live in the bathroom all the time" ("Oh, "sez he, in a bored monotone, "Then dialysis would be preferable?" He is excellent at what he does, but boy, bedside manner is not part of his genetic makeup. He handed me a list of what I need to do before seeing him in a month. Yes, I will comply. Feel the fear and do it anyway.

(3)Fear of getting lost. Due to my mobility issues, this is much more serious than for a healthier younger me, the running me, the adventurous me. Now when I am pounding down a sidewalk with my cane searching for something, store, medical office, etc., if it's not where I thought it was supposed to be I panic as my energy has evaporated, I need to sit down and there's nothing to sit on. So I lean, and breathe and want to cry in frustration. I was rescued by a kind stranger on Wednesday who gently guided me outside the building and led me to the correct clinic, taking time to allow for breaks. People are so very kind and caring.

(4)Fear of brain-fail. It takes me longer to learn new skills, like a knitting pattern. I have to repeat and repeat to lodge it in whatever remaining brain cell is still up for rental. Short term memory, unless I really, really concentrate, vanishes like a puff of smoke. I am mindful of working the brain via knitting, daily Scrabble, reading books outside my comfort zone. Challenging it.

(5)Political scene: femicides. A woman is murdered in Canada every 3 days by a man who purportedly loves her. The stats in many countries are similar. I've been present when men "jokingly" threaten wives that they would kill them if they caught them being unfaithful. Since I first became aware of how second class women are, way, way back in the fifties, I see regression in women's rights everywhere. Men who haven't a clue - as an example see that Gillette ad up there? - the outrage amongst some of my male friends was breathtaking. They take the line of "not all men" - neglecting, of course, to take a stand against the proliferation of porn, sex trafficking, prostitution, etc. which is so embedded in our culture as to be taken for granted. Women's (and many girl children's) bodies are commodities, products to be sold, trafficked at a whim. Trillion dollar rape industries. Imagine, I say to men I know, being anally raped twenty to a hundred times a day or giving blow jobs to hundreds of strangers. And they shudder.

A Teacher's Association Convention in Alberta booked a convicted murderer/rapist as their keynote speaker. You read that right. Only when the public outcry became a deluge did they cancel him. Read about it here.. The fact that they would even arrange all of this shows how deeply embedded rape culture is in our society: how female victims can be so thoroughly erased. And to make the story even more sordid - the reason he killed her was because he couldn't get an erection.

I fear for my own anger in these political situations. My rage is frightening to me at times and it doesn't abate as I age. It worsens. How on earth do I keep a lid on myself? How do I numb out and shrug and pretend all of this doesn't matter?

(6)Oddly enough, in such an anti-aging climate, I haven't a fear of wrinkles or age-spots, or "Looking my age" or greying. I tell people openly I am an old woman, or an elder or a crone and most react with:"You don't look it" with a little frisson. What's that about? What does "looking it" mean? Why the fear of growing old? Isn't the alternative so much worse? I have lost far too many dear ones not to celebrate my bonus years.

Anyway getting my thoughts of the day out there on paper.

As I struggle with a short memoir I am writing.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Words for Wednesday - February 2019

This month's Words for Wednesday is being hosted by River.. Please go visit her and if you feel like participating, please do so. And enjoy the other entries which will be linked in the comments on her blog.

This week's words are:

1. consternation*
2. tourist*
3. attached*
4. fresh*
5. specific*
6. memory*


1. advantages*
2. amount*
3. spray*
4. reef*
5. ouch*
6. living*

There was consternation after she made the announcement. Her adult children, her adult grandchild even, discouraging and resistant to her plans.

"I am no longer attached," she said in her best teacher voice (brooking no arguments) as they all sat around the kitchen table, "To this family home. Your father has been dead for five years now. It is time for me to make fresh memories, my own specific memories."

They started yelling at her all at once, she could only make out words like "living" and "ouch" and "dementia assessment".

"Stop it!" she said sharply, banging her old wooden spoon off the table. "I am selling the house. I need the amount of cash it will raise. I am of sound mind and body even though I'm 78 years old. And yes, I want to see the Great Barrier Reef before I die. I wish to see the water spraying over Niagara Falls, and Patagonia has the advantage of being at the southern tip of South America and needs to be seen too. And Paris of course. And another thing, I am doing this alone. A solitary tourist. I've always wanted to travel alone. I don't need anyone's permission. It's my time now. So there!"

Monday, February 04, 2019

Spoons and Drawers

In other news.

Have you heard about the spoon theory? I read about this over the holiday season and tried to explain it to others who fell around laughing. But listen. As we age, become disabled, are disabled, depressed, challenged, tired, no energy, diseased, we can apply the spoon theory to ourselves.

This is how it started:
"The term spoons in this sense was coined by Christine Miserandino in 2003 in her essay "The Spoon Theory".[8][9] The essay describes a conversation between Miserandino and a friend.The discussion was initiated by a question from the friend in which she asked about what having lupus feels like. The essay then describes the actions of Miserandino, who took spoons from nearby tables to use as a visual aid. She handed her friend twelve spoons and asked her to describe the events of a typical day, taking a spoon away for each activity. In this way, she demonstrated that her spoons, or units of energy, must be rationed to avoid running out before the end of the day. Miserandino also asserted that it is possible to exceed one's daily limit, but that doing so means borrowing from the future and may result in not having enough spoons the next day. Miserandino suggested that spoon theory can describe the effects of mental illnesses as well."

My ideal is under 30 spoons per day. But some days, like yesterday, I run it up to 33 spoons. Why? If I do my laundry that necessitates very long trips to the laundry room. We can only use one machine at a time and if there are many loads, that's a lot of walking. We don't complain as it's free. So each laundry load to me is 4 spoons as each trek up and down the hall is .25 of a kilometre. So today I have to compensate for that, which I am and I'm subtracting those 3 spoons from today.

My spoon sheet:
I'm starting to keep a daily tally and thought it might be of some value to my readers as most of are in some stages of aging, decrepitude and/or challenged in some way.

And yeah the Kondo-ization of some of us. I take what I can apply to my own life from her and discard the rest. But her drawer theory? Love it.

for instance here is my kitchen drawer:
I love the way I can see all the dishtowels and dishcloths (yeah, all hand knitted by moi - thanks for noticing!) and it does "spark joy" to also see all my colourful knickers at once leaning against each other in orderly fashion. And yeah my t-shirts and jammies too.

A lot to be said for it. Not all of it, but a lot of it. I still have to deal with photos and unhung pictures.

Saturday, February 02, 2019


Well, it's not the pit of despair, the familiar old Black Dog of depression I tell myself.

And it's not like we have the polar vortex here (we don't).

The sun has shone every day for a long time now (it has).

But sleep calls me too often. I nap long and hard and go to bed and sleep and my time with eyes closed begins to exceed time with eyes open. (Shame keeps this under lock and key)

Not good, I tell myself. (And I stay away from over analysis of the situation, it makes it worse)

I add 2 Tylenols to the CBD oil to alleviate the pain which halts me in my tracks, a bony hand yanking at my collar in parking lots, shopping aisles, galleries. I review the gentle yoga class I took and think: "tomorrow" I'll start this daily follow up process. {Tomorrow is a fallacy. The only change is in the "Now")

I make notes about change, mindful of the mantra: If nothing changes, nothing changes. Which sounds as if written for a simpleton but the kernel of truth lodged within forces me to think about why I am sitting/lying in this home-made waiting room of death.

I bore myself. I text the one friend who understands this malaise, the one being on the planet I can be honest with, who never judges me as I don't judge her lapses and failings. (She crucifies herself with alcohol, I do the same with sugar). We can only share with those who have their own dark nights lapping at their days. Understanding and compassion and no lectures about boot straps and getting a grip (on what?).

What can I commit to today? Emails from the local library, full of books I have ordered on line.

"I will get dressed," I text her, "I will go to the library and then buy some baby clothes for a brand new grand-niece named Hailey. And then I will change the sheets on my bed and work on a client's tax compliance problem that I have procrastinated endlessly that has a vicious grip on my sense of well-being." (Procrastination being voracious in its destructive appetite, boring into the psyche).

We'll see how these tiny changes ripple outwards.