Welcome, Minna Packer, blogger of “Suddenly Mad: My Voyage Through Early Alzheimer’s”

Suddenly Mad- Feb 25, 2018, the sleeping beast withinReprinted with the permission of AlzAuthors.com

By Minna Packer

I was a teacher, professor, artist, filmmaker, mother of two adult children, a wife, a former American Fulbright, and an active member of my community. I am now 63. I was diagnosed twice, first in September 2016 with a Spect scan, then again in January 2017, when another neurologist ordered an FDG Pet scan. Twice I was told the  pattern of the images was that of Alzheimer’s. The changes and symptoms of what appears to me to be a rapid form of the disease have been radical.

The neurologist recommended I retire. I pushed myself to continue through the term, and then resigned from my twenty year teaching career last summer. There was no recognition for my many years of service. People I had known for decades, friends and colleagues disappeared.

The lawyers told me to get my affairs in order and prepare for the eventuality of ending up in a memory care facility. I was not given any guidelines beyond being told by the neurologist to exercise and play Sudoku and Lumosity.

Suddenly Mad Self Portrait (Depression) 1_1_2018I thought joining an early stage support group would give me purpose and I would make friends. I attended a Reminiscence support group at the neurologist’s hospital, and met people two and three decades older than me who were in later stages, who bounced a balloon to each other as an activity. I figured there needs to be more to life in early stage than this. After I sent the social worker an email questioning if there were support groups for younger onset, I was told to not return to the group. I met with a woman who heads a fledgling Alzheimer’s organization that offers caregivers support groups in my county, in the hopes that I might start a early stage support group. She told me the only early stage people she knew were not interested in “being out” about having the disease, because of its stigma.

Where was I to turn for social support? I researched and found online communities for people with dementia. Alzconnected.org sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association is an online forum, and the early onset forum became my go to place, to communicate with others in the early stages. I contacted the founder of Dementia Mentors https://www.dementiamentors.org/, who paired me with an online dementia mentor who is 59, and has been diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s and Frontotemporal Dementia, who I meet with once a week over virtual Zoom chats. Dementia Alliance International support groups, an online community of people with dementia from all over the world, who counter the stigma and advocate for inclusion and having our voices heard, have become my online friends https://www.dementiaallianceinternational.org/.

I joined Dementia Action Alliance and was recommended for the art workgroup. It’s comprised of both people with dementia and professionals without dementia, who work in the arts https://daanow.org/. Opportunities for discussing stigma and the language we use to describe ourselves have opened up between us. The chair of DAA has become a dear friend who has visited me in my home and regularly Zoom chats with me every week.

Last summer I started a blog on WordPress: Suddenly Mad: My Voyage Through Early Alzheimer’s.

The blog has given me the opportunity to tell it like it is for me, the good, bad and ugly. It is the channel for my uncensored self-expression. I upload my artwork and write about my experiences, relationships, and the trials and tribulations of living with a changed and changing brain. Caregivers, people in the dementia community, and old friends and family have written to me with appreciation for my raw honesty and ability to put into words and images my experience of falling down the rabbit hole, that to me, is Alzheimer’s. I write for you and I write for myself to remember. My art captures what cannot always be put into words. Sharing my blog is my way of not withdrawing from the world and demonstrating that I am still a creative person with thoughts, feelings and opinions that have resonance.

About the Author

Minna Packer has been an educator, filmmaker, producer/director, fine artist and writer. Born in 1954 in New York City, she is a first generation American, born to Jewish Holocaust survivors from Eastern Europe, who emigrated to the U.S in 1951.

She received her professional education at Pratt Institute (MFA); New York University and The Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada (BFA).

Her film credits include – Director/writer and producer of the documentary, Back To Gombin https://player.vimeo.com/video/124443430 which is in the permanent collections of the US Holocaust Museum and Yad Vashem – www.backtogombin.com  .

Packer was awarded as a distinguished Fulbright Scholar for her work on the film, The Lilliput http://player.vimeo.com/video/91234297, website at www.thelilliputmovie.com .

A recipient of The Nancy Malone award for excellence in directing, through New York Woman in Film and Television, she has also been awarded grants for her work from The Trust for Mutual Understanding, The New Jersey State Council on the Arts, The Gombin Jewish Historical and Genealogical Society, and the US State Department .

She has been a distinguished lecturer and professor at New York University, Jersey City State University, The University of Lodz, Poland, the Leon Schiller Film School, Jagiellonian University and Jerusalem University. For twenty years she chaired the art, art history and media department at The Hudson School- an independent school for gifted students in New Jersey.

In 2017 she was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s and retired from teaching. She participates in on-line social and educational webinars with Dementia Alliance International, Dementia Mentors and Dementia Action Alliance, and writes a blog, Suddenly Mad: My Voyage Through Early Alzheimer’s www.suddenlymad.com. Since her retirement, she treasures the time spent with her family and baby granddaughter.

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Meet Martin Schreiber, author of “My Two Elaines”

MTE coverReprinted with permission from AlzAuthors.com

By Martin J. Schreiber 

If there’s one thing worse than Alzheimer’s, it’s ignorance of the disease.

Count me among those who were ignorant. Over the past decade, I’ve learned more about Alzheimer’s than I ever thought was possible. To be sure, I’m no expert on the science of the brain. But I know what Alzheimer’s did to my heart – it broke it when it struck my wife Elaine some 14 years ago.

I’m striking back against Alzheimer’s by speaking out, to wipe out some of that ignorance of the disease. My book, My Two Elaines: Learning, Coping, and Surviving as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver, came out in November 2016. Loved ones of those with dementia say it resonates with them. I’ve done more than 150 presentations in four states, with lots more coming up. I’m energized by these audiences.

Following a recent event in Wisconsin, a man who is a caregiver for his wife with dementia approached. He wanted to thank me for writing the book.

“It turned my life around,” he told me, tears welling in his eyes – and soon in mine, too. “You saved me.”

Comments like those are beyond what I expected when I wrote My Two Elaines. My goal was to help caregivers learn, cope and survive. I felt compelled to share my own experiences so that other caregivers would have an easier time.

My book grew out of a short magazine article about me and Elaine that was published in a Milwaukee-area magazine in July 2014. Up to that time, only my family and closest friends even knew I was an Alzheimer’s caregiver. After reading the article, they urged me to use my name recognition as a former governor to draw attention to the plight of these heroes.

Fast forward to the fall of 2015, after Elaine moved to memory care assisted living. My quieter time at home was allowing me to reflect on the now-completed experience of caregiving at home, and to ask myself “what’s next?” I set to work, pouring out my thoughts on paper and on my laptop – whichever I had at my fingertips when inspiration struck.

In just two months, I had a first draft of a book, and I began to share it with not only my inner circle, but also with friends I’d lost contact with due to my caregiving responsibilities. They told me, “we had no idea what you were going through.” That made me think, if it was happening to me, surely there must be many other caregivers whose work was going unnoticed, unacknowledged and unsupported. That spurred me to get my book published.

The first shipment of books (5,000!) had barely  landed in my garage in November 2016, and right away I hit the road. The response was so great I had to order more books (10,000!) in early 2017. When it was time to order once again, I took a step back and knew I needed to include some of the “conversations from the road.” I also realized that while I had told my story and Elaine’s (by way of her journal entries), I hadn’t given our kids the chance to voice their thoughts. So now, all four of them have added their perspectives in the Epilogue.

I sincerely hope that my book is helping others who are experiencing isolation, grief and depression due to caregiving. We cannot give up. We have to educate others.

If there’s anything worse than Alzheimer’s, it’s ignorance of the disease.

www.mytwoelaines.com includes complete information, including a list of Marty’sMarty upcoming Events and a speaker request form.

My Two Elaines: Learning, Coping, and Surviving as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver is available on Amazon. To request autographed copies, use the order form at www.mytwoelaines.com.

authors@mytwoelaines.com

Twitter.com/MyTwoElaines

Facebook.com/MyTwoElaines

Youtube.com

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Welcome, Karen Severson, MD, author of “Look, I Shrunk Grandma”

Reprinted with permission from AlzAuthors.com

By Karen Severson, MD

This book has been in my head for years. It started with the constant frustration of being caught in the middle of disagreements between nursing homes and families. Sent as a representative of the nursing home to address aggressive behaviors, nurses would relate to me how horrible and dangerous the person with dementia was acting. People were getting injured and care was not able to be performed. I would speak to the families and they were angry with the homes. “They are trained to handle these problems. Why do you need medications?” The families felt the homes were medicating for staff convenience.

In the heat of these situations, it was difficult to explain all the medications I have available and all the factors going into my decisions. The nursing home staff would come to me saying the families just didn’t understand or acted unreasonable. Families were upset no one was taking the time to understand their parent. There were several families who still had not even accepted their loved one had dementia.  How was I going to explain the many facets of dementia in a way to make it clear?  I always wished I had a book that I could hand to people, so everyone involved could understand both sides of the issue. Instead of homes and families in perpetual battles, I wanted us to all be on the same team. In this way, the person struggling with dementia is provided the best care possible.

My other motivation for writing Look, I Shrunk Grandma, a Psychiatrist’s Guide to Nursing Homes, Dementia and End of Life came from seeing persons with dementia suffering. Many families cling to a natural denial that dementia is terminal. As a result, they ask for medical procedures that could prolong life, but may also inadvertently cause more suffering. When stopping numerous interventions were suggested, we have been accused of being heartless or cruel, allowing someone to die. With the experience from my mother’s death, I wanted to do what I could to decrease end-of-life suffering. Modern medicine has become a curse and a blessing. We need to help people understand its limitations. Unless they understand these limitations, it is unfair to expect them to make the best decisions for their families. Most people don’t have a medical background and feel overwhelmed.

Look, I Shrunk Grandma is newly released, but the feedback has been positive. Nurses reading the book say that they finally feel understood. Part of the book discusses why I feel people have trouble letting loved ones go into hospice care. The families that have read this have felt less guilty in doing so, as well as better able to make informed decisions.

Lastly, I had to write with humor. I find it incredibly hard to read about such difficult subjects and felt humor would make it easier.

About the Author

I am a country girl born in Indiana, but moved to Hartford, Connecticut for my father’s work in the insurance industry. My parents threw me and my siblings outside with a ball all day to keep us out of their hair. As a result, I grew up loving sports and entered Ithaca College to pursue a Physical Education degree. My chemistry teacher told me I had a great memory and suggested I go to medical school. I took my great memory to University of Connecticut and later Brown University to study psychiatry. I always knew I loved the mixture of the mind and the body and had to go into Geriatric Psychiatry. I later completed a fellowship in Geriatric Psychiatry at Albert Einstein.

Despite being a psychiatrist, I act more like a pediatrician, as I love to laugh and do it often. I find it hard to be serious. Today I live in Florida and enjoy time with my family. I still play a ton of sports, but get injured way too often. I now work in the addiction field trying to save young lives. Maybe I will write about that someday as well.

Twitter

Website

Amazon

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Meet Iris Waichler, author of “Role Reversal”

Role ReversalBy Iris Waichler

I began writing my book, Role Reversal How to Take Care of Yourself and Your Aging Parents, as a tribute to my father, Melvin Sneider. I knew he was an extraordinary and giving person who had touched many lives. When I began writing, he was 95 and in good health after recovering from a cerebral hemorrhage at age 90.

Suddenly things changed. He was hospitalized for pneumonia. As it happens with many seniors, he suffered a cascade of medical problems. They included irregular heartbeat, inability to eat food except if it was pureed, memory issues and dementia, incontinence, and decreased mobility. He was unable to get dressed or bathe without help. His decline continued until his death at age 97.

While I was writing my book, I encountered many people who were caregivers. The numbers surprised me. I had been a caregiver for my mother and two friends prior to becoming my dad’s primary caregiver. I come to caregiving from two perspectives. I have been a medical social worker and patient advocate for forty years. My work involved helping patients and family members cope with catastrophic illness and helping them to set up additional care post hospitalization.

I chose to blend my personal experience as a caregiver with my professional expertise in writing my book. Many caregivers face universal challenges that leave us feeling overwhelmed and alone. Before he became ill, my dad had written his own autobiography. I learned he had become a caregiver from an early age trying to protect his brothers and sister from a father who was emotionally and physically abusive. I decided to use his voice with mine in writing my book. He became a caregiver for many people in his life, something I had never realized until I read his writing.

My book is an unusual combination of memoir and self-help. It is also unusual in having the voices of the caregiver and the person who receives care. I use my dad’s life story as a springboard to approach common caregiving concerns. For example, when my dad decides to go into assisted living, I have a chapter where I interview a nursing director about what family members and potential residents should know and ask about when considering this transition.

My goal in writing my book was to reach as many people as possible who are struggling with this ultimate role reversal, where the adult child becomes a caregiver for their parent. It is a useful tool for all caregivers. I address topics like coping with grief, memory loss, and confusion to concrete issues like estate planning and assessing the right level of care.

When I contacted publishers, some told me since my father was not well-known nobody would care about his story. I have been so pleased to hear from so many people telling me how much they connected with him and how they loved his story as well as my professional input.

The response to my book has been surprising, gratifying, and overwhelming. It has won six major book awards. People seem to really respond to the the way I have structured Role Reversal and find the information, resources, and support strategies very useful in their daily lives. This brings me great joy. I am very proud of my book and love the idea that my dad will live on through my readers.

About The Author

Iris***Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW is the author of 3 books including Role Reversal How to Take Care of Yourself and Your Aging Parents. Role Reversal is the winner of 6 major book awards. Ms. Waichler has been a medical social worker and patient advocate for 40 years. She has done freelance writing, counseling, and workshops, on patient advocacy and healthcare related issues for 17 years.

Website: http://iriswaichler.com

Facebook: Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RoleReversal1/?ref=bookmarks

Twitter: https://twitter.com/IrisWaichler

Link to buy on Amazon 

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