sports

FOOTBALL SEASON, KEN AND ALZHEIMER’S

It wasn’t as though I didn’t understand the game, I did.  Learning the rules, the jargon and the point of all that back-and-forth running was self-taught in high school when I found out the cute guy I had a crush on was our team’s quarterback.  Acquiring that knowledge, I never missed a game.  Hopefully when we ran into one other in the hall I might say a few brilliant words about his expertise.  I didn’t, only managing to mumble something clever like, “Good game.”  Once the crush was gone so was my interest in football until my sons were old enough and big enough to play in their high school games.  Being the mother allowed me to show my absolute admiration for their spectacular plays even when the team lost.

For Ken, however, the meaning of Fall was football.  But even more:  those men (and a sprinkling of women) who happened to be the first of their kind to view sports on television in the early 1950s were fans in every sense of the word fanatic.   Moreover, they never got over that phenomena of seeing their favorite team on TV.  It was like watching the space capsule splash down, but with football they could see it happen on a weekly basis with just the touch of a button on the tube.  The family often worried when Ken and his dad watched together.  Mentally, the two of them ran both directions,  felt every tackle, caught every pass,  bemoaned every fumble and shouted with joy at every touchdown.  “It’s bad enough with you,” I told Ken, “but I’m afraid your father is going to have a heart attack the way he carries on during these games.”  “He’s fine,” Ken reassured me.  And he was.

It just wasn’t the craziness that troubled me, it was the procrastination that it caused.  Football all week end and every game was important.   At least that was Ken’s excuse for watching every college game scheduled and the pros on Sunday.  Then it was Monday night to say nothing about New Year’s Day and all the scheduled bowl games.  It wasn’t that I didn’t like the game, it was all the time he invested in watching when he should have been cutting the lawn and doing all the other “Honey Do’s” that just didn’t get done.   Often I suggested he concentrate on watching “Football Highlights,” the best part of football all summed up in a brief half hour — or hour, whatever it was.   No.  Ken had to see them all from start to finish.   I often told him football was like my roll of film taken at Crater Lake:  see one, you’ve seen them all.

When Alzheimer’s robbed him of not only memory, but understanding and logic I encouraged him to watch television, particularly those programs which at one time were of interest to him — sports — and especially football.  I noticed that with each season, the game held his interest less and less.  As soon as a commercial came on he would leave his seat telling me the game was over.  He could no longer remember the continuity of the game itself.  Nevertheless, the other day I led him back once the game resumed, reminding him how much he enjoyed watching.  He sat for a minute or two as if to concentrate on what was happening, then rose abruptly and walked away.  “Wait!” I said, “You love this team.  Sit and watch.”  “No thanks,” he replied.  “This is the same game I saw last week.”  “Finally!” I said to myself. “Football games are the same as my photos of Crater Lake.  See one, see them all.  I’ve been trying to tell him that for more than a half century.”

Originally posted 2009-10-11 05:20:14.

SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE

When my two sisters and I were young marrieds and busy with children or careers we made every effort to stay close, visiting with one another as often as we could.  To make our relationship even more pleasant our husbands were good friends and enjoyed discussing their various fields of endeavor with one another:  Douglas, a jeweler; George, a chemist and Ken an engineer.  Douglas and Ken were WWII veterans having served in the Air Force while Ken was a Navy man.  George, however, had been 4F because of poor eyesight and hearing problems.  Nevertheless, the three delighted in conversation and would sit, bantering with one another about every subject imaginable; war experiences, college life, youth and their troubles, and solving national problems if not the world’s — not to forget sports.

We women described their endless discussions as “Can You Top This,” not to say they out-and-out lied to one another — maybe some fabrication — or better yet, they stretched the truth; each attempting to make his story, no matter what the subject, better than the others.  I had also noticed that our three weren’t much different from most other husbands we knew whose wives complained about their story telling, but right now I’m talking about just three men:  our men.  This is not an attempt to dissect the male psyche, but the habit of “Can You Top This” was something our men indulged in no matter who they were talking with, even us, their wives.  Perhaps, though, not to the degree of repartee savored for one another.

When Ken and I met the thing I liked best about him was his easy, relaxed personality; his broad comfort zone with people from all walks of life.  He could talk with anyone, something that was difficult for me, being rather shy.  I loved his stories, filled with fun and adventure.  He was the life of the party and he was my date.  Ken had the gift of fab and I was happy to be with him.

After we married I noticed his stories grew with the telling.  Happenings about his friends (when Ken wasn’t even there) began to include him as part of the escapade.  I was sure the base story was true, but I started to suspect he enjoyed elaboration and color to make his story just a little bit better, even fudging into some subject matters which were not of his expertise.  Nevertheless, he remained Mr. Charming and definitely Mr. Entertainment.  Our company took pleasure in his chatter and our young children clamored for him to tell his stories again and again, which he did beginning each episode with, “When I was in…….”

As the years passed I probably knew those accounts better than he:  high school sports (which were cut short by his becoming a Merchant Marine seaman at 15), followed by  his stint in the Navy, and then coming home from the war and finishing school.

Always athletic, he skied, had a brief spell with a fledgling (but doomed) semi-pro football team, played a little college and office-league basketball, and swung a baseball bat with the Dad’s Club of our elementary school, and our church athletic group.  If he couldn’t do it well, Ken didn’t do it at all.  For example, his experience with anything movable attached to his feet was a complete disaster.   As a family we tried roller and ice skating at the rinks, but Ken’s weak and wobbly ankles brought those undertakings to a quick end.  Good sport though he was, skating of any kind was not for him.

During all the years of our marriage, he was a sports enthusiast, seldom missing a game on TV, more often than not to my annoyance.  Now, with his Alzheimer’s disease I find myself scanning the screen for any competition which might hold his attention.   Several nights ago, I found a hockey game in full battle.  Personally, I had never paid much attention to Hockey, but as the skaters raced around the rink, I found myself watching.  “Look Ken,” I excitedly said, “They look like a bunch of chickens chasing a bug.”  I wondered in his dementia if he would pick up on what the skaters were doing, but he actually watched and laughed at the wild, fast movements as the players chased the small, black speck on the ice.  We talked a little bit about the game and he actually laughed at my chicken joke.  Then somewhere in his clouded mind the old fabricator struggled free and said, “When I was in high school, I played a little hockey…….not much, our team was really small, but we did all right…..”

I rolled my eyes, and smiled, it was nice to know that somewhere in that tangled mind, Ken, the great spinner of tall tales was still there playing his favorite game, “Can You Top This.”  Some things — hopefully — never change.

Originally posted 2009-07-09 05:56:49.

ALZHEIMER’S AND SUPER BOWL SUNDAY

Super Bowl IXVII

Once an enthusiastic sports fan Ken can no longer follow any game.  Alzheimer’s has robbed him of memory.

ALZHEIMER’S ROBS FAN

February 8, 2013 – Before Alzheimer’s and even a few years into the disease Ken was a sports’ nut, and has been all of his life.   I suppose I could just say “Fan” instead of nut which might be considered a more polite term, but the word fan is taken from fanatic, and Ken was fanatic about sports, so for me “nut” is definately appropriate.

I was a sports’ nut too, but only when any one of our children were involved.  It wasn’t as though I didn’t understand the rules of just about all sporting events; I did.  Furthermore, as a youth I was rather athletically inclined and participated in whatever games were scheduled in my P.E. classes during my school years. Everything except, of course, football, which I quickly learned having been afflicted with a mad crush on our team’s quarterback.  Continue reading

Originally posted 2013-02-09 18:30:55.

THE IMPORTANCE OF SIMPLE

Lincoln logs

We all enter the world as little tiny people — babies; and right from the near beginning we have reached out with eager little hands for activity spurred on by our insatiable curiosity: something to examine – to touch, to taste, to feel — a challenge to stimulate our brain, to satisfy the inquisitiveness of our growing bodies and minds.  Whether it’s a bevy of plastic birds clipped to the crib, a zoo of stuffed animals to play with or a bridge to build, man has thrived on activity whether it be play or work.

When Ken and I were fairly new grandparents, our daughter left her two sons, John and Peter, with us for the evening.  “What can we do?” was the immediate question.  A closet still filled, at the time, with puzzles, coloring books, board games, cars, trucks and other toys from their younger uncle’s youthful days was the answer. “Here you go,” I said, handing one of them a bag of Lincoln Logs for starters.

Dumping the contents on the floor, the two boys began laying logs in various directions.  With Lincoln logs, though, there is an interconnecting pattern which holds the cabin together.  I helped them fit a few of the pieces and told them they could finish.  After struggling, and having their building fall apart, John said to his grandfather, sitting nearby, “Grandpa, help us build this cabin.”  Grandpa’s interest was more centered on the evening news and tactfully declined.  “Please, help us.  Please, Grandpa, please, please, please.”  With enough intense coaxing, Grandpa reluctantly agreed and in no time the cabin was finished.

With proud satisfaction the two boys tore down and rebuilt the cabin a few more times, soliciting their grandfather’s help, before asking to play with something else.  “But first you have to pick up all the Lincoln logs and put them back in the bag,” I instructed.  “Ahhhh,” was the duet reply.  “Come on,” I insisted, “you played with them and now you have to put them away.”  “Okaaaaayyyyy, but Grandpa played too so he has to help.  Even if the Lincoln logs didn’t hold their attention all evening, their curiosity led them to many new adventures coming from the game closet with instructions, “Play and put away.”

At the other end of the spectrum, activity still remains an important factor on a daily basis, including the lives of those with afflictions found under the Dementia Umbrella. Boredom isn’t good at any age. However, Ken’s level of interest is diminished to almost zero as AD increases in severity; with drive and enthusiasm nonexistent.

My friend Darline’s AD is at mild cognitive loss.  She is fortunate to live with her daughter and her family, and with Darline as Top-Totem on the Totem Pole, there are four generations living under one roof.  On Mondays and Fridays Darline spends several hours at Adult Day Care while her daughter does catch-up with errands, her own doctor’s appointments, and other family obligations. Although Darline tells me she enjoys tuning in on family conversations about all of the activities and goings-on in the busy household, going to day care, where she has made a few new friends, gives her a break as well.  She also takes part in simple activities.

I believe Ken and I missed the opportunity for day care during his Alzheimer’s journey.  Up until last February, we went everywhere, and did just about everything together.  If we visited a friend, which was often at his request, he always needed to be assured that I wasn’t going to leave him.  Not even a consideration, but when I thought day care might be good for him, I also wondered if he would be willing to stay without me.   As the past year has been filled with readjustment and recuperation, he is pretty much content to be at home among what is familiar with his interests very limited.

Yet, his caregivers and I wonder how to increase his activity level.  A true sports fan at one time, television of any sort holds no interest.  Having been an out-of-doors kind of guy, and as the weather warms, Ken likes being outside.  Weather permitting, he is content with a very short walk or ride in the wheelchair, we can do that and then sit on the front porch, which is something he has always enjoyed.

He likes looking at picture books, photo albums (recognizing no one), rustling through the newspaper very briefly having lost most of his reading skills, and walking around the house to see what’s going on in each room. If Ken sees a stack of letters or papers on my desk, he’s interested.  Quickly, I divert his attention to something else and scurry him from the room.  I would like to give him all the junk mail to carry around and hide in books, but that adds too much confusion to my life. Overall, though, his span of interest is much like that of a very young child: short.

Reading one of the numerous blogs about AD activity, one caregiver reminded us not to overwhelm our patient with “too much.”  She had offered a coloring opportunity to her mother only to have mom just sit and stare at the crayons and paper.  Eventually she removed all but one red crayon.  Success!  Apparently, there were too many objects from which to choose, so she chose nothing.  With only one, she went right to work.  Good ideas need to be explored.

With one crayon and one page to color, I placed the project on a small, narrow table for Ken to ponder.  With another page and another crayon I pulled up a chair and sat across from him and began coloring my picture.  “Wouldn’t you like to color your page?” I asked, handing him a crayon.  He looked at the crayon and decided the bright color might be something to eat.  “No, no,” I cried, taking back the crayon.  Briefly, I continued with my page making an effort to attract his attention to my activity.  He spoke in disconnected sentences looking at me as if I wasn’t there.  There was no way he wanted to color.  At other times Ben has offered him a pencil and paper encouraging him to write his name.  All to no avail — some activities work while others don’t.

I tried a puzzle with Ken, but it held no interest although there were only five pieces.  It was a Spiderman puzzle and perhaps it was the subject matter he didn’t understand.   Even in its absolute simplicity and with my help he walked away.  I’ll try again – presenting a more simplified pattern with which he may relate.  What is important, however, is that we make the effort.  Keep trying, but keep it simple.

Our game closet has changed since we were new grandparents, and John and Peter are grown men with young ones of their own. The puzzles and games, even the Lincoln Logs, are gone with a few replacements added to keep the new generation entertained.  One of the zipper-closed-handy-handled-see-through plastic containers is filled to the absolute brim with colorful snap-on plastic blocks.  Wondering one day if “building” something might nudge at Ken’s engineering past Ben brought them out.  Not as complicated as Lincoln Logs, he began snapping them together, but before long his interest waned.  A colorful wall and the remaining scattered blocks were left on the table while he leaned back in his chair and took a short nap. Yet, each time they are introduced, he is interested.

Right now, it’s time to put everything away for another day.  Too bad Peter and John don’t live close by.  Perhaps it might be fun to help their grandfather build something, and when the project was finished they could help Grandpa put away the blocks.  In that imagined scenario it would be no more than right for them to help pick up.  After all, they played too.

Originally posted 2011-04-11 00:07:36.

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