A couple of years ago I wrote about my friend Claire describing her as an inspirational example of someone “living gracefully” with Alzheimer’s disease. It has now been over a decade since I first noticed the insidious signs of the disease in Claire’s demeanor like when we chit-chatted in the gym about the weather, exercising, her granddaughter’s trip abroad or what she was having for lunch that day.
Adept at telling long narrative jokes, the kind guys are usually better suited to recite, Claire began to lose that ability during the early years. At first, she wrote down the humorous quips and read them to me as we pedaled side by side on our stationary bikes. And then, the recitations stopped. She was great at covering up what she no longer remembered, like my name. I was delighted to speak to her because I was forever young in her eyes, forever a great author and forever beautiful. Claire still has a mischievous smile.
Recently, Claire celebrated a big birthday. She is 88 years old and yes, she still goes to the gym – but with an attendant. When she walks, she has the characteristic Alzheimer’s shuffle. She has lost some of her inhibitions as she spontaneously dances by herself in front of others, rolling her hips and smiling seductively. Clearly, she used to be a good dancer. She is forever the comedian.
Claire is rail thin. She has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis since I know her. Nevertheless, she comes to the gym three days a week and moves her body, does some balance training and uses the weight machines with assistance, one-on-one supervision. Claire is helped onto a stationary bicycle by a patient and kind trainer who motivates her to go a little farther, “Stronger, longer.”
Her salaried caregivers sleep over and rotate their shifts. Various family members visit frequently from all over the world and celebrate the holidays with her. You can feel the love and support Claire gets and just as importantly, respect for what she still can do.
I attribute Claire’s ability to remain in the moderate stage of Alzheimer’s without progressing to the final, devastating stage because she:
- Exercises consistently
- Has a strong support group
- Feels loved and taken care of
- Eats healthy foods
- Has a good sense of humor
- Adheres to a structured routine
Claire announced that she wants to live to 100. Cheers!
For more information on caregiving read my book, Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout. To listen to archived radio shows with guest experts visit Turn On Your Inner Light Radio Show