Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Alzheimer's Memory Care: Avoid Learning Things The Hard Way, Like I Did

This post is not about my last race.  But possibly about a future one.  I'm here to shout to the rooftops to be a DO-er!  Sign up for that 10k, dip your toes in triathlon, live life.  JUST DO IT, as Nike once trademarked.  Because time is short and life plans can change on a dime. 

My mother has Alzheimer's disease.  She's spent the last two years under the care of assisted living nurses and aides in memory care homes.  Last week we moved her to the fourth home in two years.  Her fourth home.  And I have some thoughts if you're considering that move for your loved one. 

My mother was a charismatic, extremely bright, outgoing, outspoken mother of six.  She was a junior high teacher (possibly the hardest years for children) and a friend to all.  She loved Scrabble, walking, quilting, reading, talking and crossword puzzles.  At 64 she became a widow and lived alone up until her inability to care for herself independently.  Her children made the difficult decision to move her to assisted living, where she would be cared for by professionals in an environment that would cater to her needs with this disease.

The road that led to our choice to have her leave her home, friends and everything she loved dearly did not come easy for us kids.  There was (and still is) dissension.  And guilt.  Lots and lots of guilt from all directions from friends, relatives, and within the siblings.  In her Will she asked to not be placed in a convalescent home if it was at all possible.  But she also did not ask for Alzheimer's. 

Our initial approach to finding a home for my mother was to locate a facility that would be close to us -- easy to get to and convenient to visit.  My mother and father-in-law had moved together into an assisted living home where they both eventually died.  The place felt like home to us.  We knew the staff.  They loved my in laws and cared for them with big, kind, loving hearts. 

Naturally, when my mother was ready to move, we chose that same home for her.  But it wasn't a lock down facility and wasn't equipped for memory loss patients.  My mom liked to wander and walk.  And when she accidentally walked out the front door and across a busy street one day, we were forced to find a new home.

So we chose the nicest looking, newest, pretty "luxury active senior living" facility that we could find.  It was expensive.  But she was going to be at the BEST place money could buy.  Friends, I'm here to tell you paying the most for something does not always mean the best.  This particular home been open less than two years, and while the nursing staff seemed capable, the administration was rigid and uncomfortable.  When they had to redirect when she walked toward a door and tried to open it, it felt like they were marking a big red F on a report card.  "Your mother tried to open the exit door 8-20 times in one day,"  they would report to us.  Fail. 

My mom also started swiping at staff and other residents.  Medication was their first and only answer.  They never tried to get to the triggers of why she was acting "aggressively" to others.   The only laughable part of this whole story is that a swat from a 79-year-old great grandmother is pretty tame -- you don't need cat-like reflexes to avoid it. 

So they kicked us out of their resort style home.  We had to leave as quickly as possible and had to have family members stay with her during all waking hours until we could find another home because she was an absolute liability. 

Once again we were on the hunt for the perfect place.  But as we'd visit homes and they welcomed us with open arms and expensive price tags, they would all required a review and evaluation from the previous home.  Now that my mother had been deemed "aggressive and combative," each of those new homes required a two-week stint in a geriatric psych ward before admittance. 

Let that sink in for a minute. 

Would you ever want your parent to spend time in a facility for people dealing with suicide, drug abuse, mental health issues etc. with a person with Alzheimer's?  To gain what kind of knowledge?  That she can't remember things?  Hard pass.

After lots of meditating and praying, I felt prompted to call my friend, Tracey.  She works in the assisted living industry and is opposed to any kind of geriatric psych wards for Alzheimer's patients.  She steered us to a home that had been open for over seven years that was dedicated to memory care first - with active adult living apartments built later on.  The memory care building has a circular floor plan, so residents can walk the halls all day long without walking straight to an exit door.  And exit doors also are painted to look like bookshelves -- eliminating the need and desire to push on them.  Each resident who moves into this home gets three days of one-on-one assistance for four hours a day to help acclimate the patient to his or her new surrounds and staff.  (The pricey place we had come from didn't even say hello after we moved in). 

The new home also offers "Enhanced Protocol", which involves switching up diet and supplements to help regulate the anxiety and moods of the patients so they would relax and hopefully FEEL BETTER when they can't really tell you what hurts or what is making them agitated.  This home was working on solutions that weren't medication.  They were offering different diets and exercise to ACTUALLY HELP my mother. 

I've found the DO-er of this industry.  A place that wants to find solutions and not just mask symptoms of this horrible disease.  My mom is happy here and seems more relaxed and less agitated.  It's been a journey.  But hopefully, this is the place where her journey will someday come to an end. 

So here are my take-aways from this process:

1.  Look for homes that started as MEMORY CARE homes first, and not just Assisted Living with a small memory care wing on site as an after-thought or housing requirement. 
2.  Don't always go to the places that look the fanciest and charge the most. 
3.  Make sure you look for the place that is best for your parents, not just easiest for you to get to.
4.  Fight the requirement to have your parents to go a geriatric psych ward.
5.  Get to know the staff and caregivers at your facility.  Watch them interact with your parents.  Look at their faces and demeanors.  Stay awhile - maybe hours at first to see how things are run (or are not run). 
6.  Ask if the home will take your parent until end of life.  A move at a difficult stage of advanced Alzheimer's is not a good choice.
7.  If in doubt, call me and I'll give you Tracey's number.  She was a lifesaver for us. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

A Crazy Brazilian Adventure called Fodaxman

You've done an Ironman.  You've sped through a century bike race or a 209-mile LOTOJA.  You may have even done an ultra marathon.  Let me now introduce you to Xtri.

Xtri is a triathlon broadly equivalent to an Ironman distance tri (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run) with the added elements of an extreme course and difficult conditions.  This may mean swimming in arctic temperatures (Alaskaman), running and cycling through rocky and remote trails (Patagonman) and summiting a 4000-foot-high mountaintop to break the tape.

Exhibit A:
Fodaxman Finish Line Views
Xtris are limited in entrants due to a rigorous acceptance policy. Not anyone can do these events and ballots are typically limited to 250 (Fodaxman recorded 90 entrants).  The original Xtri was Norseman Xtreme Tri (think Kona for all your Ironman types), first held in Norway in 2003.  Since that time other races have followed the concept of this event, and in 2014 XTRI was launched as the global brand for these races.  The event I was privileged to attend was Fodaxman, Brazil's own Xtri and a prospective race to add to the Xtri circuit.  

TJ Thrasher and I had worked together in 2014, as he was preparing for Ironman Florida.  When he crossed the finish line under 10.5 hours, I knew I had a very elite athlete on my hands.  He is an endurance fiend and no amount of heat on the course that day could affect his ability to speed across the finish line in such a fabulous time.  But after his race, he returned to life in Steamboat Springs: working,  coaching winter sports in Colorado and spending time outdoors doing what he loved most: hunting.  He quietly joined the Xtri circuit, first at Alaskaman and then Patagonman, where he was quite successful.  But he had a goal in mind of a top 10 finish at this intriguing race in southern Brazil and I got the call to see if we could once again work together.

Over the next four months, we worked training into his busy schedule.  He is, in one word, compliant.  His dedication to his goal was impressive and he rarely missed a workout.   Xtris also require each athlete bring his own support team, since there are no aid stations, and minimal signage on the course.  So I joined Team Thrasher and flew to Florinopolis, Brazil to meet up with TJ and his lifelong friend and second supporter, Todd Lodwick.  (Google Todd Lodwick, btw.  TJ had chosen the right friend for his team).

Here are some details of race day:

The swim begins in the dark at 4a.m.  This photo shows the first light on the water.  In the distance is the steeple of a church, now underwater since the reservoir had sunk old parts of the village.  Xtris prefer point to point swims, but this swim was a double triangle, partly because of the shallowness of the lake and all the old buildings underwater that were possible hazards.  The site of 90 swimmers taking off in the dark with glow sticks attached to their swimming caps was incredible.  Their only guidance on the swim were tiny buoys minimally lit.  It proved to be a difficult swim for most of the participants. 

Uphill to T1 was definitely not covered in the IM red carpet

Then onto the bike: 

Cobblestones and speed bumps greet you at every village we passed, so biker beware.  Team Thrasher stayed ahead out ahead of TJ, jumping out of the car every 5 miles or so to refill water, replenish nutrition and keep the morale happy.  The first half of the route was vivid green landscape with rolling hills, cow pastures and rice fields.  

And then we got to the big daddy:  Serra do Rio Rastro, a famous ascent which climbs 12,000 feet to the top of the mountain range.  But the climbing does not stop there.  The second half of the ride has multiple climbs as well, finally decending into the town of Urbici, for T2.

Support staff for all the teams kept the morale happy and the race fun
TJ had a flat on the cobbles just outside of T2.  But he rode into transition after changing his tire and exhausting his air cartridges.

On to the run:

The first eight miles of the run were on dirt roads, winding through more farmlands and crossing flowing streams -- up and down for miles.   After that, there was the slow uphill 4000-foot climb to the top of Morro de la Igreja.  Team Thrasher again ran alongside TJ as he worked his way toward the end of the race.

There are two options for finish lines at Fodaxman, a base finish and a top finish.  The base finish does not climb the last mountain, but winds around it for an easier, yet still impressive, route.  TJ had his sights set on the top finish and this is where he really shined.  Todd and TJ ran together for the first nine miles and then we rotated between the team to stay by his side for the entire marathon.  It was TJ's supreme endurance and uphill training that skyrocket him past multiple athletes, especially those that passed him due to his bike flat.  He surged past competitor after competitor to finally claim ninth place overall in the race!

It was an amazing opportunity to be a little part of Team Thrasher 2019, and a coach to TJ.  He introduced me to a new world called Xtri and along the way I fell in love with beautiful Brazil.  Out of 90 projected finishers, I counted only 45 or so who crossed a base or top finish line.  But we all had a spectacular time in this part of the world.  What a wonderful place with kind and generous people.  I won't soon forget. Now, who's ready for an ADVENTURE! 


Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Nautica Malibu Long Course: Do This Event

There's a hidden gem in Southern California called the Nautica Malibu Tri.  While the event has been going on for many years, this was the inaugural year for the LONG COURSE event.  And what an event it was!  The course is beautiful, the event organizers are top notch, the age group awards run five deep -- everything about it is first class. 

Set on Zuma beach, just outside of gorgeous Malibu, California, this event is worth doing.  The feeling is a more relaxed vibe than an I dot event.  It's cool and casual.  The swim is in the ocean and runs against the shoreline at Zuma.  The ride is a rolling course, out and back with a little loop in the middle -- no real elevation to be concerned with.  And the run is a flat double looper -- easy peasy.  

I'd recommend this race to any first time long courser, or even the seasoned pros.  The bar has been set high by Nautica.  Can't wait to get back to this one next year.  

Monday, February 18, 2019

24 Hours In the Old Pueblo

Sometimes its the craziness of people and the events they create that really bring out the adventurous side of me.  When my friends put together a team for an event called 24 Hours In the Old Pueblo, I knew I wanted to be a part of it -- even before I found out the details.

In the rolling high desert near Tucson, Arizona, just west of a little town called Oracle, Epic Rides creates their own mini city of travel trailers, toy haulers and tents inside a sixteen mile loop of single track mountain bike trails.  And for one long weekend in February, come rain or shine, the crazies come out to race in teams of 6, 5, 4, 2 or even solo to see how many laps they can make in one 24-hour period. 

With names like Pozers and Dozers, Swipe Right and Do It All Night, Hold My Beer, the collective group is wild and wiley.  They arrive from all over the US and Mexico in their puffy coats and beanies and set up their turnsdile campsites to accommodate riders coming in and out of their laps to eat rest and then repeat.  Bikes are EVERYWHERE: high end, low end and everything in between.  There are 24 hour coffee shops and the best wood fired pizza I've tasted in a long time.  The town doesn't sleep.

My six-person team "That Baby Don't Look Like Me" included six riders, three of whom I'd never met.  It was all put together by our team captain, Keith, who organized two corporate teams.  He also rented two campers and took them down the Monday of race week to ensure a good spot.  We all became immediate friends, mostly because we all loved bikes.

The race got off to a great start with Sally running to her bike in the Lemond-style start.  I was second to go and despite a chilly morning, our team was pumped and riding well.  Darkness fell quickly and so did the temps.  My second lap was at 1am and at mile seven, suddenly my lights both shut off.  I was a little freaked out, all alone in the freezing cold desert with no lights and some sort of a crazy coyote pack howling in the distance/very close to me.  I called the captain and discussed the possibility of riding in the moonlight until I could meet a teammate and exchange headlamps and bike lights.  But as I was on the call, a very generous and kind rider stopped and helped me out.  He took the headlamp off his own helmet and strapped it to mine.  I'll never forget his generosity.  Team 497 from Mexico, I salute you!

At 10:30am  I started and finished lap13 for our group -- no records were made or broken by our team, but we had tons of fun.  I'd highly recommend 24HOP if you're looking for a great experience on a mountain bike.  The course was rolling with about 1000 feet gain (according to my Garmin).  Lots of single track and a tiny bit of technical.  The hardest part for a slow-poke like me was getting out of the way of the fast guys.  Most were pretty cool about asking to pass when it was safe for me. 

This event is for the young at heart -- and at 52, my heart is sometimes ahead of my mind.  But you're never too old to play in the dirt! 


Sunday, October 7, 2018

Utah In It's Ahhhhsomeness!

A quick weekend in Utah and we headed directly to our one of our favorite spots on the earth:  Park City.  Enjoy some pics of our morning jaunts on/in/around Armstrong Trail and upper Main Street Trails.  

Friday, August 17, 2018

When Life Happens

I'm having a little bit of a pity party over here.  My foot is in an orthotic shoe from the Morton's neuroma surgery I had two weeks ago and things aren't healing in the lightening fast speed that I'd hoped for.  I just put my mother in an assisted living home and am wrestling with the guilt from that.  I can't wake up and join my friends for a morning run like I used to.  And it's one million degrees outside so I am home for hours during the day with a newly empty-nesterhood situation. 

Poor me, right?  Sheesh. 

This sort of funk doesn't happen to me often.  For the past 15 years I've banked on athletic endorphins to top off my happiness.  When one asks the question: why do you tri?  I can answer without a doubt that a daily swim, bike and run is an exhilarating treat for me.  The adrenalin of the next race and the joy of checking off another Ironman are what my training friends and I refer to as the "finish line junkie" in all of us. 

So when some of that disappears and my event calendar fizzles out, I need a boost.  Tri friends in cyber space:  what are your tips?  Share with me your wisdom.  Show me some love. 

Coaching others is one key to my life that sustains that my joy.  I love watching others compete and accomplish what they previously thought they could not do.  I get so much excitement helping them design a path for their success.  And I know I have been there when their personal struggles have happened to them. 

Today it's my turn.  I know I'm going to be okay -- this too shall pass.  And perhaps this sadness is just a way to empathetically remind myself that life is messy.  It's rarely the path you really planned for yourself.  The twists and turns along the way and our choices of how we react to these U-turns can make or break us.  I choose to make it today. 

See ya soon, running shoes. 


Monday, June 11, 2018

Ironman Santa Rosa 2018

Redemption!  Ironman Santa Rosa was the fix I needed after a nasty fall/dehydration episode at Ironman New Zealand.  Since the race was just about eight weeks out from that disaster, it was my first and quickest opportunity to get back on the horse and finish what I started.

The race was a success and I crossed the line not with my best time, but certainly respectable at 13:30.  I was satisfied that this day was just what I wanted it to be:  a chance to cross a finish line at another Ironman.  

But enough about me.  Here is the nitty gritty about the race.  

First: Santa Rosa is beyond beautiful.  The green rolling landscape and miles of endless vineyard and was simply breathtaking.  It's a spectacular place to hold an event like Ironman.  With the new routes from Southwest Airlines directly into Charles Schultz airport, the traveling was simple and easy for me.  (I'm from Arizona).  I used Tri-Bike Transport for my bike transportation, which knocked it out of the park this time.  Super convenient, two thumbs up.  

Santa Rosa from the sky

Second:  Logistics were a little more difficult at this IM than at others I have done.  There are two transition areas.  T1 is 25 miles or so from Ironman Village, at Lake Sonoma.  After listening to advice from Purple Patch Fitness, I paid an extra $40 to Tri Bike Transport to shuttle my bike to T1 on the eve of race day.  This proved unnecessary since I drove out to the lake the day before the race to scout the course and get a swim in.  I could've easily taken the bike up with me at this time.

Another issue about this race is the extremely long transition from swim to bike.  Easily a quarter mile in length uphill, you need to factor in quite a long T1 time to your race day goal.  This was a doozy of a hill after swimming 2.4 miles.  But actually a forecast of what was to come.

T1 includes this extremely long carpeted hill

Third:  The elevation gain!  Wow, I don't know why the SR Ironman website advertised 3900 vertical climbing, perhaps they were using the stats from the previous course?? 2018 had a new, "improved" bike course.  My stats came in with over 6200 feet of elevation gain.  And I was not the only athlete who clocked in this amount.  The IMSR Facebook page had numerous complaints that the elevation advertised was not what happened.  It was an extremely difficult bike course with major headwinds on the second loop.   There were also a lot of crazy turns and corners in the last 20 miles of the course, but I survived and was never so happy to be off my bike!

Straight from my Garmin:  6,299 vertical feet 
Fourth:  The run was just really, really great.  It's is a three-loop course on a flat running path that winds along a riverbed.  Huge trees shaded the path for the entire distance and provided relief from a pretty warm day.  I LOVED this run.  The crowd support, the aid stations, the sponsors -- especially the enthusiastic Base Performance team kept this run upbeat and fun for everyone was overwhelmingly amazing.  There are LOTS of people on the run that you are passing or are passing you, the entire time.  This was my favorite part of the day, which I've NEVER said about the run on any course.

Fifth: The finish!  You've got to hand it to Ironman, they know how to make a finish line a party.  With Mike Reilly there to announce the arrival of every finisher, Santa Rosa truly lived up to the hype.  There is nothing better than waving to your family and friends after a grueling day of 140.6 torturous miles where you didn't quit, you kept going, and you lived to tell about it.  This was Ironman number seven for me.  Will I go back to Santa Rosa?  I'm not sure.  It would take a lot of convincing and a LOT more miles of lonely training days.  But in the end, I loved this race and am so glad I got the chance to do it.

Scenes from Santa Rosa:  
Sooo many vineyards 

Devastation from the horrific 2017 fire 

Thanks for being my biggest supporter, Todd!  

Que lindo es sonar despierto.
How lovely it is to dream while you are awake.

Dreams That Have Come True