AFTD Educational Conference 2016 – New BFF’s!

AFTD Conference 2016

On May 12, 13 and 14th, I was privileged to have the opportunity to attend this gathering for those who have been affected and care partners. There were over 300 people in attendance, 45 of them being diagnosed with FTD. For me, as an alum of this club no-one wants to be in, the best part was meeting up with so many virtual friends that I have made as a result of the bastard disease. (Ha! Take that FTD!)

I will share some of the highlights that jumped out to me and information from some of the presentations, but what struck me the most were the meetings with people, most of whom I had only “met” virtually before. I was touched by the immediate friendship and love that happened among people who, if it were not for Facebook and FTD, would never have come into contact at all. But more about that later.

In his Welcome Address to the Conference, Jary Larson, the AFTD Board Chair, spoke of his personal connection to FTD and about inspiration, advocacy, and spreading awareness. But by far, the most powerful illustration of all these attributes was offered by Susan Suchan. IMG_2385Susan is diagnosed with the PPA variant of FTD and is a tireless and charismatic champion of the cause. You can see more of Susan’s courageous and powerful story in “SUSAN’S STORY” but for now, take it from me that she is the funny, generous and staunch advocate that we all need. I know that many people gain comfort from her courage and the fact that she is willing to put herself out there and show the world what FTD is, what it does to people and their families and show that dementia of any kind, but especially FTD, changes a person’s abilities, but not who they are. 

After the opening, there were two excellent presentations by physicians –an overview of the various FTD disorders and subtypes by Dr Alvin Holm, followed by a presentation of advances in research and what is/will be happening to find out why and how the object of our misery comes about. Dr David Knopman spoke of small advances being made, but it is agonizingly slow progress, with clinical trials taking place over the next five years in longitudinal genetic studies.IMG_2386

One of the most exciting things that followed the medical information was the announcement by Dianna Wheaton from the the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration – AFTD, of the implementation of an FTD Disorders Registry. This is a chance to tell your story! The Registry needs feedback via research but mainly from anecdotal “storytelling” from people like you which will enable the collection of data to contribute to further research. The Registry will pull together all the scattered pieces of information to provide a critical tool in research, funding and demographic data. The Registry will advance the science towards a cure, and your story will become part of the movement. You can join the Registry HERE and follow them on social media Facebook and Twitter

Following Dianna’s presentation, there was a Q and A session with the panel of physicians, most of which centered around genetic research and potential treatments. People were really interested in these things obviously, but sadly, there were few definitive answers and many “we don’t know”s. The good news is that more funding seems to finally be coming our way and there is great hope for progress, albeit slow.

During these presentations there were separate concurrent sessions for diagnosed people to attend. The topic was “Building Bridges”, presented by Matt Sharp and Teresa Webb from the AFTD. By all accounts, it was very informative and engaging.

During a nice boxed lunch, there was opportunity for networking and socializing with everyone that you hadn’t yet connected with. I had the privilege of meeting up with Susan Suchan and some other people who actually have FTD. They are such a shining example of never giving up, and working diligently to ensure that the word gets out. They fight the good fight for everyone else and never cease to amaze me with their good humor, humility and courage. It was so good to meet up with people I had only ever seen on Facebook and hear their stories in person. I also reconnected with a couple of old friends, both of whom I found through FTD – Geri Hall and Rebekah Wilson, who were presenting in the breakout sessions at the Conference. Geri is a renowned expert on FTD, although she is very humble and modest about it. She is a PhD and an Advanced Practice Nurse and Clinical Nurse Specialist at Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix. Among other things, Geri has developed many programs of care strategies for people with dementia and sees people with complex behavioral needs. Rebekah is a Social Worker who works to provide education regarding dementia and dementia care standards. She has devoted much of her career to improving the quality of life for those with dementia and their care partners and in hospice support.  I first came to meet Geri and Rebekah when they co-facilitated FTD Support groups here in Phoenix. They were immensely helpful to me and many others during times of crisis and in helping manage behaviors and placement issues.

When we returned from the break, Susan Dickinson, the Executive Director for the AFTD, presented some information about upcoming events and news regarding funding and awareness. In August of this year, the 10th Annual International Meeting for Frontotemporal Disorders will take place in Munich, Germany. There will be research applications, advocacy and biomarkers initiatives. Raising awareness is key here too, and about 10 countries will be represented. World Awareness Week will take place this year from September 25 through October 2nd, with many Food For Thought events taking place. This year, there has also been the “#whoilove” campaign that took place in February, where several families, caregivers and diagnosed persons made short videos about their experiences and posted them on the AFTD website to encourage donation and awareness. Susan also spoke of the increasing number of support groups now facilitated by the AFTD and volunteers, both phone and “Zoom” online groups. 12 new groups were started in 2016, making 32 in all, with 41 group facilitators. the AFTD has been busy providing training in group dynamics, facilitation skills and current information. The focus is on high-quality and supporting challenges. There is also a helpline, email contact address and lots of information on their website http://www.theaftd.org/

Dr Alvin Holm presented a Care Paradigm for people with FTD, one which includes disease-specific therapies, wellness management, in addition to environmental support.  Dr. Holm’s described the physical, caregiver and expectational support needed for persons with FTD very accurately and with compassion and knowledge. One of the biggest takeaways of the day for me was when he said-

Environmental support is to someone with FTD what a prosthetic limb is to an amputee

The four breakout sessions for the afternoon were:

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  • “Supporting Each Other” – specifically for diagnosed persons
  • “Movement Disorders” – for people interested in PSP, CBD or FTD/ALS
  • “Language Disorders” for people interested in PPA
  • “Behavior Disorders” – positive approaches to behavior changes at home and in the community
  • “Residential and Facility Care” – for people considering residential care and how to promote a positive experience
  • “Comfort Care and End of Life Considerations” for issues in advanced FTD, addressing end of life decisions and the value of hospice care.

 

 

When the groups reconvened in the main room, there was a presentation by Dr Darby Morhardt and a panel discussion on the various aspects of the impact of FTD on families. Two of the panel members were spouses of people with FTD and parents of younger children.There was a very moving video presentation made by the panel member’s children, discussing how their respective mother’s and father’s FTD had affected them over the last few years.

Next, Charlene Martin-Lille shared some techniques and practical tools for managing stress during your FTD caregiving. Charlene teaches classes in resiliency – stress management, mindfulness and positive psychology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. She often works with and advocates for those with dementia and their care partners.

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The keynote speaker for the conference was Nancy Carlson – a writer and illustrator of children’s books, who began a blog about her journey with her husband Barry as he battles FTD. You can read Nancy’s blog here. Nancy has written and illustrated more than 60 children’s books since 1979.  Her creativity is one of the things that helps her cope with so much loss in her life.

The conference provided a wealth of information in the lobby area for volunteering, regional information, grassroots events and group facilitators. Following the closing address by Jary Larson and Susan Suchan (more tears!), there was a lovely dinner reception hosted by the AFTD.

The conference was such a great opportunity for meeting, networking and socializing with people who truly “get it”.

 

Feedback on the conference was requested and I hope that the AFTD will use the comments and evaluations to make next year’s conference in Baltimore equally, if not more, engaging.

This week, I will work on getting the Conference program and resources into a pdf format, so that I can email it to you and you can explore and enjoy. There was lots of information and quite a few handy “checklists” that will be useful in various aspects of caregiving.

As I said at the beginning of this post, one of the greatest things about this conference was getting to meet so many people who had previously only been out there in the ether. There was a terrific sense of camaraderie and friendship almost immediately, largely due to our shared experiences, sense of humor and love of wine. It was an honor and privilege to meet you all and I hope to continue these friendships as we all travel this path, even though we are in different places, literally and along the FTD journey. Thank you so much to all, you have enriched my life more than you will ever know x

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FTD – Mission Impossible!

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela

Work – it means something different to everyone. What is it anyway? I have written about it here before, about what it means to someone with FTD. It represents having control over one’s life, contributing to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As much as we all say “Oh God, it’s Monday already?”, work gives context to our lives, it gives us purpose and drive. If you’re lucky enough to love what you do, then it isn’t “work” in the true sense of the word.If you have a calling, a vocation, then your work is the very meaning of your life.

Three weeks ago, I went into my job of more than ten years as usual. It was the place where I had received a huge amount of support during our FTD years. The place where I felt safe from the ravages of the bastard disease, if only for a few hours. Work was my savior on those days when my world was closing in and FTD commanded my every waking moment. In a responsible, high-level position, I had to focus on other people and their needs, instead of mine and those of my husband. It gave me a wonderful sense of pride and humanity to be in a place where only those closest to me knew what was happening in our lives and those I served had no clue.

Three weeks ago, I went there as usual, bright and early. Two hours later, I was in my car on my way home from that place for the last time. Ten and a half years finished and over. My supporters and antagonists left behind to move in the “different direction” that, it had been decided, did not include me or my position. It’s ok. I tell you this not to glean sympathy or pity. I tell you this because I am happy that I am healthy enough, mentally and physically to understand what freedom this new turn of events will offer.

donald trump

It has given me fresh perspective. I don’t think that the decision was intended to please me, or make me happy, but it actually did and does. Now I have the time and energy to devote to –well, whatever I damn well please. Now, I have the benefit of knowing that I have spent the last ten years working towards this moment. Five of those ten years have been spent in grief and loss. But those people, that place, gave me the strength to get through whatever FTD had to throw at me. My work sanctuary sufficed to give me the stability I needed to survive the last five years and I did.

Actually, I did more than survive. Because, despite the best efforts of the bastard disease, I not only survived, I thrived. I thrived because I had the support, the love and the salvation that I needed to get through it all. All those things that you are going through are survivable. I’m pretty sure you don’t think so, I never did. Actually, I never even really thought of it in that way, I simply got through the day-to-day, just like you do. But now, on the other side, I can see that everything I had in place – my family, my friends, my work, were all just crutches that were available to help me. I know that some of you feel that you have little or no support., your families, or those of your loved one having abandoned you in some way, or they just don’t get it. But, even though you may feel alone, be patient, because someone, somewhere will be coming along I am sure. Not in the romantic sense, but a person or persons who will be a support and comfort to you.

Along my journey, not long after Alan died, I met a woman, a minister no less, who had also lost her husband to FTD. The chances of this happening are pretty random, but meet we did and share we did. She was just in my life for a very brief time before our paths parted, but I believe she came into my life for a reason and I am very grateful for that. She was part of my “life in progress” situation.

The FTD path is never easy, and I mean , never. You all have a different story to mine and to everyone else who is caring from someone with FTD. Some of you work outside the home in addition to caring for your FTD’er and that is challenging indeed. At the various stages, some of which only last for a few days, you come up with ways that will ease your path and get through this particular stage.

For example, when my husband’s sense of time was slipping, I would leave for work before he was awake,  prepare his breakfast, leave a note out on the counter to tell him his lunch was in the fridge and put a note on his sandwich in the fridge saying “Lunch”. Phew!  One time my son went over to check on him at 10 am and he had already eaten his lunch. Hm. So my devious plan didn’t work then.

So with FTD, your new mission, should you choose to accept it, is to invent and reinvent new ways in which to keep your FTD’er alive and well. Every single day. If you’re lucky, you may get through a few weeks, or even months, without a significant change. But change will come, as sure as the sun rises in the morning. It will keep you on your toes that’s for sure. Reinvention of yourself and your routines and schedules is the only way to cope.

  • A sense of humor will keep you sane. Laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. Cry at the futility of everything, then laugh again in the face of FTD and give it the bird.
  • No matter how ridiculous a solution seems, give it a try. You never know. Chocolate ice cream for breakfast? If it gets you out the door to work and them to day care, what the hell? Puddle jumping in wellington boots? Sure. Reruns of “Two and a Half Men” on a loop? Heck yes, if it gives you 10 minutes of uninterrupted time to do something you want to do. Fake ID/credit card? Thank you. When it doesn’t work?- “Oh those things are hopeless, I’ll call the bank/DMV tomorrow and complain”. Kid’s toy paper money? Oh yes.
  • Flexibility with work schedule is a godsend if you can do it. I used to go in at 4am so I could be home at noon. Since my husband rarely rose before 8am, it worked. I realize that’s not for everyone, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
  • “Therapeutic fiblets” are invaluable. “The car is in the shop”, “I will call _______ tomorrow”, “That door lock is broken”, “The store is closed” etc etc.

As you can see and you know, being an FTD caregiver is in itself a full time job. Being inventive and creative about your life is a necessary part of it. Don’t be too hard on yourself is probably the single most important thing. No-one ever died from not getting a shower today, or eating vanilla ice cream for three meals a day, even with diabetes. Co-morbidities, or other illnesses that your loved one may have in conjunction with their FTD, become insignificant once you’re faced with the inevitability of FTD. Keeping them healthy is a poor second to keeping them safe.

One of the hardest things sometimes is to do what everyone urges you to do – “cherish every moment”. Good advice indeed, but sometimes that takes work too. Sometimes all you want to do is lie down and sleep, even if it means missing a momentary spark of lucidity. There comes a time when you have to give in to your own emotions and exhaustion and give yourself some succor. Being an inventor is exhausting. You come up with a million ideas, but only one of them works. It’s worse than being on Shark Tank. Your efforts will be dissected and rejected. Your FTD’er will give you that glazed-eye look and your plan will bite the dust. Oh well, on to the next thing.

The constant need for change is defeating too. You are trying to keep all the balls in the air – work, home, children, school, aging parents, and that annoying ticking noise in your car. And then come up with a solution for how to hide that bag of Doritos in a place where it cannot be found – again. If you are like me, your job is a haven of non-FTD related stuff. The people there are demanding in a different way and, for some reason, don’t seem to be nearly as much trouble as the one you have at home. The separation is bliss. Of course, many FTD caregivers don’t have the luxury of going out of the house alone every day. For them, life is a constant loop of invention and distraction, cleaning and hiding. You people are warriors of a different nature. Hardened to the sights, smells and sounds of your love slowly drifting away. I for one feel that I got off lucky in some respects. Going out to work saved me from my own insanity. I salute you for being there 24/7 and giving your all. Caring for someone with FTD is definitely not for wimps and Mission Impossible is handled every day.

This message will self-destruct in one minute. Make sure that you don’t.

 

FTD –the Guilty Party

Let’s just get one thing straight. Guilt is not something people can tell you not to have. How the hell can you erase guilt? It’s an emotion over which you have no control.

“Don’t feel guilty about going for a manicure/taking some time for yourself/eating your dinner”

That’s all well and good, but one voice in your shoulder says “Yes! You deserve it!. Go ahead and do something for you for a change”. The other voice says “What? You’re doing something for yourself? Are you kidding me? You’re a caregiver, for God’s sake. What about him/her? Come on, you shouldn’t be doing that. You’ve got (substitute any caregiving task here) to do”.

Angel and devil

So clearly, telling you not to feel guilty isn’t going to work is it? One half of you wants to do what you want to do, because, well, you haven’t done that in a long, long time. The anger and resentment feeds  the part of you that needs, yes needs, something dammit. The other half, the rational side, wants you to do what you do for the other twenty-three hours a day/seven days a week. The stuff that you do for other people. Because let’s not kid ourselves here. You don’t just take care of your FTD’er. Oh no, you feel it necessary to take care of the rest of your family too. Granted if you have small children or teens, then you have to somehow figure out how to give them time and what they need too. But if you have no children or they are grown and gone, then they and your other relatives and friends need to figure out for themselves how they are handling this issue of FTD

Sure, you can help them to understand what is happening and help them to come to terms with it. But you can’t do it for them. They have to figure that out for themselves. That’s where the guilt comes in. You feel guilty about not being able to make it right for everyone else. You feel guilty that you can’t fix your husband/wife/friend/partner. You feel guilty -well, just because. There doesn’t need to be a reason. People can try to make you feel guilty. But actually only you can allow that to happen. You can explain till you’re blue in the face what’s going on. But at the end of the day, the guilt can either break you, or lead you to a way of thinking that will make you a little more free.

Accepting that the guilt belongs to someone else and not to you is a breakthrough. If you can reach that understanding, your life with FTD may be a little less fraught. A little less heavy. Because guilt certainly is a heavy burden, that’s for sure. It can make you yield to suggestions or actions that you don’t really think are right. But pressure from other people can do funny things to you. The heaviest pressure of all is from yourself. Your expectations of how you think you will manage the bastard disease will never come to fruition.

FTD is cunning and clever. It can give you delusions about your abilities. It can make you doubt yourself a thousand times a day. But guilt? Guilt is one of the jewels in the crown of the bastard disease. Jewel in the crown

FTD, while affecting the mind of your love one, will do its best to guilt you into becoming a cooperative partner in its dirty deeds. It will try to take your independent thoughts and replace them with FTD-centric ones. It will scream “Me, me!” and guilt you into not going to the wedding/party/spa/vacation. just so you can spend more time acceding to its every demand. It’s not your loved one making the demands, it’s the bastard disease.

I can now see how guilty I felt every minute of every day. Every time I enjoyed something my husband would have enjoyed. Every time I held our grandchildren. Every time I watched a movie that I know he would have liked, or laughed at or cried at. I felt guilty, but now I see it was because I was afraid. Afraid of what I knew was to come. Enjoying things without him, living without him.

Of all terminal diseases, FTD can be one of the most cruel. For so long, there seems to be little that has changed. Then one day, you have to remind someone how to put their pants on one leg at a time. You have to order their food in a restaurant because they can’t get their tongue around the words. You have to buy adult diapers for your 45-year old husband/wife. You have to hide the car keys. Guilt blossoms because you feel like it is you that is taking everything away. You that is depriving your loved one of whatever it is.

It’s not you. Just like the behaviors and the speech problems and the mobility issues are not your loved one, they are not you either. The bastard disease, while chipping away at the brain, likes to chip away at yours a little too. Whittling away at your resolve and strength. Piling on the guilt, as if it’s all your fault. Well I’m here to tell you that it’s not. Can you control guilty feelings? No. But maybe you can accept them. Maybe you can see them for what they really are. Feelings. Guilt is only one of a myriad of emotions that you are experiencing as you travel this FTD journey. I can’t tell you not to feel it. Even if I did, you couldn’t. But maybe you can keep it subdued. Maybe you can let other feelings override it a little. Feelings like pleasure, comfort, sadness, anger. It’s not easy.

I talk a good fight, but I felt guilt too. Guilt about “therapeutic fibs. Guilt about taking away the car keys, money and all kinds of independence which had become dangerous to my husband. Guilt about placing my husband in residential care. Guilt about going out to a nice dinner, or the theater or a trip. I couldn’t not feel it. But I found a way around it. A way that allowed me to say “I deserve it”. You do too. But no amount of me telling you that will work. You have to be able to tell yourself that. You do deserve it. Really.

 Spa

FTD observations – “Oh, THOSE people”

“Those people”. You know those people who ruin your life. The ones who, when you have FTD, tell you that you can’t drive, go out alone, cook anything, use sharp scissors and pretty much anything else you want to do.

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Those people are the pits aren’t they? When you have FTD, they make you take a shower and change your clothes when you don’t want to.

Those other people – the ones who don’t live at your house, but somehow seem to control your life, they take away your driver’s license, tell you that your new debit card is in the mail and block your internet.

Those people at the supermarket, they count out your change, but you’re not sure if it’s right or not. Those people at the airport, they tell you to walk through the little tunnel thing and then tell you to stop when it beeps.

If only your mouth worked properly, you’d be able to explain that you’re not a child or an imbecile. It’s just that your brain gets mixed up.

cookies and ice cram

Those people keep hiding the cookies, damn them. And the chips and the ice cream. When you put your boots in the freezer though, you found the ice cream. And ate it. All of it. Yum.

 

When you spoke to those people in the bar, they smiled and nodded. Then moved away slowly. When you asked someone a question in the bookstore, they turned and walked away. Perhaps they were foreign and didn’t speak English?

When you went into the bathroom, those people helped you take off your shorts and underwear. But what is that white round thing on the floor? What do you mean, sit down? You’re standing there half-naked. But what are you supposed to do now? Pull up your shorts and go out of the room. Oh, so frustrating, they just don’t get it, those people.

When you have FTD, those people just don’t get it.

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FTD & Resilience. Get your Nikes on!

Running shoes

You’ve heard me talk about strength, courage, pain and love in my articles here.

Resilience

 

 

 

…………………Now that’s something completely different.

Imagine you are in the middle of running a marathon. You didn’t have time to train for it, someone just called you and said “Hey, the marathon is tomorrow, you’re in!”

No training, no diet changes, no education, no building up for it.

The marathon that is caring for someone with FTD is a little like that. It can start pretty slowly, innocuously. And you think, hmm this isn’t so bad. You try to pace yourself. everything’s under control. You see the first few miles go by, stretch the legs a little, take a few sips of water. After about 5 miles, you’re into it now. Rhythm, pace, -you know you can do it!

Those first weeks, months, even years for some people with FTD can seem quite manageable. You get a little routine going. You are able to continue many of the things you did before the diagnosis and/or suspicion. Going out to dinner, visiting with friends. Trips, movies, all the good stuff that life is all about.

Then, around mile 18 (or so I’ve heard) you hit what is commonly known amongst runners as “The Wall”.wall

The wall is a fearsome thing indeed. The wall in FTD comes around the middle stages.That time when your loved one begins to metamorphose into someone you don’t know. Then the race really begins.

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You have barely got used to the very fact that something is different and changes will be coming, when bam! Here they are. The changes. The mood swings, the irrationality, the anti-social behavior and well, frankly, the meanness. Then all you want to do is run away. FTD is most definitely not a sprint, its a marathon.  A marathon you haven’t trained for. A marathon with no medal at the end. Sometimes you will have a team with you, other times you will be solo. Most of the time, you will be running alone. Coping with this requires the resilience of a marathon runner for sure.

Resilience is one of those spirits contained within humanity that helps us to endure pain, torture, loss and grief. Resilience is what has helped humans survive for millions of years. You CAN endure. You can and will overcome. I know, I’ve done it. You have what it takes contained within you. It’s all trained and ready to go. There’s no manual. No neat set of instructions. You know your loved one better than anyone. You know what they need. You know what you can give. And just when you think you can’t give any more, you will find a reserve within you that will help you go on.

Resilience. It helps the millions of marathon runners cross that finish line all the time. In the FTD world, the finish line is not one we really want to reach. We don’t want to get to that banner across the street that tells us it’s over. As painful as the race is, we don’t want it to be over.

Benjamin Franklin (not a man who ran many marathons) said:

“I didn’t fail the test – I just found 100 ways to do it wrong”

Your test, your assignment, (should you choose to accept it) is to run your marathon with the heart of a lion, the stealth of a tiger and the resilience of Nelson Mandela. Now there was a man who knew about resilience.  Your life as you knew it is changed forever, just as Nelson’s was. Acceptance is not the same as giving up. Accepting the results of FTD is not giving in to it. Accepting is not resignation. Acceptance is a tool that will help you win through, one battle at a time. One wall at a time. The finish line will eventually be in sight.

The banner across the road will read “Finish”. You will not receive a medal. But you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you did everything you could to carry you and your loved one across that line. Everything you could, despite the blisters in your heart, the pain in your soul and the sweat on your brow.

Medal of the heartHere is a medal for everyone who is caring for Frontotemporal Degeneration right now. I commend your bravery, your love and your resilience.

FTD – Frontotemporal Tastes and Delights

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 Food, glorious food!

Food is such an important part of our lives.

Some of us have too much, some of us don’t have enough. Everyone has their favorite. Everyone has the stuff they hate.

The many variants and stages of FTD are related to food in so many ways. Like most phases, the food phase is insidious in onset. You suddenly realize that your loved one is raiding the kitchen cabinets, the cookie jar, the fridge, and eating everything in sight. If they are home alone for much of the day, it may take you a while to realize this. Many FTD’ ers develop an extremely sweet tooth and will devour ice cream, candy, chocolate, puddings and pies.

As is the habit of many of us who have hit the cholesterol and sodium awareness phase of our lives, we are accustomed to watching what we eat. We try to maintain a somewhat ‘healthy’ diet and exercise when we can. Many of our loved ones have always been fit and healthy and remain so throughout their encounter with FTD. So it rather goes against the grain (if you’ll pardon the pun) to rein those habits in and let someone eat and drink whatever they like.

I learned to deal with this via a mentor and expert in all things terminal, including FTD. Her philosophy is “chocolate is love to someone who is dying”. They don’t care if they eat healthily. They don’t even know what that means anymore.

Chocolate

The truth is, many of us are comforted by food. Not necessarily sweets either, although they seem to be popular with FTD’ers. We all have our ‘turn to” favorites. Mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, chicken soup – sometimes it’s something that evokes a comfortable memory or just a general feeling of security.

We are consumed with the preservation of life. But I am here to tell you that my husband would never have thanked anyone, including me, for extending his life one more day in the condition that he was. As healthy as he had always been, he would prefer to eat his candy and cookies and to hell with it.  I am sure that many people in the midst of FTD, if they could tell you, would say the same.

I listened to psychiatrists, psychologists and other people talk about “quality of life”. What the heck is that when you have an untreatable, incurable disease that no-one really knows much about? Comfort should be the only priority. If comfort comes in the shape of a Hershey bar, then so be it. Quality of life, like pain, should be what the patient believes it to be. This may be the single most important thing that you advocate for – what your loved one believed to be “Quality”, when they still understood their life.

Only you can hold out and give them what they want. If your goal is to make their last years, months, weeks, days as pleasurable and comfortable as possible, then, in the words of Marie Antoinette:

“LET THEM EAT CAKE!”

(I always imagine her saying this with “Daaahling” at the end, in a voice like Zsa Zsa Gabor)

Marie Antoinette

At least until they can’t anymore. Then you are faced with another decision. It may be easy for you, as it was for me. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt (and had it in writing), that the last thing my husband wanted was any form of life-extending procedure, such as a feeding tube. Our thoughts were simple. If you need a feeding tube to save or prolong your life and there is no hope of recovery from your dreadful condition, what exactly are we saving you for?

This may sound extreme or heartless, but believe me, saving someone and keeping them in what can only be described as a state of purgatory, with no hope of rescue, is a decision that many people come to regret. I see it every day in my work. Because making the decision to pour liquid down a tube into someone’s stomach, is only temporary. At some point in the not-too-distant future, the decision will need to be reversed. Then you have a completely different set of emotions to deal with.

It feels like you’re killing them, starving them to death. You yearn for the cake days. The days when they would only eat Cheerios or whatever.

As odd as it sounds, that happened to me quite often through our journey. As hellish as each stage was, the next was worse. I found myself longing for days when it was only the clothes-changing that drove me crazy. Or the washing of dishes, or filling boots with rocks. Every time a new, worse period began, I would have gone back gladly.

And when it was all over, I even found myself looking back fondly on days when we drove to Day Care, or I visited one of the different facilities where my husband eventually lived. Without me. Even the most hellish of days was missed. Still is.

Funny what you think is okay. It changes every day.

Cake is okay. Chocolate is okay. Respecting someone’s wishes is okay.

Doing the right thing is okay. The right thing for you. The right thing for the one you love.

It might not be the thing or things you want to do, but that’s okay too.

Your standards of okay are different now.

Whatever, whenever are the golden rules. Long may they reign!

candy cake

Frontotemporal Visitation – yes or no?

Prison barsTo visit or not to visit, that is the question?

You hate to see them that way, but you want to see them.
You feel guilty if you don’t go, saddened if you do.

Keeping a relationship going with your loved one with FTD is difficult at the best of times. Once they are institutionalised, you are faced with a whole new set of decisions.

Just making the decision to ‘place’ them somewhere other than your home is one of the most difficult things you will ever do.

If, like I did, you try to make their new place as ‘homely’ as possible, you may be very upset when they don’t even notice the favorite pictures on the wall. The photographs of your grandchildren. Or a memorable trip you took together.
They won’t notice the cashmere sweater you got them for Christmas.
Hell, they probably won’t even notice if you don’t visit.
That hurts.
It hurts that your efforts to overcome your grief, sadness and anger are often for nothing. It takes a superhuman effort to ‘keep it going”.

Superhuman effort to keep your needs under wraps.

We only try to ‘carry on’ for our own benefit. It’s not selfish, it’s self-protection. We use the practicalities of resolving issues to paper over the cracks of the situation.

It’s out of control. Often you feel out of control. You desperately hold on to everything you hold dear. Your routines and schedules. Your little habits. The things you did together.

The visit comes around and you fit it in to your routine. You have a new routine every week it seems. Your FTD life, albeit changed now that you deal with it outside your house, continues.

If you still work, you focus on that during the times when you’re not FTD’ing. It’s a welcome distraction. Anything so you don’t have to think about what you did. What’s happening in your life.

People marvel at your ability to cope. But it’s all a sham. Another superhuman effort to disguise the fact that inside you are breaking up.

The one person who would help you through such difficult times is the very cause of your anguish. But they can’t help you.

It’s like watching them drowning in sight of the shore, but your feet are in encased in concrete and you cannot run into the ocean to save them. The ocean of FTD is unrelenting. Its tide washes over everything, scooping up your life until it becomes flotsam and jetsam scattered over the sand of time.

Visiting can either be a relief – you are reassured that they are being taken care of physically so that you can share emotions (which they no longer have).Or it can be a trial of frustration and sadness because they no longer acknowledge your caring and love. Sometimes it’s both.

So it’s tempting at times not to go. Just not to go. The physical pain caused by the emotional anguish can just be too much. But then, the guilt comes. Guilt is a powerful soldier of the FTD General. It will follow you around, sit on your shoulder, peck at your head. Guilt is good at steering you back to what you don’t want to do.

But you do want to do it.

But then you don’t.

Yes, you do – oh wait, it hurts.

Visiting is such a dichotomy. You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. I can’t tell you not to feel guilty if you don’t want to go. Sometimes you just feel like staying home and being ‘normal’. Relaxing and not doing anything in particular. But there goes that guilt again. “You shouldn’t be doing that! Not when your loved one is suffering so.”

The suffering is yours too. They don’t know they’re suffering. In a place with good care, their needs are being met. They don’t really have ‘wants’ anymore, just needs. And that is one of the things that is so hard to understand.  They don’t ‘want’ anything. They don’t ‘have’ anything. They don’t want their own stuff. They don’t ‘want’ their other life. They don’t ‘want’ you.

They don’t ‘miss’ anything.

And even though you know they are not doing that by choice, it still hurts.

Visits are overrated, I think.driftwood

Nominated for The Liebster Award – I’m flattered!

liebster2_thumb-copyThanks to Wendy at http://yellowmumblog.wordpress.com for her faith in my work.

Although I don’t really think of it as work. I get an idea in my head and somehow it makes its way onto the page. Sometimes I’m not even sure how it happens. The words come tumbling out and arrange and rearrange themselves into some semblance of order.

There have been so many words over the last two years I have finally pulled them all together into a book – “The Dance” – which tells of our journey through Frontotemporal Dementia. The book will hopefully be published in April – watch this space for more details!

Here are the rules for the Liebster Award  :

1. Each nominee must link back the person who nominated them.
2. Answer the 10 questions which are given to you by the nominator.
3. Nominate 10 other bloggers for this award who have less than 200 followers.
4. Create 10 questions for your nominees to answer.
5. Let the nominees know that they have been nominated by going to their blog and notifying them.

So here are the questions I have to answer in response to my nomination for the Liebster Award:

1) If you had to go and live on a desert Island, what 3 things would you take with you? 

If life-sustaining things like water and food are assumed then here are my three things……

i) My laptop! But then of course, to make it work – well, keep it charged anyway, so I would also need a generator. Does that count as number 2)? I’m taking a liberty and saying no!

Having a laptop would give me all the things I love – music, contact with my family, images and the ability to communicate.

ii) A comfy bed – can’t beat a good night’s sleep. Anything is possible with a few good zzzz’s under your belt!

iii) Bug spray – hate being bitten by those buggers.

2) What makes you weep with laughter?

Actually not too much anymore. I smile and giggle, but have not laughed till I cried really for quite a while. The last time I remember was before my husband died. A very childish incident at a Planetarium with my sister-in-law while discussing Uranus……you can use your imagination to figure out how immature we were being!

3) Would you describe yourself as introverted or extroverted?

Introverted. Which will surprise many people as I have a lot of bravado which may give the illusion of an extrovert. In fact, like an iceberg, there is much more that is not apparent above the surface. I think and believe things by which some of my friends and coworkers would be quite shocked I think.

4) Do you like mayonnaise? (I have to ask this, as I can’t stand the stuff)

Yes, but not thickly spread – just a thin layer on a sandwich, or as a flavored side element of something to dip in it.
5) If this was you last week on earth, how would you spend it?

With my wonderful family, at the beach.
6) Do you prefer the city or countryside?

The city for the vibe – people, noise, traffic, bars, the theater, music, good food. The country for peace and quiet, clear air, the smell of cut grass, relaxing in a garden listening to the birds and breezes in the trees. I want it all!

7) Do you have any phobias?

Hmmm no, not really phobias. There are things I choose not to experience, but would not completely freak out if I had to. Being in the pitch black dark is not my choice, nor would be eating anything disgusting like they do on “Fear Factor”.
8) What’s your favourite hobby?

Right now, Zumba! It’s my favorite form of exercise – it’s like a party. The music is intoxicating and it’s a great workout that doesn’t feel like one.
9) Can you roll your tongue?     Yes.

10) What single quality do you most appreciate in people?

Sincerity. I don’t care if you don’t like me – just don’t pretend you do. Being polite and professional is one thing, but ingenuity stands out a mile to me.

So there you have it – the answers to the  questions.

Here are the blogs I nominate:

http://terry1954.wordpress.com

http://dawn7238.wordpress.com

http://myhusbandhasftd.wordpress.com

http://fuckdementiatodeath.wordpress.com

http://alzheimershopeandhelp.wordpress.com

http://wp.me/3cTu0

http://lynnbowerdementia.wordpress.com

There are supposed to be 10 but as one of the criteria is that the blog has to have fewer than 200 followers, it was difficult.  some blogs don’t show how many followers they have. I actually don’t follow that many blogs.

To be honest, I find it hard to believe that some of the blogs I see have thousands of ‘Followers’. I find it fascinating (and sometimes a little dull) – the things people write about. Honestly, some of it is utter drivel. Maybe I’m just not seeing it, but writing about how depressed you are because your boyfriend packed you in is just not interesting to me. Perhaps its a generational thing, but it seems self-indulgent to expect sympathy from a group of complete strangers who don’t give a s**t about you or your life. To each his own I guess. Of course, I am not including any of my nominees in that statement, some of them are going through truly horrible times in their lives and I admire them immensely.

What do some of these people do all day? Don’t they have jobs? I am sometimes a little envious that I don’t get to sit home all day and just write. That would be heaven. Anyway, for now I will have to make do with writing in the evenings when I get home from work.

My nominations are meant sincerely and I genuinely feel something for each of the people whose work I read. They make me laugh, cry and think. They bring me memories – some good, some painful. But they make me feel something. And isn’t that why we all write? To demonstrate emotion?

So for my nominees – here are your ten questions:

1) Have you ever lived in another country? Where?

2) Do you meditate or do something else that is spiritual?

3) How do you like your eggs?

4) Which historical character (real or fictional) would you   like to meet and why?

5) What would you say if you were the first person to greet  visitor from another planet?

6) Favorite sport?

7) Do you use profanity? If not, why not?

8) How do you celebrate your birthday?

9) Why do you write?

10) How would you like to spend your days? (Choice not necessity)

Have fun. I am looking forward to reading your replies.

FTD – For 10 points, your first question is……..

Question mark purple

At the end of 2013, I asked if there were specific questions to which you would like me to respond. The responses and subsequent questions and comments were interesting and varied.

Most people seem to want to know what it was like for me. How did I cope? What little things made a difference to me? What gave me strength?

I have also been asked – How long was my husband ill for? How did I know when to move him into residential care? What was that like for me?

Other people seem worried by what moving forward to the next stage will mean. For them, for their family, for their loved one.

There are a million questions it seems. Obviously I don’t have all the answers. No-one does, nor can they. The uniqueness of every person means that we cannot generalize. The general rarity of FTD in relation to other dementias like Alzheimer’s means that the answer for one person may not be right for another. It seems that no two people or their caregivers have exactly the same experience.

So I feel that all I can do, post by post, is to take each of the questions and give a summary of how I dealt with that particular problem, or how someone I know dealt with it. Hopefully, you will find ideas to create a solution to your problem of the day, week or moment.

Number One 10The first topic – what things made a difference for me? Made it easier to cope?

Well, mainly my family and friends. Without them I would have gone completely insane. Their unconditional love and ability to know when I just needed someone on the other end of the phone was uncanny. To just listen to my crying at the other end of the phone. Just to hold my hand without speaking. To go and look at Care Homes for my husband, even when they didn’t want to.

I consider myself lucky in the extreme to have them in my life. My coworkers were amazing. Every day. every week. Every month. Listening, covering for me. listening some more. Shoulders to cry on, hands to hold. Hugs to give.

For three years, I had to put my usual fierce independence aside and take the help that I had always eschewed in the past. I could not do it alone. Don’t ever think that you can. Don’t even try.

I know people who had to do much of it alone. They were not as lucky as me. They had no family to speak of. One woman would tell us at the Support Group that her in-laws would not believe what was happening to their son. They refused to accept his illness. They accused her of controlling his life and keeping him from them. But they never offered to have him stay with them or come over and stay at their house while she went out for a day. They would never accept that he was no longer capable of making his own decisions. Not until the end stages.

Once he could no longer walk or talk or feed himself independently. Once they saw that his wife had to call the local Fire Station to help get him up if he fell down. Once they saw the soiled bed she slept in next to him every night. Once he died in his own home after she had taken total care of him for three years. Sacrificing her life and her work for him. Without them.

Without them. With the help of friends and respite caregivers. Without his family’s help.

Everyone deals with things in their own way of course, but I doubt she will ever forgive them for being so cruel.

So rally your friends & family. Tell them everything. Pull no punches. It is what it is. It’s not your fault. It’s not your loved one’s fault. There will be unpleasant, painful, exhausting times ahead. Rally the troops and figure out a plan. If it’s early days, ask your loved one what they want. How they want to be cared for. By whom. And what they want for you.

Don’t leave it too late for those conversations. With your FTD’er and your family. Don’t put it off. It’s important.

I was asked what made a difference to me during the time I cared for my husband. It was people.

All the people that make up the circle of my life. They were with me then and they are with me now.  They are not just people. They are MY people. I love them.

They know who they are. They love me. When I have red eyes, when I’m sobbing, when I’m complaining, when I was just damn exhausted and could not go on. They helped me go on. They made it possible for me to get up every morning and do it all again.

Thank you.

All of you. I will never forget what you did for me.heart and hands

Courage in the face of FTD. You can do it!

Courage

Oh Ernie! Ain’t that the truth! Such insight.

People will describe what you do as “Courage”.

You may not think what you do is courageous. But it is. You may think that anyone who loves someone would do what you do. But they wouldn’t.

You may think that if you love someone you do whatever it takes. If you’re married, you vowed to love and care for them “in sickness and in health, ’til death us do part” didn’t you?.

Death will part us all eventually of course. How, when and why remain a mystery. If it’s from FTD, you will have your love, your loyalty and your courage severely challenged.

The words ‘challenge’ and ‘courage’ are complimentary. The people I meet who are working through FTD face every challenge with courage they never thought possible. You will be amazed how it appears. You have no idea where it comes from.

People will compliment you upon it. Admire you even. Of course you’d rather not be admired for it under the circumstances. But honestly, it is nice to receive credit where it’s due.

And it is due. You should take it.

The courage required of you to traverse the rocky path of FTD would match anything that an Everest climber or a lone Atlantic sailor has. You will need every ounce of your being to watch the slow descent into the unknowing abyss. The abyss into which your loved one slips. Like a person falling off a cliff or a high building, you will first grasp their wrist, their palm, their fingertips and finally be forced to let go.

The ‘letting go’ isn’t death. It is allowing yourself the courage to face the truth. The truth that FTD, the silent thief, is doing its dirty work against you. Accepting this requires the courage that you didn’t or don’t think you have. But you do.

You really do. Sometime in the future you will realize that what you did was almost superhuman. You will realize that courage isn’t about physical strength or getting through a crisis.

It’s about realizing and accepting that which you cannot change. (As the saying goes)

  • You are no longer ‘a couple’.
  • You have to think of yourself as a single person. BUT you’re not. You are a widow or widower- in -waiting.
  • You have to make decisions that you don’t want to make.
  • You will need help, which you may not have ever needed or wanted before.
  • You will feel exhausted.
  • You will feel overwhelmed. 

Not all of them, all the time of course. But all of them at various points in the journey. It’s ok.

Courage is what will see you through. The courage derived from your love, your loyalty, your fidelity to your love. You have it. It’s in there. Just search round in the myriad of emotions that are going on with you in the moment. Draw on it like water to a man in the desert. It will bring confidence, relief and strength.

Courage is not the same as strength.Unpleasant awakening

Strength is what you will build throughout your journey. Courage is you. Courage is what you possess inside. It is there to help you through this. It is there to help you build the strength. If you were lucky enough to have had a strong, loving relationship through the years as I was, your partner will have helped you build this courage. He or she will have built upon your innate courage and turned it into something that will help you to help them.

Power.

The power to weather the storm. The power to make your love the guiding force.

The power to show your courage proudly for all to see. Like a banner.

One that you can fly proudly as a demonstration of your courage.

Flag on the moon