Molly wishes her grandmother a happy birthday.

Molly wishes her grandmother a happy birthday.


Molly made a birthday wall wreath of flip-flops.

Molly brightened the room by making a birthday wall wreath of flip-flops.








At the Friday evening dinner, Maggie and my mom were a great team. sleeping through most of the fun.

At the Friday evening dinner, Maggie and my mom were a great team; Maggie slept through most of the fun beside Mom’s recliner.







We celebrated my mother’s 97th birthday last week. It was almost a month early, but this was the only time when her children and spouses, grandchildren and great-grandchildren could all get together. Especially her youngest grandchild, who flew all the way from China for the reunion and was swamped with hugs.

It was a wonderful combination of family, food, and fun, but the early-birthday girl slept though almost all of it. She sometimes smiled at the flowers, cards, hugs and kisses, but she didn’t realize who we were or what was happening. That’s how it is with her advanced dementia—and how it was with my dad’s Alzheimer’s–but we still do the best we can to celebrate our parents’ lives and show our love.

June is ALZHEIMER’S & BRAIN AWARENESS MONTH. More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, and a similar population percentage is found in countries all over the world. Alzheimer’s is a non-exclusive club that is open to everyone, and it charges very high dues.

Here are the latest research suggestions to promote brain health and prevent or postpone Alzheimer’s. Basically, heart healthy and brain healthy guidelines are very compatible:

~ the more you eat of the richer, deeper colors of vegetables and fresh fruits (especially berries), the better; ~ limit the amount of meats and processed meats you eat; ~ do NOT smoke; ~ monitor and control your blood pressure and cholesterol; ~ walk daily and/or exercise for 30 min. 3-4 times a week; ~ participate in games, classes, and activities with others; ~ brush and floss daily, and see a dentist regularly. 1-2 cups of morning coffee each day is still a plus against Alzheimer’s, but isn’t specifically listed for heart health.

My parents lived by everything on the list above—except the coffee; they drank tea—but Dad still died of Alzheimer’s at 89, and Mom’s symptoms began when she was 91. There are certainly other variables to be identified and studied, but for overall health the suggestions above—especially eating healthy foods—are a good start.

I read this advice on a poster with a picture of a huge garden with children picking baskets of vegetables: When it comes to food and labels of ingredients, here’s the plan: If you can’t pronounce it, do not eat it.   And I think Doug Larson was both correct and funny (humor is good medicine, after all) when he wrote, “Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.”

Here’s to fun, family, friends, and food (especially if it smells like bacon)…and doing our best to stay out of the Alzheimer’s Club.

Her great-grandchildren made a 2'x3' poster board card for her living room.

Her great-grandchildren made a 2’x3′ poster board card for her living room.

Flowers for Mom's early 97th birthday celebration.

Flowers for Mom’s early 97th birthday celebration.

Five million w: Alzheimers



Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, Special days in June, special quotations, Things to be thankful for

70 responses to “A CLUB YOU DO NOT WANT TO JOIN

  1. Happy early birthday to your mother! I love the flip-flop bouquet. It’s so colorful and unique. I do pretty well with the health tips you listed, but like your parents, I drink tea, not coffee. But I love berries. Eat them everyday.

    • For me, Carrie, I was thrilled to learn that coffee could be good for a clearer mind, as coffee is a staple for me. The berries are a big part of our food group, so we’re on target there. Fingers crossed that the health tips really will make a difference.

  2. Wise advice. This disease is so heartbreaking. Thanks for sharing.

  3. juliabarrett

    Happy birthday to your lovely wonderful mother. I’m sorry she doesn’t know why or who or where but I know all that information is kept safe somewhere inside.
    I’ve cared for many Alzheimer’s patients. I cannot explain this, but across the board they are, or were, unusually intelligent, creative, engaged and otherwise healthy people. As in they were rarely, if ever, ill. They live long. Even with dementia.
    It always gives me pause.

    • It gives me pause, too, Julia. Before their Alzheimer’s and dementia, my parents had the qualities you list, and they were almost never ill. There are so many unanswered questions.
      I love how you stated that the information is kept safe somewhere inside my mom, even if she doesn’t seem to understand on the surface.

  4. Thank you for sharing this story. What a wonderful way to celebrate with all the family together. It is important to keep celebrating the events, if only to keep the family connections alive. The advice you give for healthy living is good. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • You’re very welcome, Norah. I hope that somehow Mom sensed all the connections around her, and understood on some level that we were all there, together, because she and Dad began this when they married in 1943, and now look at everything good that happened after that. To me, that’s the center of the celebration.

  5. Happy early birthday to your mother. I’m sure she felt the love and care given by you and your family. Have a wonderful weekend.

  6. Happy Birthday to your mother. She may not know why you are all there but she must sense love and security and safety in your presence. That is a wonderful gift you give to her.

  7. Happy early birthday to your beautiful mother, Marylin. This post is such a loving tribute to her. Beautiful flowers!

  8. Your mother’s medical record is almost a carbon copy of my Aunt Ruthie’s: healthy life-style, highly educated, and engaged. I treasure a photo of her on her riding mower at age 89, exuberant.

    Now I can speak to her on the phone and sometimes she is lucid at age 96 going on 97 like your mom. In July we are planning to fly up to PA for a visit. I keep reminding her we are coming, but 5 seconds later the thought has vaporized. Still, she will be jubilant when we arrive, probably with flowers too. She has always loved art, and we may see some samples of her latest project. You are right, I don’t want to join this club. Instead I have my name on a wait list for my mother club, hale and hearty until 3 days before she died. Unfortunately, we don’t get to make the decision about membership in either club.

    Such a sweet tribute – I love how all 4 generations are making memories with Mother.

  9. Happy Birthday to your dear mom Marylin. I have a beloved aunt who is in her early 80’s who has Alzheimer’s. It is hard on my cousins. Thank you for your tips; they are very good and I will definitely keep them in mind (I love coffee).
    How wonderful that all your family came together to celebrate. That is truly a blessing. xo xo

    • Thank you, Joanne, and I wish you and your cousins the best as you help your aunt. It’s difficult on everyone, but it really helps when you can all get together and celebrate your shared lineage.

  10. Beautiful tribute. If only we could avoid this terrible disease completely with healthy living. It’s a good start but as you say there are other factors too. My father’s sister had it and it was so sad. You are to be commended for continuing to celebrate her life even though she won’t remember. Too many family members give up because it’s too painful to watch.

    • It was more painful with my dad, Kate. Alzheimer’s held him in the rage stage throughout the entire seven years, and normally he was a kind and pleasant man. With mom’s dementia, she remains calm and pleasant, but lives in the distant past or is numb to the present. It was so good for our entire family to celebrate the connections together; I hope she sensed at least part of it.

      • My mother-in-law (always a quiet pleasant and religious lady) talked like a sailor when she had Alzheimer’s. We didn’t know that she knew the words she was using. Very painful.

  11. Jim

    Whether asleep or awake, Mary received much hand-holding and many forehead kisses. The birthday party was a fine tribute to her as well as a great chance for dispersed and distant family to reconnect and enjoy many happy moments.

    • It was a wonderful weekend, honey. And having Maggie there to get us out on walks, and then slept beside Mom’s recliner and they napped together, were special little details. Mom did receive hugs, kisses and hand-holding; even more importantly, the entire family was together for the first time in many years. Thanks for helping make it all possible.

  12. Happy birthday to Mary and hugs to you! I’m sure your celebration was bitter sweet and it pulls my heart strings to think about it. You have such an amazing, beautiful, loving family and it all began with Mary, whether she remembers it or not. XO

    • Thank you, Robyn. It was bitter sweet, but in hindsight the sweet won out, big time. It all did begin with my mom and dad, and were were there in tribute to the results. It was a very special time.

  13. A lovely way to celebrate. I find it hard to believe that nothing gets through the Alzheimer’s barrier. Surely the love must register deep within. The health advice is probably a list I ought to study. I enjoy both tea and coffee and I neither smoke nor drink. I hope I don’t join the club. 97 is a grand old age. One I dare not contemplate. Happy Birthday to your mom, Marylin.

    • There are times I have to stubbornly refuse to believe nothing breaks through the barrier, Andrew. Up until about six months ago, on my monthly trips to stay with Mom, there would a few special moments here and there when things would clear and she knew…and I could tell she knew. That doesn’t happen any more, but I still hold tight to the possibility that on some level, she feels the love and care around her.

  14. It may have been early Marylin but I’m sure your Mom wouldn’t have realised that. I’m sure for her the best bit was the attention from all the generations at once even if she didn’t remember them all.
    If some of us can’t avoid joining the club, lets at least make sure the club doesn’t exact such huge dues from now on.
    xxx Sending Massive Hugs xxx

  15. Marylin, this was a poignant post, as I am sure was the party itself. My mother is 88 and doing well, but it is discouraging to think that she could still get this terrible disease despite good health habits — and that the physical body can carry on for many years, even in old age, without the mind.

    May a cure be discovered for Alzheimer’s, and may all of us and our families be spared long years of dementia.

    Barring that, may we be given grace, as you are, to love in the midst of sorrow.

    • Until they’re mid-80s, Shirley, my parents were still driving “older” friends to church and clubs, and Mom worded in her garden and wrote poems. Enjoy every day with your mother. But of course, Alzheimer’s or not, that’s what we all should do. Every day is precious.

  16. This is a lottery none of us want to win and a club none of us want to join. I am so heartened by your love and regard for your mother. On some level, she must perceive this love and care–in her spirit–though her body is failing. Thanks for showing us how to love well.

    • A lottery we don’t want to win is absolutely correct, Jane. And more accurate than the club, which implies we don’t have to join.
      I hope these updated suggestions for both brain and heart health can make a difference. But as with so many serious illnesses, there are many missing pieces of the puzzle. We do the best we can do with what we know.

  17. Happy early Birthday to your mother, Marylin. While she might not always be aware of who’s who, I’m betting she’s feeling the love.

    Thanks also for the tips to promote a healthier lifestyle. I don’t get out enough and walk, but I am trying to change that. 😉

    • I’ll take that bet, Judy. I want her to feel the love even if she doesn’t understand the details. And I’m with you on the healthier lifestyle; it might not be the full answer, so it’s a good start.

  18. Blessings to your Mother on her 97th – a birthday greeting of warmth and love. Awful disease that robs the person and family.

  19. Thank you, Mary. In the past, when Mom could still understand many things, I showed her two of the pictures-in-progress with final products that you shared on your blog. She enjoyed them very much, and for just awhile even wished she could draw and paint again.

  20. Claudia

    This post was just right for me now. Facing a lot of “stuff”. Your words reminded me to see glass as half full!

  21. Don

    There’s something deeply special about celebrating a birthday like that. I think the care you give to your Mom is wonderful Marylin.

  22. I think Maggie shows us all we need to know. Love knows no barriers.

    • Absolutely, Rod. Leave it to a wise old dog to lead the way. Also, Maggie was rescued from a very bad situation twelve years ago, so maybe she senses that even my mom’s bad situation of dementia is also receiving good care.

  23. Happy early birthday to your wonderful mother. Marylin. I love the flip-flops 😀 Family, food, and fun is a wonderful way to celebrate and this post is a beautiful tribute to your mother xxx

    • Thank you so much, Dianne. I hope that on some level my mother sensed all the love around her. I know that all the family enjoyed the time together and realized that this wonderful, confused little woman was at the heart of how we all came together.

  24. Lovely that her whole family could be there to celebrate her early birthday and a timely reminder to all of us to be aware of that club to steer clear of if at all possible. Best wishes to your Mom, Marylin.

    • Yes, Jenny, I’m doing all I can to avoid membership in this club. Just not sure how well it will work, so I try not to over react to times when I can’t immediately remember something. ;( Thanks for the birthday wishes.

  25. It must be worrisome at times, Marylin, to have 2 parents who have this affliction. Praying for serenity for you, and hoping all the grace and kindness you give away so freely will boomerang back to surround and protect you. ❤

    Best wishes to Mom. 97! That's simply amazing.

    • I’m definitely more serene on some days than others, Tracy, so I truly appreciate your prayers and hopes. I would love the boomerang of protection against Alzheimer’s and dementia.

  26. dianabletter

    Hi Marylin, Perhaps it’s a club not to join, but look at all the members of your club who support you on your journey. So many people share their stories and you give them back from your heart. So…in some ways, you have made a special club that people do want to join. What a tribute to your special family. Diana

  27. Jane Thorne

    Not a club with a ‘waiting list’ to join, but goodness me it brings love and togetherness out in force for those involved. A very Happy Birthday to your lovely Mum Marylin…there is an abiding memory I have from your ‘sharings’ and it is this: At the end of their working day your Dad would join your Mum and help her carry vegetables up from the garden, side by side. Huge hugs for you all and much ❤ xXx

  28. Celebrating life and family in this way is so touching. It’s what we do and even if it is painful to see our loved ones in this stage of dementia, we have the feeling that they know they are surrounded by love and warmth.It is all you can do. Love the flip flops.Thanks for sharing this special family time with us.

    • I certainly hope so, Lynne. And when the family was all together to celebrate Mom’s early birthday–and all of her life–it felt very possible that on some level she did understand.

  29. Nancy Parker Brummett

    How wonderful for you all that you could celebrate your mom, Marylin. We watched a documentary on Glen Campbell and Alzheimer’s last night. Very moving, but just a TV show. For you and so many others dementia in a loved one is not something that can be turned off. Praying for a cure!

    • Thank you, Nancy. We’re all praying for a cure, too, not for my mother but for all those starting out on this hard journey…and especially that entire generations might avoid it altogether.

  30. Awwww….blessings for you and your Mom!

  31. What a wonderful family celebration, Marylin. I love Molly’s flip-flop hanging. And I smiled reading that your mom smiled at times from all the hugs and kisses. I’m sure she felt loved. Happy early 97th birthday to your mom. Wow! 97-years-old. That’s amazing. And thanks for the sharing the Alzheimer tips. My aunt is in the early stages of dementia and my uncle died a year ago because of Alzheimer’s. So sad. 😦

    • It sounds like your aunt and uncle are in the same situation as my parents, Tracy. My dad died of Alzheimer’s, and now my mom is in very advanced stages of dementia. We’ll hope that my mom and your aunt both feel the love and caring of hugs and kisses.

  32. Wonderful celebration of Mary and family! I love the card from the great-grandchildren. What does it say at the bottom of the poster card — “Empty present …”?

  33. I think it has something to do with their present, a framed picture of them posing for their great-grandma in his baseball uniform and her softball uniform. It was very cute, and they wanted her to know there was also a present.
    It was a terrific family celebration, Darla, though my mom slept through almost all of it.

  34. Happy Birthday to your Mum Marylin and thanks for sharing this advice.

  35. Happy (Belated?) Birthday to your dear mother, Marylin. I love the flip flop wreath decoration and the decorated poster board from great-grandchildren. Did she smile when she heard your voices singing to her?
    I like your mentioning she smiled at other special moments.
    I missed this post since I left for my Mom’s on June 26th. Up on Lake Erie for 9 days kept me busy and happy, Marylin. I was not able to ever use the computer at the senior living public room. Everywhere I went, it surprised me that there was little, if any, reception.
    The best part, other than the pretty photos, was how you care and share some healthy ways to possibly postpone or prevent Alzheimer’s Disease. I finally was able to watch “Still Alice,” which was a very well done movie about early onset of this disease. Keep up the wonderful way you weave your mother’s story and life with this valuable public service.

  36. So glad to read of your family’s happy gathering for your dear mom’s 97th early birthday Marylin. It made me smile reading of her small smiles 🙂 And thank you so much for the ongoing advice about Alzheimer’s. Thanks to you and your previous posts on this subject, I am making sure to drink one to two cups of coffee every day now, as well as my endless cups of tea 🙂 Lovely, precious photos. Love & hugs to you my friend 🙂 xo

  37. Molly

    It was such a wonderful bday. I got some time with my grandma, got to see my cousin from China, and got to share how awesome my cousin is with my kids! I will be going to see grandma closer to,her actual birthday, and I can’t wait to see her again!

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