Planning ahead

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Hi neighbors. If you are reading this you at least survived Friday the 13th. Hopefully you survived without too many weird things occurring. With a lot of good luck you avoided any of the bad luck associated with the day.

For centuries people have racked their brains finding things to worry about. You would think there would be enough problems and accidents in any person's life to accommodate even the most pessimistic person. But some folks just like to look for trouble.

On the flip side are the Pollyanna personalities who glide through life without a thought to the past or the future. These are the folks who hold an endearing belief that all will be roses and sunshine for the remainder of their days. Well, I hope they remain as happy as they anticipate.

Most of us are on a sliding scale, somewhere between these two points, wavering toward one or the other day-by-day. If we are as pragmatic as others are superstitious, we will make plans for our future. Even if that future is one without us at our best.

I recently read a book called "Jan's Story" written by Barry Petersen, an Emmy winning, CBS news correspondent. Jan, his wife, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease at age 55.

The subtitle is "Love lost to the long goodbye of Alzheimer's" and 10 percent of the author's royalties is being donated to Alzheimer's disease research.

He tells Jan's story, and his own, as defined by the seven stages of Alzheimer's, which he calls "The Disease." He shares e-mails that Jan wrote while in the early stages of the disease and her own fear of what she was facing. Her e-mails share her fears for her husband and how he will cope, not only with her increasing needs, but his own. "Men need taken care of," she said. It never occurred to either of them the degree of intensity care-giving for an Alzheimer's person would entail.

With chapter headings describing each stage via the Alzheimer's Associations detailed explanation, Barry Petersen explains the way he and his wife Jan and their family and friends, attempted to support each other in every stage.

He tactfully describes the loss of emotional and physical intimacy between a husband and wife as the lover becomes more and more the care-giver; stating The Disease shredded that part of our lives as it shreds everything.

He follows the deterioration of Jan's mind, and both of their lives, step-by-step, stage-by-stage, as Alzheimer's becomes the unwanted dictator of their days and nights.

It is a good book and I would recommend it to any one. But, just like Alzheimer's disease, the book will open your mind while it breaks your heart. Alzheimer's promises no happy endings.

The aspect of the book I most wanted to focus on in this column is that of being pragmatic and preparing for any unforeseen event that might leave a person unable to make their own choices about health care.

In the book, talking about the later stages of the disease Peterson laments their lack of pre-planning. Of course, most of us would not anticipate a dementia diagnosis at age 55 -- that's just for old folks isn't it? The Petersen family found out too late that no debilitation is reserved only for seniors.

Their story involves Alzheimer's disease; but anyone at any age can suffer brain damage in an accident, or through any number of diseases. Heart attacks and strokes can leave patients unable to voice their own health care choices.

No matter your age, you should have a living will; have someone you trust to follow your wishes appointed as your DPOA (durable power of attorney for health care choices) and write an essay about what you consider your "line in the sand" while you can make choices and speak your mind.

How would you want to live if you had a terminal disease or were not able to function on your own without machines, feeding tubes or other life-sustaining machines? Would you want to live like that if there were no hope of improvement?

There are forms available free of charge to put your choices in writing while you can still make your own choices. Write to Missouri Bar Association, 326 Monroe, Jefferson City, MO 65101 and ask for life choices forms regarding advance directives and the durable power of attorney for health care.

Be kind to your loved ones and make the hard decisions yourself, now, so they can follow your wishes without guilt and fear of doing the wrong thing when they have to make those decisions for you.