What are you forgetting?

Olive cat in the morning sun.
Olive’s memory is just fine.

Have you noticed yourself forgetting things lately? I have. I can walk into a room for something and forget why I am there. Also, I can’t go the grocery store without forgetting items on my list — or things I forgot to add to my list. I also am forgetting names and words. I notice my husband is in the same boat.

I found an article in the Wall Street Journal called “Why We’re All Forgetting Things Right Now: Short, temporary moments of forgetfulness are happening to more of us more often these days, memory experts say” by Elizabeth Bernstein. She writes for WSJ’s Life and Work section.

Here’s an excerpt:

Short, temporary instances of forgetfulness—those ‘senior moments’—are happening to more of us more often these days, memory experts say. We’re finding it difficult to recall simple things: names of friends and co-workers we haven’t seen in a while, words that should come easily, even how to perform routine acts that once seemed like second nature. 

We’re living in yet another moment of big change as we return to offices, create new routines and find our footing in yet another new normal. (And don’t forget a scary war in Europe on top of that.) All this change consumes cognitive energy, often much more than we think, neuroscientists say. It’s no wonder we can’t remember what we had for breakfast.  Our minds are struggling with transition moments.

“Our brains are like computers with so many tabs open right now,” says Sara C. Mednick, a neuroscientist and professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine. “This slows down our processing power, and memory is one of the areas that falters.”

The chronic and cumulative stress of the past two years has taken its toll, too. Research led by Dr. Shields shows that people who have experienced recent life stressors have impaired memory. Stress negatively affects our attention span and sleep, which also impact memory. And chronic stress can damage the brain, causing further memory problems, says Dr. Shields, an assistant professor in the department of psychological science at the University of Arkansas. 

https://www.wsj.com/articles/why-were-all-forgetting-things-right-now-11649166214?mod=life_work_lead_pos3

The article also said we are bombarded with too much information and scanning through info on our phones isn’t helpful. Another thing that an expert pointed out was the sameness of every day during the shut down. Apparently we need novelty to help our memories.

They offered suggestions on how to deal with memory loss. If other people are noticing it, you should probably see a doctor. Also, don’t try to force it if you forget something because that’s counter productive. Stay calm and turn off the TV and phones to be present in the moment.

Have you noticed a lag in your memory or a spouse or friends since COVID hit? What types of things do you forget?

Yikes. Maybe this was written for me?

view of saguaro against the sky
A majestic saguaro I stopped to admire during a hike on Sunday.

I saw a headline in the Wall Street Journal: “Six Exercises to Help Seniors Build Strength, Improve Balance and Prevent Falls” by Jen Murphy. My first thought was my 89-year-old dad. He’s active and does physical therapy to improve balance and strength. He’s always working on getting stronger — especially post shoulder and ankle surgery. He’s worked hard to be where he is today, golfing several days a week, remote yacht racing, and taking ukulele lessons.

I clicked on the headline with the plan to forward him the article, without reading it myself. The photo of a fit woman who was approaching middle age stopped me. Wait a minute! I might benefit from this, too! In fact, maybe I’m considered a senior now? Maybe I’m the intended audience. YIKES. Hold that thought.

It turns out the photo of the woman was of the fitness instructor who works with seniors, not a “senior” herself. Here’s the opening of the article:

Exercises that help us perform everyday activities become increasingly important as we get older.

Our balance declines and we lose muscle, making ordinary activities like climbing stairs more difficult, and increasing the risk of injury and falls, says Rachael Holden, a fitness educator who specializes in older people. She recommends “functional exercises,” which replicate the movements people make in daily activities.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/six-exercises-to-help-seniors-build-strength-improve-balance-and-prevent-falls-11634378400?mod=hp_listc_pos4

I read the article and realized I can incorporate these six exercises into my daily routine. The first one was “Sit to Stand.”

Why: As we age, weak legs, poor balance and stiffness in the back and ankles can make sitting down into a chair and standing up again challenging, says Ms. Holden. The sit-to-stand exercise is a beginner-friendly alternative to a squat and will build lower-body strength and stability.

How: Sit in a chair or on a couch. Keep your spine tall and arms long by your sides. Push down through your feet to stand tall. Slowly lower back down to a seated position. Perform 10 repetitions. “You can do these during commercial breaks when you watch TV,” says Ms. Holden.

Okay. I can do that. Another exercise was “Step Ups.” That was something I did in PT after my knee surgery. The six exercises were simple but should help with functionality. I am not as fit as I was pre ski accident. My balance isn’t great and I could benefit from these “senior” exercises. I’ll admit it. I was believing that because I walk at least 10,000 steps a day, hike on weekends, do my stretches and crunches that I didn’t need “senior” exercises. But they sure can’t hurt. After I’m done, I’ll forward the article to my dad.

What do you do for your balance and strength? Or is it something you’re concerned with? What age do you think is considered a senior?

hiking trail at McDowell Sonoran Preserve
The Stagecoach Trail at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

Coincidence or a blessing?

My kids with my dad pre COVID year.

My dad had surgery this morning. I know he wanted me to be there with him. But, my son asked me first to take care of him because he’s having shoulder surgery. So. I’m leaving to take care of my son. My dad joked that I could come to Palm Desert to take him to surgery and from there fly to San Francisco to take my son to his surgery.

I feel badly that I couldn’t be there for my dad. But I called two of my close friends that he knows who are available for anything he needs in the next few weeks. Plus his neighbor agreed to take him to and from surgery. He said it’s a minor procedure on one finger.

This is where the coincidence happened. I got a text from a fellow mom from my kids’ elementary school days. She said “He’s doing great!” She texted me a photo of a note she wrote to my dad, “Tell Elizabeth hil!”

I felt so reassured! So comforted to know that a good friend who was a nurse was taking care of my dad when I couldn’t be there.

The same thing happened when my husband had shoulder surgery. She was the assigned nurse. When my husband opened his eyes post surgery, he said “What are you doing here?” She had come into the waiting room to reassure me everything had gone well before she led me into the post op room to see my husband.

This has happened more than once. When my dad had surgery on his ankle, I was allowed in the pre-op area. Another good friend, a fellow swim mom who is a devout Christian, was his nurse. She knew my dad from the pool deck, where he was a proud grandfather at all of our kids’ meets.

Then when my son fell off his bike his freshman year of college, he had to come home for surgery. I was so nervous. The anesthesiologist walked in and was a husband of a good friend. Our son had tutored their daughter in high school for math. He said, “I saw his name on the list of incoming patients, so I asked to take his case.”

Playing croquet in our old back yard.

What do you think? Are these coincidences or is something else at work?

A scare during a weekend in paradise

View of Emerald Bay Lake Tahoe from a baot
Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe.

This past weekend I went to Lake Tahoe, Nevada for the first time. We have friends who lived near us in Palm Springs who also have a house in Tahoe. They sold their California home like we did this past year and we discovered our new Arizona homes are less than a mile from each other. We got together as new neighbors before they headed for the cool Lake Tahoe weather — and they insisted we come visit them.

Lake Tahoe view
View from our friend’s kitchen.

We finally did it! I was a little apprehensive because although we’ve been friends for years, we don’t have a “stay with them in their home” type of friendship. I’m close with the wife through our school parenting days, but our husbands have only met during formal school related events.

Anyway, it turned out to be a memorable, fun, amazing gorgeous weekend of hiking, boating, eating, touring and building on our friendship. I can’t get over what a perfect weekend it was.

Until I got the phone call.

The unknown number came in while we were on their gorgeous speed boat. The day so far had included a morning hike, mooring the boat for lunch — in front of their private country club’s lake house — a $10 million house that had been renovated as a restaurant and place to hang out on the lake. Access to it is through their golf membership — although it’s miles from the golf course. Next, we toured Emerald Bay and then anchored at Rubicon Bay, which had turquoise blue water, warm enough for a quick dip. I’m not sure where the next stop was going to be.

Turquoise water of Rubicon Bay Lake Tahoe
Rubicon Bay where we went swimming.

We pulled up anchor and were racing through the water to our next destination when I answered the call. It was hard to hear over the roar of the boat’s engines, I was breaking up to the person on the other end. I finally heard that my dad had pushed the button on the device I insisted he wear around his neck. They said they called him and he wasn’t answering. Then the phone went dead. After three attempts, I got the rest of the story. Dispatch was on their way to my dad’s house.

wake from a speed boat on Lake Tahoe

I tried calling my dad. The phone was answered but it was pure static and garbled. I tried again. No answer.

My friends told me to wait to call until they got me to a place with more bars for cell reception.

I was shaking. I felt so helpless. What could I do for my dad while racing around in an exotic boat on Lake Tahoe? How quickly could I get a flight to Palm Springs? Why had I moved away from him? Maybe my brother was right after all. My brother has been insisting that I move dad to Arizona to be closer to me. Dad is turning 90 next year and my brother said that he can’t live alone because of his age. That’s when I insisted my dad get the “help I’ve fallen button” to wear around his neck. I also hired a friend to stop by and see if he wants her to run to the store or do anything for him.

Up until that moment, I disagreed with my brother. My dad lives in a senior community near Palm Springs. He golfs three times a week, has friends (who are currently out of town), takes ukulele lessons, drives his golf cart around, and he started a new hobby of remote controlled yacht racing last year. He’s happy. He’s active. He’s engaged.

If I were to move him to Arizona, what would he do? Sit in my casita and watch TV? Or alone in an apartment with no friends? Wait for me to play golf with him at the surrounding super expensive golf courses — instead of his current situation of getting out to play a few holes at affordable rates whenever he wants? I honestly think he’s happier in his own environment. And I believe he can make a decision about where he lives. At least that’s what I thought until I got the call.

Lake Tahoe Lake House for lunch.
View from the country club’s lake house where we had lunch.

Back to the boat….I called my dad when we were in an area where I got better reception. Dad answered. He said it was a false call. He had been working on the misting cooling system on his golf cart and accidentally pressed the button leaning on something. He also said he called the company to tell them it was a false alarm, but they put him on hold! He said dispatch had come and was ready to haul him to the hospital, but they figured out he was fine.

I can’t tell you how relieved I was. And I don’t think it’s time to take him out of his own home and active lifestyle. Not yet.

What are your thoughts about leaving aging parents in their own homes versus moving them to live closer or with you?

Can we agree to disagree?

“Every moment that you spend upset, despaired, anguished, angry or hurt because or the behavior of anybody else in your life is a moment when you’ve given up control of your life.”

That would be me today. I blew up at my dad. I lost control. It’s a moment I lost of my life.

My dad and I disagree about politics and I let him get under my skin. I called to tell him that my husband is getting his vaccine today. The conversation swiftly turned to politics because previously I had shared an article my son sent me. I thought the article was common sense and not that political.

A better memory of spending time with my dad.

My dad is 89 years old and we’ve argued over politics for decades. I try to stay away from it. But he loves to bring it up. I shouldn’t let him get me started. It’s when he calls an entire political party racist that I get aggravated. To me that is bigoted behavior. There are all sorts of people with differing views and opinions on all sides of every issue. I tend to see us as individuals and don’t believe in blanket statements about anyone.

The quote above was from a webinar I’m listening to called “Teaching Kids to Manage Their Thoughts.” It’s by David Benzel who is a sports parenting coach and has a nonprofit Growing Champions for Life.

The webinar had some enlightening facts and tips. Did you know that we have an average of 60,000 thoughts a day? Benzel also said that “In the absence of a positive thought, we’l focus on something negative.”

The big takeaway is to become an observer of our thoughts and not be controlled by them. If you have a negative thought, take a look at it. Question where it came from. Ask “does this thought bring me peace or inspire me? Does this thought cause me or others harm? Does this thought contribute to me being my best self?”

If not, tell your brain thanks for sharing, but no thanks!

Benzel says when you become aware of negative thoughts, they lose their power over you.

Wayne Dyer is quoted as saying “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.”

Not sure how all this helps me with my angry conversation with my dad. But, I can stop my negative thoughts right now and not entirely ruin my day. I don’t think I’m upset with his behavior, as much as with my own.

I think we are so divided nationally. Name calling and labeling people makes things so much worse.

Any thoughts about talking politics with people you disagree with? Is it even possible in today’s divided atmosphere?

The look in her eyes when I said good-bye

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Downtown Seattle on a sunny day.

Little did I know that that would be the last time I’d see Mom before the COVID lockdown. My daughter and I were visiting my mom in her assisted living home on a trip to Seattle in March two years ago today. Mom and I share March birthdays and I try to make it a point to be with her. But last year in March they had COVID breakouts in a facility a few miles from her and then it spread to her assisted living home.

The good news is she never got it. She’s healthy and got both her shots. But I miss her. I’m hoping someday this year I’ll get to spend time with her in person.

Here’s what I wrote about my trip to visit mom in March 2019:

I will never forget the look in my mom’s eyes when I said goodbye. After lunch at our favorite sushi restaurant, we sat around a table in the lobby playing a card game our family played when I was a child, Demon.

It was fun and we all laughed as we got more and more competitive. They teamed up against me, as they tried to defeat me–but didn’t of course. My daughter slowed down her speed to make the game more fun for us old folks, because seriously she could beat us handily at anything involving speed and reaction time.

After that, we walked mom back to her room, got her settled in and said good-bye. My mom stared at me, sitting in her comfy chair, like her heart was breaking. Her big hazel eyes filled with water and I fought my own tears. I felt like I was deserting her.

My daughter asked if she wanted the TV on, and she said, “No, I’m fine.” As we closed the door, I peaked in and saw my mom sitting on her chair with her head dropped, staring at nothing.

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My mom was surprised to learn I had a camera in my phone. She enjoyed the selfie.

The good news is I came the next day, and the next. Each day she looked happier and her spark returned. She has a witty sense of humor and kept me laughing. By the time I said my final good-bye, she looked so much better. I think she’s terribly lonely and I need to visit more often.

And to think I was going to visit her more often — and then no visits at all….

If you live away from your elderly family members, how do you feel when you say good-bye?

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Nothing better than a mother daughter trip.

Why your parents should play BINGO…and you should, too

momandme

Mom and me in the early 90s.

When I visit my mom in Washington, I take her to Bingo on Sundays. She lives in an assisted living home and all her needs are met, but she won’t participate in the numerous activities offered unless I’m there with her. Unfortunately, I never can stay long or visit often enough to my liking–or hers. But, while I’m there, we have fun trying out whatever is on the schedule from Bingo to Laughter Yoga. We have fun with the group activities and also play cards for hours—especially our favorite game, called Demon.

I noticed while playing Bingo that my mom had to stay focused and alert to keep up with the caller (so did I!). When we went from two Bingo cards apiece to three, I noticed her working even harder. The caller was pretty quick and it wasn’t an easy task. I was thinking that Bingo must have some health and brain benefits for the elderly because I witnessed it first hand. I Googled it and yes, I found many articles praising the benefits of Bingo for the elderly—and all adults 40 and older.

In an article called “Bingo Brings More than Fun to the Table for Seniors” I discovered that researchers have verified the health benefits:

As it turns out Bingo is more than just a fun activity. Researchers have found that playing bingo has multiple health benefits for the elderly. It takes concentration – which improves listening and short-term memory skills and it promotes socialization – which is essential for seniors to maintain a happy and healthy lifestyle. So if your elderly loved one likes to play bingo, it can be an excellent way to promote mental, emotional, and physical health. This may be a good way to get your loved one motivated and interested in other activities.

Bingo is the American version of a game that originated as an Italian Lottery called “Lo Giuoco del Lotto D’Italia” that was all the rage dating back as far as the mid-1500s. When the game reached North America in 1929 it was known as “beano” but later renamed bingo after a caller yelled out “BINGO” instead of beano. Bingo is a big mainstay at local senior and community centers all across the US. Many fire companies hold weekly bingo to raise much-needed funds.

Cognitive Benefits of Bingo
With the concentration and listening skills it takes to play bingo, one’s cognitive abilities are sharpened. Who couldn’t benefit from that? Since the game requires alertness to hear the numbers and remember that information to transfer it to the cards they are playing, it improves memory. Researchers at the University of Southampton found that bingo players had better results in tests of memory, speed, and cognitive function than those who do not play the game, regardless of their age. Significant improvement in hand-eye coordination occurs with many seniors due to the speed required and the repetitive nature of the game. Even seniors with dementia issues have shown improvement. Using larger cards with larger and bolder type and a high contrast in color improve thinking skills and memory among patients with dementia issues including Alzheimer and Parkinson’s disease.

In The Guardian’s article called “Bingo calculations help elderly people keep their brains alert” they make similar claims:

Bingo makes you think faster than non-players and keeps you more alert into old age, a researcher told a British Psychological Society conference.

Julie Winstone, of Southampton University, said players were faster and more accurate than non-bingo players on tests measuring mental speed, the ability to scan for information, and memory.

Her research found older players even outperformed younger counterparts, suggesting keeping the brain active keeps it sharper for longer.

The finding came as no surprise to the National Bingo Association, which said the game was played by three million people with an average age of 49.

“The blue rinse brigade dominated it 15 years ago. But then it was taken up by celebrities Denise Van Outen, Elle Macpherson, Robbie Williams, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Bianca and Jade Jagger,” said Gloria Pattinson, an association spokeswoman.

In a blog called “The Social Benefits of Bingo” 
they promote the social benefits of Bingo:

One of the great things about games is their social benefits. It is not just about winning and losing, but the friendships and relationships you can gain from playing. Many would say that winning and losing is entirely incidental – the reason one plays something is for the friendships. Depending on how competitive a person is, will affect how they see this.

Some people don’t have an easy time meeting new people and talking to them. This is where a game comes in useful. Playing the game creates conversation. It is an ice-breaker and gives you the chance to get to know someone. This is why people say to pursue a hobby if you are looking to meet new people.

Bingo is no different from any other game. If you like to play the game, it stands to reason that you will also like people who play it. You already share a common interest and this can be the basis and foundation for a friendship. Of course, bingo can only do some of the work; once you get there it’s all down to you.

My prior experience with Bingo and the elderly was with my daughter. We joined a mother-daughter volunteer organization called National Charity League and Bingo was on our schedule. At a nursing home, our girls would wheel the residents out of their rooms to the dining room where the moms had set up Bingo cards and the cage with the balls. The girls took turns being the caller and sitting with residents, helping them place poker chips over the numbers on their cards. It was a neat experience and I saw firsthand how much the nursing home residents looked forward to their Bingo nights. Bingo was a bright light during an otherwise dull and empty week.

Okay, so I read my mom some bits and pieces of these articles. She likes Bingo, understands the benefits to her health—but will she go on her own? I asked the attendants to remind her when it’s Sunday at 1 p.m. so she can make it down the hall to the game room and play. But will she? So far, I’ve been taking her each time I visit for more than five years—yet she’s never made it on her own. I had the same conversation with the woman who leads Laughter Yoga and her daughter who is about my age, too. (Laughter Yoga is another great activity for the elderly and young alike.) Both the mom and daughter are enthusiastic about stopping by Mom’s room to ask her to join them. I’m not holding my breath that Mom will say yes to them. Then, there’s my brother and his family who could take her, too. But they enjoy taking her out, not staying in. How good is a simple game like Bingo that promotes socialization, fights dementia by improving focus and memory? I hope Mom makes it there!

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Selfie of Mom and me playing BINGO.

Have you had any experience with Bingo? Do you find it fun and beneficial for the elderly?