Dementia – keeping hold of the person within

My gorgeous beautiful dad has dementia.  He was diagnosed about five years ago.  When we look back at some of the incidents which occurred in the lead up to his diagnosis, there were obvious signs.  But they were signs we only looked at differently in retrospect.

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Alzheimers Australia reports somebody is diagnosed with Dementia approximately every six minutes or at the rate of around 1,800 every week.  That’s a lot of people.  The impact of the diagnosis ripples through families to spouses, children, friends, carers and the community.  And although dementia is more commonly diagnosed over the age of 65, it is not a normal part of ageing.  We can probably all bring to mind senior citizens, whether in our own families or people we see on tv who are as sharp as a tack, despite being in their eighth or ninth decade.  Others may experience early-onset dementia and find themselves being diagnosed in their thirties or forties, a burden which must be even heavier to carry given their relative youth.

There are different types of dementia but essentially dementia causes a progressive decline in how a person functions.  It most commonly affects memory, rationality, social skills, intellect and physical functioning.  Our family has seen most of these in my father over the last few years.  Despite that and despite whatever might happen in the future, it’s important not to lose sight of the person within and to create a world and communities that are dementia-friendly.

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I recall alarm bells ringing when my dad had a falling out with his sister and brother-in-law, to whom he was very close.  He accused them of spying on him and got upset and angry, ceasing all contact. We couldn’t fathom what he was talking about and it was totally out of character.  There were a couple of occasions where he tumbled over but we assumed he’d simply missed his footing and didn’t think too much of it.  Another time when I was visiting, he was really quite horrible to my mother, shouted at her for no real reason. She dealt with it by not responding or challenging him.  My dad’s always been a fiery Italian so I just thought he was getting a little cantankerous with age.  But the paranoia and irrationality were not characteristic of him but can be a part of the progression of dementia.

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The reality about a diagnosis of dementia, as in the case of my dad, is that the person they know, and you know they’ve always been, starts to slip away.  Dad’s always been a chatterbox. One of my favourite expressions when we’re chewing the fat is “dad, there’s always a story”. Because he’s always had a story to tell about someone or something – he’s never been the shy one in the corner. He’s the one who waves his arms around as he talks – one of life’s squwarkers and squealers with the big personality.  Sometimes people with dementia have difficulty word finding and of expressing themselves verbally.  Dad’s had a rich full life, full of funny sagas and yarns we enjoyed hearing about. But a few years down the track, dad is quieter.  There are fewer stories now.

But he still knows how to enjoy himself.  Here is is tucking into a huge plate of pancakes.

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oh dad – what would your cardiologist say?

I don’t get to see my dad often because my parents live interstate but I notice some of the changes when I visit.  My sister pointed out that he no longer initiates conversation which I realised is true.   If engaged in conversation he can still be quite chatty but he doesn’t start as many conversations anymore – perhaps it’s harder for him to organise his thoughts.  I’ve noticed sometimes though that his conversations or replies don’t quite make sense.  Not all the time and not on every occasion, but enough to notice his thoughts are a little more muddled.  They live on the mid-NSW coast and his perception and understanding of distances has gone.  He thinks he can get a bus to Adelaide and be there in ten minutes.

I will always adore my dad and it doesn’t matter to me that he’s a little bit muddled.  There are other things which he enjoys and which have really helped dad and my mother to cope.  Dad has always loved music.  Throughout his life would often sing along to the radio or whistle while he was getting dressed or I would hear him humming around the house.  He still loves music.  My sister put together an ipod with a range of tunes we knew he’d enjoy, Andy Williams, Frank Sinatra, Frank Miller and big band jazz.  He loves it and will sit happily for hours listening and humming along. It’s made a huge difference because it means instead of the television being on 24 hours a day, my mother can put on some music which they can both enjoy and which seems to have a soothing effect.

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I realised as well, the last time I was up there, that dad enjoys just going for a drive.  It’s a great way to spend some time, in the warmth of the car, enjoying the scenery with me pointing out points of interest in the landscape and him chattering along beside me.  He is much less active that he used to be and whereas he used to go up to the local cafe he doesn’t do that anymore although he says that he does in passing conversation.  The last time I visited we looked through old photographs and he surprised me by recalling both first names and surnames of old friends.  The pictures triggered long term memories and we both enjoyed the stroll down memory lane.

My dad is still in the family home and my mother is his primary carer but she used to be his wife – it is different when a wife becomes a carer first and a wife second.  It’s hard for her.  I know she feels she can’t leave him alone anymore, when previously she would do.  For carers it can become something of a prison sentence because a large part of their lives revolves around the one they have to care for.  And the majority of the time they do it on their own.  But we can help if we understand more about the disease, have compassion and to offer support.

Carers have to deal with the confusion.  My mother found my dad fully dressed at 3am in the morning one time.  He did not realise it was the middle of the night and told her he was going out.  Another time he asked what the people were doing in his room, looking through all his stuff.  There was no one there.  We realised he was having visual hallucinations.  I was told that re-directing attention in these instances is a good strategy to use, rather than to disagree with them or challenge them which can upset them.  My strategy with dad is “how about a nice cup of tea?”.  Tea fixes everything right?  My gorgeous dad.  I don’t need to remind myself not to lose sight of the person within.

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My dad used to love to cook – he was always the chef in the family and was never happier than when in the kitchen.  Dementia has meant that he stopped cooking several years ago.  My mother found him in the kitchen and he’d obviously forgotten what he started to do.  She helped him by saying – “it looks like you are cutting an onion Jim, would you like me to help you?”.  And by doing so, it reminded him of what he was doing and they continued to do it together.

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I don’t know how it will turn out.   The struggle with dementia for those affected and those who support them, will continue.  But we must also continue to remember that the people we care for, those with dementia, are still who they always were and who we know them to be. We can still reach them, perhaps in slightly different ways by reminding them through photographs, music and story-telling.  And by helping them to reach back and find themselves again – the person within.

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Frackman the movie – saying ‘no’ to coal seam gas

Dayne Pratzky aka The Frackman

Dayne Pratzky in his alter-ego as the Frackman says he is ‘the worst environmental activist the world has ever seen’. The thousands who have flocked to see the documentary ‘Frackman’ suggests otherwise.  Directed by Richard Todd and produced by Trish Lake (Freshwater Pictures), Simon Nasht and Kate Hodges (Smith & Nasht) the film documents Dayne’s five year battle to prevent coal seam gas conglomerates from drilling their way through Queensland’s pristine landscapes and the community of Tara in which Dayne lives.  Pratzky in his white Frackman overalls, turns out to be a real-life super hero with powers he didn’t know he had.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Destination Relaxation. THE best holiday house in Sussex Inlet

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I’ll cut to the chase.  I’ve just spent a long weekend in Sussex Inlet on the south coast of New South Wales.  I went there with my other half and two lots of friends, six adults in all.  My friend made a booking online and I didn’t really know what to expect. I wasn’t expecting anything too swish to be honest.  However from the moment we stepped into the house we were blown away by the accommodation.  It turned out to be the most gorgeous holiday home I’ve ever stayed in.  And here’s why.  Take 90 seconds to see for yourself and then read on:

The property is owned by the two Terrys – Terry and Terry, a husband and wife team. The warmth of the welcome is evident the moment we step into the house.  The two Terrys showed us around and told us where we could find everything we needed, what restaurants were worth a visit and all the activities we could enjoy over the weekend.  The property, Terry’s Waterfront Retreat, is a five bedroom house which includes three Queen sized bedrooms all with ensuites.  As well as the formal dining room, there is a spacious kitchen diner, enclosed sunroom with dining table and outside patio dining in the bbq area next to the pool.

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I got the impression one of the Terrys might have come from an Interior Design background because every room in the house was simply a pleasure to relax in and had a beautiful creative thread running throughout the house.

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Leave your stresses at the door and chillax.  Board games supplied – we enjoyed the game Mid-Life Crisis which is very apt given the name of this blog!  There is also an ample supply of DVDs for visitors to enjoy.

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We slept so soundly in this bed – no early starts for us on this weekend away.

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Did I mention the pool which is surrounded by lush vegetation?

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Once you’ve had a dip, there is a little nook where you can enjoy a coffee or drink nestled in the surrounding vegetation.

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The property is situated right on the Inlet with the back garden leading down to a private jetty.  We found a mother and baby Roo there relaxing in the sunshine.

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Once the roos had moved on I managed to get a piccie of the jetty and the crystal clear waters of the inlet.

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 You can swim, fish, hire a boat or use the canoe which is free for visitors to use during their stay.

IMG_20150309_103117The dining area in the enclosed sunroom – lovely for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  We spent a lot of time chowing down at this table – and why wouldn’t you?!

How often do holiday lets get a big thumbs up and a five star rating and I’ve only just seen this.  If you need to unwind and get away from the frenetic pace of city life.  I couldn’t think of a nicer place to stay.

But finally before you do that, I almost don’t want to tell you this.  Terry and Terry are looking to sell this property as we found out this weekend.  The property includes all furniture and bookings up until the end of the year.  I really hope the new owners keep it as holiday accommodation so we can go there again and again.  It’s only 3 hours from Sydney or Melbourne.  So if you or anyone you know is in the market for an investment property, or holiday retreat, then this property is what dreams are made of. It comes fully furnished so all you have to do is walk in and put your feet up or dive into that refreshing pool.

Go on – treat yourself.

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Aspergers Syndrome – putting together the pieces

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A little while back, I found the message below scrawled on the wall inside a toilet cubicle in the womens’ bathrooms.

“I found out I probably have Aspergers.

Now I’m going through all the existential crap I went through in my teens, including writing on bathroom walls.

And the real kicker is, I’m not even that brilliant at anything.

 All of the broken bits and none of the good bits”

None of the good bits.

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the problem with Tony Abbott (according to my mum)

Trust me image:  thenewdaily.com.au

Trust me
image: thenewdaily.com.au

My mum doesn’t think Tony Abbott should lose his job in next week’s leadership spill. She thinks it’s wrong for a leader to be jetissoned the way we’ve seen in the past.   Having said that she’s not his biggest fan and along with the voting public rolls her eyes and reaches for the remote whenever he appears on tv.  She tells me “he says every single thing twice and I havn’t got all day for him to get to the point”.

Tony Abbott has, and has always had, a communication problem.  In Tony’s case, it is the messenger as much as the message which has rapidly turned the electorate against him.  So when Luke Simpkins said voters had ‘stopped listening’, he was right.  And my mum agrees.

For Abbott’s staff, there are simply not enough cupboards to bundle the Prime Minister into every time he says or does something un-prime ministerial, to get him out of the path of an electorate ready to lynch him.

In the relentless frenzy of the 24 hour media cycle and with voters chipping in on social media, it’s a challenge for any politician to be heard.  TV media only allows for a four second grab on the news so what hope have they got?  Thus the adoption across politics of the ‘three word slogan’. Three word slogans work in Opposition because they’re not the main event. All you they need to do is keep up the pot-shots at those opposite.  Tony Abbott was very effective at this.  The perception is he’s been less effective at being Prime Minister.

Voters are familiar with Tony’s tried and tested mantras ‘stopping the boats’ …’debt and deficit’ of ‘no new taxes’ (remember that one).  But the devil is in the detail and the detail  was missing in action prior to the election.  Voters are mature enough to understand that paying down debt will require revenue raising either through tax increases or by cutting funding elsewhere.  If you explain the why and the how, particularly to low income earners, you should be able to sell the message but that process has to start years out and there’s the rub.  Short-term politics i.e. getting elected, hamstrings long-term policy planning.

When the Liberals sprung the Medicare co-payment onto voters and got a two fingered salute in return, they then imposed it on doctors via the back door. Has this government heard of stakeholder engagement? Cutting the medical profession out of the picture from the get-go was amateurish in the extreme.  Perhaps they want to silence dissent by preventing there being any in the first place.  Abbott’s proclamation that ‘Australia is open for business‘ on election night did not mention that it would be ‘closed to negotiation or collaboration’ as we have since learned.  The electorate does not like strong-arm tactics and they don’t like being treated like idiots.

And any commitments the government has delivered on become irrelevant to voters when they’ve stopped listening to you because you have a credibility problem.  The government has ticked both boxes of late.

Tony Abbott has spoken lately about his status as Captain and more importantly of being a ‘good captain‘.  Captains, in whatever realm, are not infallible. However when they’re in the top job, they should have a clear line of sight out to the horizon to prevent the ship from disappearing into the abyss.  In Abbott’s case he has persistently steered them towards it.

Abbott was relentless in his pursuit of Julia Gillard and in calling her a liar. But Abbott has lied repeatedly to the Australian people.  Gillard’s only ‘lie’ was solely due to having to compromise as the result of a hung-parliament and by contrast to Abbott, she proved early on, her capacity to negotiate and find common ground in order to find a solution.   Abbott however, deliberately withheld his government’s true intentions prior to the election and has broken promises on many others.  His latest Captain’s Pick has been the final nail in the coffin of his credibility with the electorate. His decision to award Prince Philip a knighthood has exposed Abbott for who he really is – an ultra conservative, backward looking, boot-licking royalist.  His choice was completely unfathomable to ordinary Australians.

The Liberals are now in permanent damage control and require a full-time pooper scooper running around after him. Peta Credlin must be a saint.

His own party are now calling time on his prime-ministership with a leadership spill imminent. The time for pretending is over.  If they don’t get rid of him now, Abbott will be the albatross around their necks all the way to the next election.   And they know it.  Death by a thousand cuts.  But their hope of installing an alternative candidate, one who is more palatable to the electorate, may well put them back in business and back in office at the next election.  And ultimately that’s the end game.

The last word goes to my mum who says “he’s not all bad but the trouble with these bloody politicians is that they say one thing then do another and somehow think that people won’t notice”.

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the new guy

ladies, please form an orderly queue

ladies, please form an orderly queue

Last week at work our team welcomed our new boss.  There has been much chatter over the last six weeks about what he might be like.  Whether we think he will cope with the job and the swapping of any bits of gossip we have managed to get hold of.  Oh and let’s not forget the usual snooping and cyber-stalking activities available to us all thanks to Linked-In, Facebook and Google.

So on Monday he arrived.  A strapping colossus of a man.  A man who takes up space.  The kind of man who has to watch he doesn’t smack his head on the door frame when entering any room.  The kind of man you can’t help but notice.  The kind of man, regardless of whether you are partnered or single, compels you to do a double-take.  So what’s going on here?

Over the last few years our all-girl team has also had two female bosses. Perfectly competent, good at their jobs, likable, inclusive.  All of that stuff.  But also in their own ways, quite girly.  Women-only offices over time, eventually seem to spiral into gossipy cliques.  In a nutshell, we get sick of each other.  So a great big boy taking his place at the heart of the team has seriously changed the dynamic. It’s only been a week but I feel like I’m trapped in a harem of women all vying for the attention of the alpha-male.  The office mouse strode in mid-week sporting a perfect red lipstick pout, a clear departure from her usual neutral tones.  The waft of perfume being re-applied throughout the day is unmistakable.  Even the office matriarch has been seen giggling like a schoolgirl and fluttering her eyelashes in his direction.

I’m just waiting for someone to up the ante by sucking on a lollipop in his presence.  Young, middle-aged or old enough to know better, the girls in the office seems to have gotten a bit hot under the collar.

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What is it about the arrival of a man in a mostly female team which triggers this change in behaviour?   A study conducted by Jon Maner and James McNulty suggests that women can literally smell the competition from another woman which in turn drives up their testosterone levels.  Beforehand there was no competition as such because we had a female boss.  But the arrival of a gargantuan man has changed all that.  In addition, a study from Professor Townsend from Syracuse University reinforces the notion that women are hardwired to be attracted to powerful men.  We just can’t help ourselves it seems. But what, my friends, are we competing for?   Well influence of course – the currency of office politics.

The obvious ingratiation tactics from the pack in order to place themselves on the radar of the new guy is certainly amusing.  A week long seduction strategy.  Minus the sex of course.  He’s only a man. But he’s a colossus of a man, who for the moment at least, has us all eating out of his hand.

I guess he should and we should, enjoy the honeymoon because as sure as night follows day, it is unlikely to last.   The scales will fall from our eyes, the pedestal be replaced with a step and we will all wake up to ourselves.

And I say hallelujah to that!

But what about you?  Have you experienced a similar change in dynamic at the office and what did you do?

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Maccas – the great social leveler

maccas

Ahhhhh life on the road.  If it’s Christmas, it’s the annual road-trip to far flung, or not so far flung, family and friends.    The loading up of the family vehicle usually entails games and gadgets for the kids, water obviously – this is Australia.  And snacks, lots and lots of snacks to keep everyone satisfied and contented for the long haul trip.

 

However, wherever you may be headed, one thing’s for sure, it is very very difficult to bypass a trip to the Golden Arches.  The mecca that is a McDonalds restaurant. Even if you’re not hungry.  And usually especially if you’re not hungry.  It’s just an opportunity to stop and stretch the legs and body and to escape being cooped up like a chicken for around twenty minutes.  The mental equivalent of standing under a long hot shower.  Right?

 

Well maybe.  What I love about McDonalds is that it is the ultimate social leveller.  I don’t care how many degrees you’ve got, what high-falluting job you have and whether your pile is in Vaucluse or Point Piper.  Chances are at some point on the road-trip you will have no choice but to enter between the hallowed Arches and have a dining experience of a different kind.  This holidays was no exception.

 

Invariably there is someone who looks as though they’d rather not be there.  Whose body language says it all; elbows and forearms pressed together across their chest with hands locked under their chin.  A look of mild distress on their faces with the voice in their head screaming “I don’t belong here”.

 

I have been that person and I’m not even a vegetarian.  But the point is, that we do belong here, because McDonalds whole ethos and their story is about putting their customers first and constantly adapting and changing their menus in response to customer demand.  You’d have to be hard-pressed not to find a few things on the menu these days which are pretty yummy.  I have to confess to really enjoying McDonalds coffee.  And their mini mint slices.  And I’m a recent convert to their Crunchy Noodle Crispy Chicken salad.  And how addictive are the fries?  The Group is the ultimate Darwinian survivor evolving to ensure everyone feels they belong.  If you’re normal, there is something on the menu for you.  And if you’re a food fascist or food neurotic or if you have food allergies or intolerances, then rest assured, there is something on the menu for you too.

 

But just so we’re clear – I’m not from Macca’s PR department.

 

But each holidays and at least once a month if I’ve had ‘one of those days’ and don’t have the mental energy to cook, off to Maccas I go.  Only now I inwardly chuckle as I survey the throngs of my fellow diners as we shuffle towards the front counter.  Old, young, affluent, not.  Whether we’re dressed in Aarmani or a Big W t-shirt and shorts. When we’re standing in the queue at Maccas with chips trodden into the soles of our shoes and greasy fingermarks on every visible surface, on some level we love the ritual, the familiarity and the unavoidable pleasure of reaching the holy grail.

 

Maccas: the ultimate social leveler and I say Hallelujah to that!

 

Make mine an Apple Pie to take away…..

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