A diary-style account of Dad's Alzheimer's disease and how we (Kristen and Megan) deal with the challenges of this disease. Dad is hilarious, heart-wrenching, and naked one too many times, and although the disease is confusing and frustrating, we are able to find that humor and love still prevail.
I think about Dad the most this
time of year. It's no secret that Dad wasn't the easiest or nicest
person to be around growing up, but somehow when Christmas rolled
around, that person disappeared for a little while. He wanted to bring a
wonderful Christmas to our home. In the time we all lived under one
roof, Dad succeeded at this.
He was always the first person awake and
waiting for us to peak around the corner to see what Santa brought us.
He loved opening presents as much as we did. He was like a kid. Shaking
packages and making guesses as to what was inside. One piece of tape at a
time - no one ever opened presents as slowly as Dad
did. Sometimes we
had to lend a hand to speed up the process. I remember we would stick
bows to the top of his slightly balding head. Afterwards, he filled our
breakfast plates with a stack of our french toast tradition. It was my
favorite day of the year.
we got older and Dad lived on his own, he still came over for Christmas
day. I woke up early, waiting by the window for his truck to appear in
the driveway. I knew he was the signal for Christmas to start. He still
took his sweet time unwrapping presents and cried every time we gave him
a framed picture of me and my sister. He spent the day with us but it
was always sad to see him go home to an empty house.
week will be our 4th Christmas without Dad. I don't know if Christmas
will ever feel the same without him. Thankfully, these memories of Dad
are real. I cling to them tight because that's all I can do. Our family
continues to make new traditions and this year is the first Christmas
with my sweet niece, Emry. I wish so much she could experience Grandpa
like we did on Christmas day, but we will make sure to carry on traditions of Christmas past.
Life moves fast and things can change with the blink of an eye. Be sure to pause and
take in moments with the ones you love this Christmas because you never know when a memory is all you have left of someone. -Megan
Some things never change. Bows on Dad's head a couple Christmases ago.
With the big holiday fast approaching, here is my wish for everyone this holiday season... Sit down with your Parents and Grandparents and ask them about their life, their childhood, their favorite memories, or their favorite recipe... Whatever it may be, take the chance to savor and learn about whatever it is that makes them who they are! You never know when those loved ones will be taken from you physically or mentally.
I am happy to share that I had a wonderful time with my Dad yesterday! Valley View Gardens was having their huge family Christmas Party, and I was the singing entertainment. Honestly, I didn't think my Dad would even notice that I was singing and I imagined him wandering off, losing interest, or even just falling asleep in his chair. That was not the case at all. My dad, the ham, made an appearance yesterday and it sent my heart soaring! Right before I started singing, the Director introduced me and then gave a shout out to my Dad which resulted in applause from the audience. Noticing the clapping, my Dad raised his head, looked around, and then put both hands to his mouth and blew a huge kiss to everyone. The place erupted in laughter. I think my mouth dropped open. He was so alert and so funny. It's been months since I've seen him that way. Throughout the performance, Dad would smile at me, nod his head, raise his eyebrows up and down and then eventually started dancing and singing. At one point we were holding hands and swaying to The Christmas Song... I think the lyrics were "And so I'm offering this simple phrase to kids from 1 to 92...." and I lost it. The tears were suddenly in my eyes, and I just pulled Dad into a hug and we danced. I didn't care who was watching, all I could think was how tough this year was. So often the doctor's appointments and errands get in the way of quality time with him and he becomes a "patient" instead of my Dad. When was the last time that we just had fun together?
So, Christmas came early for me and my Dad. I know how blessed I am to have had that moment with him yesterday. Those tidbits are few and far between now, but thanks to this blog, I'll be able to look back at this day and remember it vividly. Merry Christmas to everyone who supports us and follows our story. Let me end this post with a little bit of 'baby love'. :)
From the title of this blog, I'm sure you can guess what I'm going to write about. Dad's too doped up. He is on so much medication that he is losing his motor skills and is sleeping too much. He is unable to feed himself now and he has resorted to crawling on the ground sometimes instead of walking. When the staff told me about that latter incident, I knew we had to take action and that meant going to the ER again. (meanwhile, the staff at Valley View suspended some of his medication because they were also concerned) We arrived at the ER yesterday around noon and didn't end up leaving until after 4. Everyone at the VA is so incredibly helpful and nice to my Dad, but the waiting just takes a toll. My Mom showed up and took baby duty in the waiting room while I stayed in the ER with my Dad. Let me just say though, Dad was 'with it' enough to get mad at me a few times yesterday. Understandably, we were all tired of waiting, but Dad just wanted to pace around and kept going into the nurses station. When I tried to stop him he said, "I'm not going nowhere. Shut up." I literally laughed out loud. Wow! That sentence made perfect sense. Then when he noticed that I had resorted to just following him around the ER, he told me under his breath that I was pissing him off. My response? "You're pissing me off too Dad!"
Finally, we were sent to the Psych office. The main objective was to get the dosage of his Depakote Prescription lowered significantly and that did get accomplished. By that time, Emry was ready for her next meal and way overdue for a nap, so my mom and I switched duties and she got my Dad back to Valley View Gardens safely. It's going to take a while for the Depakote to start diminishing in his system. When I stopped by Valley View to drop off his prescription this morning, I found my Dad on all fours in the dining room. He is so confused and once he's down there, he can't get up. On the other hand, he is now able to pick up his fork, but instead of using it to eat, he tried to poke the nurse with it when she attempted to take it away from him. If it's not one thing, it's another.
On another note, The Alzheimer's Association had me come back to their office to speak to their Board of Directors on Monday. After sharing my Dad's story, one woman said, "Wow, you're 29. That's what we need. We need young people to care about this disease." I couldn't agree more.
As many of you know, I was Co-Chair for the 2012 Long Beach Walk to End Alzheimer's and the fabulous news is.... the walk was a success!
Last year's goal was to raise $100,000 and we met it....
This year's goal was to raise $120,000 and we are currently at $127,000 and counting!
As a team, our goal was to raise $5000. Ten days before the walk, we were at $3900 and we made one more push - emailed friends, family, co-workers- and as of today, we raised (drum roll please).... $5865!! (And my neighbor will try to get his employer (Exxon Mobil) to match his donation and so our total should be just over $6000!) AMAZING!!!!!!!!
I just want to extend a HUGE Thank you to everyone who pitched in and supported us! I also want to thank everyone who walked with us... we had people come from San Diego to San Fransisco join us on the walk! We are very blessed.
During my time as Co-Chair, I was able to meet many wonderful people associated with The Southland Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association and they invited to come speak at their All-Staff meeting earlier this week. At the end of their meetings, they like to inspire the staff with a personal story. I was extremely excited and honored to share our story two days ago at the Los Angeles Office. I spoke about my Dad, the financial toll it's taken on our family, and even read some excerpts from my past blogs.
When I was writing my speech, I researched what the Association and our country have accomplished toward the fight against Alzheimer's. I would like to share a few of these accomplishments:
First of all, almost right away, President Obama lifted the (Bush) ban on federal resources going towards Stem Cell Research. Next, with the urging of the Alzheimer's Assoc., he signed the National Alzheimer's Project Act, and lastly he is pushing for $156 Million increase in funding over the next two years to battle the disease (this amount of money is nothing compared to the debilitating cost our country will face in the future as more and more people are diagnosed with the disease). These are STUNNING accomplishments in only the last couple years. So, needless to say, I am happy about the outcome of this election, and I am hopeful for a future without Alzheimer's.
Happy Birthday Dad. Today you are 73 years old. In the past year you became a Grandpa but you also had many mishaps and challenges as your Alzheimer's disease is battling to take over. We miss you so much. We've resigned ourselves to the fact that you have succumbed to Alzheimer's and most days are just business as usual. But, I always find myself grieving on November 4th. Because it's your day, Dad. And it's okay to grieve once in a while. So, today Megan and I both shed a tear for you. We love you and miss you.
So, as I stated a couple weeks ago, the West Los Angeles VA home has opened and since Dad is only number 13 on the list, we are hoping for the move to happen soon. Unfortunately when I called for an update last week, I was told that they are going to stop at #10 because they need to hire more staff. It was all I could do to keep it together on the phone. Who knows how long this newest hiccup can set us back. I let the woman know (again) that Dad has a high financial need and that this whole situation sounds like really bad news. By the end of the conversation, she assured me that they were already starting the hiring process. She also said that since he is number 13, that he will hopefully be moving in within a month or so. (That sounds naively optimistic to me). I'm not holding my breath.
We are five days away from the Long Beach "Walk to End Alzheimer's" and team UpsidetoDementia has surpassed it's goal of raising $5000! $5150 raised so far and 25 team members signed up! It's our biggest group yet! In addition to being a team captain with my Sister, I am also the co-chair for the walk and will be MC'ing the entire event on Saturday. Our fundraiser at a local restaurant called McKenna's on the Bay was a huge success and we raised about $950 for the team. Donations have been pouring in from all over... Family members, Friends and Facebook Friends, OneHope Wine employees, my Mom's Bunco and Bible Study groups. I even have friends who are asking their classmates or family members to help out as well. THANK YOU to everyone for their support and donations!
This pictures is from our fundraiser. More pictures and details to come after the walk! And, we will have a grand total of money raised as well! It feels good to fight the good fight. p.s. Not a peep from Dad since he got back from the Psych Ward. :)
I picked Dad up from the Psych Ward today. He had been there for 8 days. I talked to the Doctor a couple of days ago to get an update and learned that Dad had fallen down which resulted in a bump on his head. They did a CT scan and everything was fine, but I definitely wasn't expecting to see him look like this when I got there today:
Talk about a bump! And what about that Black Eye? Apparently they were doing rounds in the middle of the night, and found him on the floor of his room. I guess he fell out of bed or was trying to walk around in the dark and knocked into something and then fell. Anyway, it's nothing serious and at least he seems happy, but he looks pretty beat up. The good news is that Dad seemed more focused and responsive today than he has in a long time.
Okay, so let's talk Meds. The Doctor told me he put Dad on Namenda which is an Alzheimer's drug... but a step up
from Aricept. It's used for the later stages of dementia. He also put
Dad on Depakote (Valproic Acid) to help control the moods or mood
swings... it is
sometimes used in ADHD kids to help control outbursts and aggression...
so that seems to make sense for Dad.
Then he gave Dad a Haldol Dec... which is a
shot of Haloperidol that Dad would get once a month. This is an
anti-psychotic. There is a
warning against using it on Dementia patients, but there was also a
warning on Seroquel and he has been on that for about a year now. On top of helping with hallucinations and uncontrollable
motor and verbal tics, Haloperidol is also used to treat confusion and
difficulty thinking and
understanding that is caused by severe physical or mental illness.
And he still has Dad on Seroquel, but reduced the dosage to just 25 mg/day.
The problem now is getting the Meds. Since this doctor is not associated with the VA, I'm not sure how to get the meds switched over into the VA system. For the moment, we are just going to pay out of pocket and when Dad moves to Los Angeles, he will get a whole new set of Doctors and we can deal with it then. BUT, the drug Namenda is $300!!! The charge nurse at Valley View Gardens thinks that since Dad is in such an advanced stage of Alzheimer's, this drug is not necessary and since it's so expensive, we are going to drop it for the moment. Depakote is $95, so that's not bad and it's the most important.
Woo Hoo!!! We just got news that the West Los Angeles VA home has finally opened. They have already moved in two residents and are hoping to do 1-3 residents per week. Dad is number 13. When I spoke to the admissions coordinator, she could not give me any specifics on my Dad's exact move-in date, but I'm hoping for mid-November at the latest. That way we only have to pay Valley View Gardens for October and then they can pro-rate our days in November, so we won't go over budget again.
(Now if they would have only returned my phone calls last week, then I wouldn't have moved my Dad and we wouldn't have had all this drama. But it did force us to deal with Dad's behavioral issues, so I guess everything happens for a reason.)
It takes a village to care for my Dad. And that Village came out in full support the past few days. There have been some developments in the past two days that could not have happened without our Village.
Valley View Gardens has been so accommodating and we are so lucky that they took him back into the home. They also still have us at the discounted rate, even though it's over our budget, but I know they are doing everything in their power to help us. Thankfully, some of our family members have donated money towards Dad's care this month, so that lightens the burden a little on that front as well.
Also, because I am the Co-Chair for the Long Beach Alzheimer's Walk, I have started making some wonderful friends in the Alzheimer's community. Once I told my Co-Chair about my Dad's behaviors, she put me in touch with a trusted Geriatric Psychiatrist friend of hers. We figured out that since my Dad has Medicare Part A, it will cover an admittance to a psych ward where he can have his behaviors monitored. Everything happened so fast, but I knew this was the next step, so when I got the call yesterday morning that they would take him, I agreed to it.
They wanted to pick him up in an Ambulance, and I put a stop to that real quick. The last ambulance bill we had was for $1000 and it took a year to get that taken care of. So, I called my good friend, Colby, who my daughter just happens to love and asked if I could drop the baby off at her house. I just knew it would be easier and faster with my Dad if I had two free hands.
My Dad and I continued on to Anaheim General Hospital where they checked him out at the ER. We were only there about two hours, and Valley View Gardens had a contact who met us at the door and welcomed us in. Finally they agreed to admit him to the off-campus facility in Buena Park where the Psych Ward is located. The Doctor even said to me, "Usually we transport him by ambulance, and I will probably get in trouble for doing this, but I will let you drive him there." It just seems like everyone was making an exception for us, or calling in a favor. We are so thankful.
A few more words about this whole psych ward thing. It seems extreme, but I think this is absolutely necessary because although all his behaviors are not uncommon for an Alzheimer's patient, they have become so bad that it's affecting his care and could ultimately jeopardize his place in his future home at the VA facility. The behaviors I am referring to include: Peeing all over the walls, masturbating and disrobing in public places, refusing showers and grooming, being combative and aggressive, walking the hallways at 2 AM and ultimately disrupting other residents by getting into their beds... the list goes on.
So, for the first time in three years, I have a peace of
mind and a calmness surrounding me. For seven days, I won't get phone
calls filled with bad news, I won't get complaints about Dad's behavior,
and I won't have to worry about him getting kicked out, because this is
a psych ward and I am sure they have seen it all.
So, thank you to "The Village" that made everything easier this week. Thank you to Valley View Gardens, my Co-Chair Janie and her Gero Psych friend Dr. Macina, my baby-sitter and best friend Colby, and to my family for helping out with the financial burden. And of course, the undying support from Blake (who made me a fabulous martini when I got home last night), Megan, my Mom and all the family and friends who passed on their encouragement this week.
Well, we didn't have to wait long for something to go wrong. Dad's new home kicked him out after only three and a half days. While there is nothing funny about this situation, I couldn't help but crack a smile when I told my Mom and her response was, "What!?!? Already?".
Yesterday morning I came to pick him up for a Podiatry Appointment. The Marketing/Admissions lady said she wanted to speak to me, but we were just barely on time for the appointment, so I asked if I could talk to her after. She agreed but quickly told me that Dad has been acting up... (Now in the past, I have glossed over some of the more embarrassing or odd behaviors for the sake of keeping my Dad's dignity intact, but now I feel compelled to share them a little more honestly with my readers because these behaviors are not who my Dad is... He is basically a walking and sometimes talking version of a disease called Alzheimer's and that's it. So I am going to share the good, bad, and ugly.)
She said he was publicly disrobing, he was masturbating in the lobby, he crawled into a man's bed, he took his shoe off during dinner and threw it on the table, he stole a butter knife from the dining room and was apparently brandishing it as a weapon, and he had been aggressive. Well, of course none of this is news to me. He has done all this before and there is obviously an adjustment period that he would go through being in a new home.
When we came back from the Doctor, the managing director was gone, so I figured I would speak to her later in the day. I returned at 4:00 and was asked to come into the office whereupon they basically told me that he needs to leave and if I would not take him then they would have an ambulance come take him to the ER. "His behaviors are putting people in danger and are inappropriate for the facility." That was it. There was no discussion. It was a very cold conversation that left me feeling like they were blaming me for his behaviors.
I was just sitting there with a baby in my lap who was ready to eat and had a wet diaper all while trying to figure out my next move. I ended up calling Valley View Gardens (Dad's old home) and through my tears, begged for them to let me bring him back there. Their response, "He's our family. Bring him back home." Blake arrived shortly after to pick up Emry and we had my Dad out of there within the hour.
The worst part is that we are out $500. We paid for the four days Dad was at the new home plus a non-refundable community fee of $250. And, we are still going to be paying Valley View Gardens for October which is $700 over Dad's budget. A total of $1300 that we don't really have. We're screwed.
I'm working on a few things to get Dad's behaviors under control. This cannot happen when he eventually moves into the new VA home. More info to come on that ....
Why can't my Dad just be that 'normal' Alzheimer's patient who stares at the floor and sits quietly by himself? And why is this my life? Why can't anything go smoothly? And my biggest complaint is... DON'T CALL YOURSELF AN ALZHEIMER'S HOME IF YOU CAN'T DEAL WITH AN ALZHEIMER'S PATIENT!!!!!!
(below is a picture of Dad in a jumpsuit that fastens up the back so he can't pee or disrobe in public... I took this as we were leaving the home for good.)
Since we still hadn't heard from the VA Facility in Los Angeles, we had to make a decision. Valley View Gardens gave my Dad a BIG discounted rate the entire year and two months that he lived there. They could not go any lower and Dad's money ran out.
We found a more affordable option in an 'okay' neighborhood in Long Beach. The monthly rate is actually $300 less than his monthly income, so at this point, if the Los Angeles VA home doesn't work out, Dad could actually stay at this place forever. It's not the Ritz, but the hallways are wide, the walls are all freshly painted, there is plenty of outdoor space... and for the moment, Dad has his own room. It's called Bellagio Manor. (we joked because if someone wants to know where my Dad lives, we could say in an impressive tone , "Oh, he lives at The Bellagio.") Haha.
The move went off without a hitch. But that doesn't mean that I didn't have a pit in my stomach all day which ultimately left me exhausted both physically and emotionally. This is Dad's third home in 2 1/2 years and we are still hoping for one more move whenever the VA home opens. We all know that the adjustment period of a move is a long and challenging one. After the last move there was a two week calm before the storm, and then things got a little crazy. So, now we wait...
Well, it's September and Dad still hasn't moved to the new West LA Veterans Home. Our family is scraping up the extra money he needs to pay for his care. But I'm starting to think that we might need to move him temporarily until the VA opens... $700 extra is what he needs per month and that is just too much. Ugh... moving.
On another note, Dad has scabies AGAIN. This is his 4th or maybe 5th time... I don't know because I stopped counting. I walked into his home to pick him up for a routine Psych visit and took one look at him and knew. He was scratching in all the same places. Luckily since we were going to the VA clinic already, I begged and pleaded to be seen so that we could get the medicine he needed for his skin. Success! I saw the problem, tackled it, and solved it all within hours! All with a baby on my hip and one eye on the old guy with Alzheimer's! Sorry for tooting my own horn, but normally the Scabies situations are much more drawn out. (Although, the Nurse Practitioner didn't think it was scabies -why is it so hard to diagnose?- and I politely told her that I disagreed. At this point, I know exactly what it looks like and how my Dad reacts to it, plus I did find out later when we arrived back at Valley View Gardens, that another resident also has Scabies.)
Scabies is highly contagious but I have never contracted it from him... my main worry this time was Emry. I made sure she had absolutely no contact with him, and I probably washed my hands 20 times that day.
Dad also had another staff infection but this time in his armpit and it was really painful. We opted to go to urgent care instead of sitting for hours at the VA ER. $200 later, they gave him a very painful injection of Lidocaine, lanced it open, squeezed the heck out of it, and sent us home with an antibiotic and an order to come back two days later. Again, I washed my hands countless times that day.
Anyway, wish there was more exciting news to tell. The Alzheimer's Walk is less than two months away and we're having a big fund-raiser at the end of the month. More info on that coming soon!
Below is a picture of Dad and his favorite nurse at the VA Clinic in Whittier. She is so good to him. Thank you Vanessa!
Anyway, so many developments in the last 48 hours. Mostly good in the sense that we have solutions to the problems for now.
I was kind of afraid to visit Dad's home alone because the Head Nurse was clearly very annoyed with me on the phone even though I did what she asked (refill the Xanax) and could do nothing more until it arrived. In her defense, I didn't return her phone call the other day mostly because I had no news for her, but I know that added to her frustration.
Our conversation with her was a mixture of confusion and frustration on the part of all involved. Turns out, they have Xanax. I was so bewildered... what does she want from me? Isn't that what she wanted? After 10 minutes of the most dizzying conversation both my Mom and I said, "But you have Xanax? We don't understand?"
Bottom line is that the Xanax is not working and they were so mad that we were not there to take him out of the home and to the Mental Health Department. Turns out the VA does have an urgent care Mental Health Office that will take Walk-Ins. So, I promised we would take him the very next morning.
When we arrived at the Mental Health office the next day, I was informed that they don't take walk-ins. But here I was, young lady with a baby and a Dad with Alzheimer's and I told her that his home could possibly kick him out because of his behavior. They took pity on us. Plus Emry kept smiling at every person that passed by. How do you say no to that?
We were seen pretty quickly and everyone was incredibly helpful and NICE. That makes such a difference. I gotta say, I'm really starting to Love the VA.
After we started going through all his medications, we found out that his Seroquel had been discontinued. This drug helps with anxiety, sexual behaviors, sun-downers etc. Dad had been doing so well on it and I have no idea why his Psychiatrist DC'd it.
(The psychiatrist it turns out has really screwed things up. We had talked about discontinuing ONLY the Xanax at Dad's last appointment. It looks like he did the Seroquel instead. BUT, Valley View Gardens has hand-written notes from the Doctor saying that he discontinued the Ambien. What the heck. Get it together!)
Long story short, because I really could give much more detail.... we got that medication reinstated for now. Although, when I got it refilled, they only gave us 10 pills. So, now I need to figure out how to get more. Plus, Valley View Gardens still needs a bunch of paperwork from the Doctor's. So, I called Dad's Primary Care Doctor but they had no appointments until August. This morning I called twice asking if they had any cancellations and viola! we got an appointment for 2:00 this afternoon. I'm determined to get this all behind us, get Dad back on the right meds, and keep the peace with Valley View Gardens.
Below is a pic of Grandpa and Emry and a video of Dad....
On top of everything that I just posted about Dad's aggressive behavior, I did hear back from the West Los Angeles VA home about a possible move-in date. The facility did not pass the government survey, but has since made the corrections that needed to be made. Apparently they are hoping to get the okay this week. I have no idea when move-ins would start, but I found out that Dad is #13 on the list. Here's the catch -- they are only going to take 1-2 residents per week at first so that everyone can adjust properly. That means Dad wouldn't move in for at least 6 weeks from when they start moving people in... and we don't even know when that will be.
So let me sum up all the aspects of my Dad's life that stresses me out. No Money. No move-in date. Aggressive Behavior. Dad is jeopardizing the only good thing that he has right now: Valley View Gardens -- who have been more than accommodating with his budget and behavior.
Mom and I are going over there shortly to talk to them.
A Friend of mine also sent me a link to an article about Veteran's homes sitting empty... like the one my Dad is supposed to move into. Click Below. Veterans Homes
Not good news today. Actually terrible news. We've been trying to get Dad's Xanax refilled because his behavior is becoming more difficult for The Valley View Gardens staff to deal with. He won't cooperate to shower, or get dressed, or basically do anything that he doesn't want to do and he responds by trying to hit or punch the staff. Megan and I both know that even though he is 72 and has severe Alzheimer's, Dad can still pull out that mean, scary side when he wants. He even hit one of the pregnant staff members the other day.
The Xanax is taking forever because it was discontinued due to the fact that the doctor didn't want him on Ambien, Seroquel, and Xanax all at once. So, I had to request that it be renewed, then it had to be refilled, and then it is supposed to arrive in the mail. There is nothing I can do to speed up this process... we are in the hands of the VA, and that's how it's done. Anyway, it still hasn't arrived, and his behavior is getting worse.
So, I got a call today requesting that I take him out of the facility and into the mental health department at the VA. I'm not even sure where to start with this request. First of all, where is the mental health department? Will they just take a walk-in? And what will happen to him there? Are they supposed to keep him overnight? I am trying to get Dad's psychiatrist on the phone who prescribed all the above medications and get his opinion.
I wondered why I was handling all this so well at first, but once I got off the phone after venting to my Mom, I burst into tears. But it didn't last long because I stole a glance over at my 4 month old daughter Emry who was giving me the most sympathetic look... I swear if she could talk, she would have said, "It's okay Mommy."
Wait... Just talked to the Doctor while I was writing this and he says that taking him to the Mental Health Department will just result in them giving him a sedative or shot of Xanax and then releasing him -- basically a waste of our time. He also says that the staff just needs to learn to deal with this behavior (which I agree with, but we don't want my Dad to get kicked out). We have the okay to increase his dose of the other two medications until the Xanax arrives. Apparently it was refilled last Thursday, so I don't know why it's taking so long to arrive...
It's that time again! Getting ready for the walk! I have updated the link to the right, and that will bring you directly to our Team Page for the Long Beach Alzheimer's walk where you can join our team, make a general donation, or even donate for a specific walker! I am already recruiting people and I think we're going to have our biggest walking group so far this year!
As last year's top Fundraiser for the Walk and as Co-Chair of this year's Alzheimer's Walk, I had the privilege of sharing our story at the Alz Walk Kick Off Party two days ago. I want to share it with my readers. It's a wonderful way to revisit our family's story and our many reasons for walking! So enjoy! :)
(Picture of Me, Blake, and Emry in purple for the Kick off Party)
"Tonight is all about energy! I hope we’re all getting excited for
the walk this October! It will be
here before we know it.
I’m reminded every year that with a disease
that can make many of us feel so helpless, we can find empowerment in
participating in a walk and fund-raising!
And that was my motivation last year!
This is only my third year walking, and
while I’ve had many distant relatives battle with Alzheimer’s, it wasn’t until
I became the main caregiver for my Dad, that I became more involved. I never thought that at the age of 26,
I would become the decision maker in my Dad’s life, and ultimately his main caregiver
outside of his home.
So, I started a blog called, “The Upside to
Dementia” (which is also my team name).
A quick note about myself, I am an actress and singer, so I’m not what
you would call shy, and I love to share our story with everyone that I
can. I find it very therapeutic
mentally and emotionally, and it has also become a useful tool when
fundraising. Because people are
witnessing the daily struggle of Alzheimer’s through my blog posts, they become
more passionate and involved when the Walk rolls around every year. So, I’m happy to say that last year, my
team raised $4850. I was blown
away by the support of loved ones, as well as the support of others who have
their own relatives battling with Alzheimer’s. I’ll will speak more about the fundraising, but first want
to tell you a bit about our story….
My Dad first showed signs of Dementia when
he was 65, and now 7 years later, he is in the advanced stages of the
disease. Financially, it has been
challenging to keep the level of care that he needs, and we had to move him to
a cheaper facility, and from there, he will hopefully be moving into a new
Memory Care Facility at the Los Angeles Veterans Association. As many of you know, any change in the
daily routine of an Alzheimer’s patient is tough, and these moves deteriorate
his condition each time.
Fortunately and unfortunately, my Dad is
physically very healthy and relatively young, so it seems we will get to
witness every terrible stage of this disease.
My Dad was at first forgetful, then
paranoid, then confused, and then a mixture of all those and more. And I will never forget the day I
walked into his mobile home and was almost knocked over by the most foul
smell. After searching everywhere,
I finally noticed the microwave door was just barely cracked open. Inside, I found a forgotten piece of raw fish sitting in a
bowl with flies swarming around it.
It had probably been there for a few days. That was when we knew he needed professional help.
After a couple months of having a caregiver
watch him for a few hours every day, we knew he needed 24 hour care. When we moved him to a board and care,
he climbed out the window and ran away in the pouring rain. Luckily we found him pretty quickly
since he was the only person walking the streets in the rain. When we moved him to a locked Memory
Care facility, he still managed to escape and the police found him a few miles
away. He had a gash in his head
and I met the ambulance at the hospital where we sat for 5 hours just to get
stitches. He has also ran away
from his current home after a gate was left open by gardeners, but was found
safely by a stranger in front of Vons.
I think it’s safe to say, we have an escape artist on our hands!
Since moving him to a facility, my weeks
have been filled with anxious phone calls, visits, weird behavioral problems,
doctor’s appointments and basically just the maintenance of all the necessary
aspects of his daily life. I always reiterate to people that Alzheimer’s is so
much more than just memory loss.
And while I have a lot of responsibility,
ultimately at the end of day, I am not a full-time caregiver because he lives
in a home. The amount of respect
and admiration I have for full-time caregivers is insurmountable.
But, like I said before, the financial toll
of this disease is probably one of the most stressful parts. Payments for care
are estimated to be $200
billion in the United States in 2012. So, we are just one in millions of families dealing with
this issue. After July, my Dad’s
savings will have run out. He has
a $700 gap in what his care costs per month and what his income is every
month. (And, he has really
affordable care in comparison to most.)
I thank God that he was in the Air Force and has qualified for SOME
veteran benefits, and I am waiting for the call for when he will be given the
okay to be transferred to a new facility run by the Veterans Association. In the meantime, I’m not sure what
we’re going to do.
So here I am, age 29, married, with a brand
new daughter (who, I have to say is probably the youngest volunteer that the
Alz Assoc has ever had!), and my Dad cannot enjoy the years of being a
Grandpa. He barely noticed my
pregnant belly, and most of the time looks right through my daughter as if she
isn’t even there. The other day
after greeting her with a “What’s up, dude?”, he then called her a “cute little
booger”. Any little sentence that
comes out of his mouth and actually makes sense is the type of memory I have to
cling to. They are funny and
sweet, but by no means are the typical memories of a Grandpa spending time with
his one and only Granddaughter.
When I look at my life, I realize that many
aspects of it have evolved from this connection to Alzheimer’s. I am thrilled to be active in the walks
and with the Alzheimer’s Association.
I have also started an Entertainment Business called The Sassy Songbirds,
where we perform for Alzheimer’s patients and seniors in Memory Care, Assisted
Living Facilities, and Retirement Communities because I’ve seen first hand how
the power of music can raise my Dad’s spirits.
So, when I think about our situation and the
situation of many of American dealing with Alzheimer’s, I get fired up. I get fired up when I think that
Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease.
One in eight
older Americans has Alzheimer's disease.
& most of all:
Alzheimer's disease is the sixth-leading cause of death
in the United States and the only cause
of death among the top 10 in the United States that cannot be prevented,
cured or even slowed.
So, the name of our Blog may seem strange
(“The Upside to Dementia”), but my family has no choice but to find the upside
to our situation. My Dad’s sense
of humor has remained fairly intact and we have many funny stories of lost
shoes, naked episodes, or just crazy moments facilitated by my Dad. Laughter, music, and dance have become
a coping mechanism for us, although tears, frustration, guilt, and hopelessness
are usually lingering nearby. But,
I will tell you the biggest upside (because there are a few when you look at
the glass half full): Because of
Alzheimer’s, I have more of a relationship with Dad today than I had 10 years
So, yes I’m walking for my Dad, but
ultimately, I’m walking for everyone who has yet to get the disease. I think of my future. My sister
and I used to joke after yet another interesting visit with my Dad, that
someday we’ll be the ones sitting in an Alzheimer’s home together driving each
other crazy. It’s not really that
funny, but it’s quite possibly the truth.
It’s too late for my Dad, but what about the next generation and the
next one after that?
So, my motto, when it comes to fundraising
It never hurts to ask.
Throw a party, have a raffle, talk to your
neighbors, reach out to friends on Facebook…. Get people involved in your
story. This disease doesn’t just
affect Seniors & Baby Boomers… no one is off-limits. You’ll be surprised to see how many
people you know who are affected by this disease!
So, let’s get fired up for our loved ones,
let’s get fired up to fundraise, and let’s get fired up to Walk to End Alzheimer’s."
I feel like someone is playing a mean joke on us. In the past year, Dad has had a broken nose, Scabies, and a Staff Infection... now he has a Hernia. I guess we're just going down the list of all the most annoying reasons to spend time at the doctor's office. His Hernia is intermittent, so it is not always presenting itself, but when it does, my Dad is in pain.
Two weeks ago, we spent two straight days in the VA ER trying to assess the problem. The first day, we got seen after 3 hours, but they couldn't find anything wrong with him at that point. The next day, with my baby in tow, we waited 4 hours and I finally gave up. We went home without being seen. We decided to make an appointment for the following week and to just treat Dad's pain with Tylenol in the meantime.
His options at this point: Surgery or Live with it. Basically the doctor does not recommend surgery for my Dad (I have to agree that it would be pretty awful for all involved). She wants to fit him for a type of mesh belt that he can wear under his clothes to keep the hernia in. It's pretty clear to me that he will have that off in two seconds flat. I really don't see a good solution to the problem. We have an appointment in a week with General Surgery to see about this 'belt'.
Still no word on when he can move into his new home... July is upon us... the last month that he can afford his care at Valley View Gardens. Come August, he will be about $500 short.
I got a call back from the West Los Angeles VA regarding the imminent opening of their new facility. When I asked when they thought they would be opening, the response I got was, "In the near future." Wonderful! With details like that, we are all set to go! Right.
Apparently the facility is waiting on one more licensing document, and once they have that in hand, then they can schedule the final inspection, which they are almost confident they will pass. There are a lot of 'ifs' and 'whens' in this scenario.
When all those 'ifs' and 'whens' are accomplished, move-in dates will start the following week. I was also told that they will be moving in 'war-time veterans' first, then possibly spouses of those veterans, and then 'peace-time veterans'. As I'm sure you've guessed, my Dad falls into the last category.
Before hanging up with the admissions officer though, I asked her to put a note in my Dad's file requesting
an earlier move in date due to financial need. I hope they take that
So, I'm not really sure why I'm not more stressed about the situation considering my Dad's bank account will only be able to afford his home through the month of July. I guess there's just not much I can do about it at the moment. Just have to be hopeful that the stars align just in time.
Megan was down from San Francisco for the past few days, so we paid a visit to Dad. I said to her before we left the house, "I wonder what Dad will be wearing today...". You never know.
We walked into Valley View Gardens and found Dad holding a huge tennis shoe in his hand. (Dad wears a 7 1/2 normally). We looked down and saw that he had a sock on one foot, and a mismatching tennis shoe on the other foot without a sock. What is going on here?
We tried taking the shoe out of his hand (which had the name Carl written inside of it), but he was adamant that it was his. A little grumpy actually. At this point, I'm a little annoyed because only a month ago, I bought two new pairs of velcro tennis shoes for Dad and a pair of slippers. Why isn't he wearing his new shoes? Or better yet... where is the mate to his shoe?
I guess what happens is that the staff is constantly washing his shoes because he either pees on them, or they begin to stink because they can't get him to wear his socks. These shoes are from Wal-mart and are only going to hold up to so many washes in the washing machine.
We get to his room but before we can deal with the shoe situation, Dad announces he has to pee. Megan leads him to the toilet and once he is done, she had a heck of a time getting him to wash his hands. He kept wanting to hug Megan and said, "But you're so beautiful. I'm so glad to see you.... etc". Megan is repeating over and over, "Wash your hands. Dad, let's wash your hands." He really can't take any direction at this point.
Getting him to sit on the edge of the bed to put socks on is just as difficult, but Megan is finally able to get socks on both feet and we find the matching shoe. She is almost about to put it on him when we realize that both shoes are for the Right foot. Oh man.
All the while, I had been holding baby Emry and Dad finally looks at her and says, "What's up Dude?" I find it so funny that Dad can most of the time look right through Emry like she's not even there, but then randomly notice her and blurt out whatever is on his mind. The women residents go crazy over Emry and one kept walking up to us and asking, "How much do you want for him?" (they all refer to her as a him). We were cracking up because she would walk away, and then we would see her approaching again and she would throw out the same line.
Megan told Dad that it was good to see him and he answered, "it goes both ways". Haha. He was actually pretty funny yesterday. As we were about to leave, we see this tall resident with only one shoe on. We assume he is Carl.
Below are pictures from our visit with Dad yesterday. Oh, and he has a new lady friend...
Here we are... it's June and Dad is still living at Valley View Gardens. Remember when we thought he would be moving out around February or March? Sick joke. We got through the obstacle of getting him accepted into the West Los Angeles VA Memory Care Facility, but now it's a waiting game. All I know is that his money will get him through the end of July at his current home, so I REALLY hope he gets to move before August. I'm hoping to get some more information this week.
Quick update on Dad's health/TB test: Last blog I wrote that he tested positive for TB and I was worried how this would affect his admittance into the new home. Well, his x-rays showed no trace of Tuberculosis (like we thought) and we had the doctor sign a letter to the VA explaining his results. I felt confident that would do the trick. Also, Dad's crazy staff infection on his wrist is mostly healed. I'm glad we were diligent with treatment and I'm glad it's gone.
It's been very quiet on the "Dad" front lately and I've barely been over to visit him since we had the TB test done. Happy that things have calmed down a bit.
"You don't want to make anything easy for me... do you, Dad?" Dad slowly turns his head, looks at me, and giggles. Evil! :) At that moment, I had both my children in the car... Dad and baby Emry. It was a juggling act, but I survived.
There has been a new development in the Alzheimer's Soap Opera that we live in. The VA facility that Dad was accepted into called to ask for a TB test because they are hoping to open "in the next month." (whatever that means...?) But good news anyhow. So, I took Dad to get a test.
When I picked him up two days later to get the test read, the staff at Valley View Gardens was convinced he had a new abscess on his arm, but once I once I looked at it, I knew it was his TB test. Dad was going to test positive.
When I brought him to the Doctor's office, they confirmed my suspicion. So, we have to go back on Monday for chest x-rays. Dad tested positive last time he got the test, and they informed me that once someone tests positive, then they will always test positive. So, apparently, we could have gone straight to the x-rays and skipped the whole test... That would have saved a couple trips, but now we know.
What we are worried about though, is what this means for his move-in date for his new home. We're just hoping this doesn't delay things. He most likely has latent Tuberculosis, which just means that he was exposed to it once, but doesn't have it. Cross your fingers for good x-rays!
I just wanted to share the link to an Alzheimer's blog that I've been following recently. It's a friend of a Facebook friend who writes the story of her Mom's ordeal with Alzheimer's. I absolutely relate to this day-to-day observation of the disease... so many things that her Mom does are so similar to my Dad. It's just nice to know that some of those strange habits or funny moments are shared... even across the pond (as they live in England). I can't help but make numerous comments on her posts...
Due to the abscess on his hand, his assessment at the VA, and regular check-ups, Dad has had 6 doctors appointments in the last two weeks. My Mom (who lives an hour and a half away) and I were starting to get overwhelmed juggling Dad and my 1 month old, Emry. So, we made a phone call for a helping hand, and we were relieved at the outcome! My sister Megan flew down from San Francisco in a flash to help out the family!
The abscess is finally getting better after two ER visits and two follow up appointments. Let me tell you though, that thing was nasty. They never confirmed that it was MRSA, but we were still very cautious. I would get text pictures from my Mom and Megan of what it looked like while it was draining... the morbid side of me couldn't help but look at the picture, but mostly I just wanted to gag. Lucky for you, I like my readers too much to share the photos. :)
Dad has been so sweet and patient during this whole process. Thank goodness!
Poor Dad can never seem to catch a break... and neither can I! He has proven to be a HANDful this week.
I got a call on Monday from his care-givers who were concerned about a possible bug bite on Dad's wrist that had caused his whole hand to swell up. Since it's impossible to get an appointment at the Veteran's Assoc on the day of, or even the week of, we had to settle for the VA ER. Ick.
Of course, I have a newborn who should not be going into any sick environment, so luckily Grandma was able to drive up from San Diego that afternoon to watch little Emry.
When I saw his hand, I was glad that we were taking him to see the Doctor though. The proof is in the pictures... this was from Monday...
His hand was extremely swollen, red, and almost hot to the touch. He was obviously also in some pain.
The whole stint took about 4 1/2 hours out of my day, but Dad was very patient... more patient than myself who just wanted to go back home. (I'm a nursing mother, and I was starting to get uncomfortable!... it really was the last thing I wanted to do that day!) The nurse took a look at Dad's wrist and was glad we came in because since the abscess (as they were now calling it) was near a joint, it needed to be watched carefully so that it wouldn't spread and cause some real damage. They sent us to the pharmacy to collect Penicillin and a drug that treats Staff infections and gave instructions for his home to apply hot compresses 3 times a day to the wound.
Fast forward to two days later at his follow up appointment. (And, yes, every time I have to take him to an appointment, I am trying to figure out what to do with Emry. I'm starting realize that with a newborn, it's basically impossible for me to do it all alone.) We had a VERY early appointment so that my husband could stay home to watch Emry and just go late to work.
The Nurse Practitioner that we saw was still very concerned about Dad's wound. Basically it could be a contagious Staff infection called MRSA. It was still hard as a rock and hadn't started to drain, although the swelling had gone done a bit. She warned me to wash my hands very thoroughly since I have a baby at home and also told me that the minute it finally starts to drain, that we will need to go back to the ER so they can cut it open and drain it! Oh GEEZ. And that the most important thing was for the hot compresses to be applied throughout the day. I'm not sure how successful his care givers were in actually getting Dad to agree to hot compresses... This next picture is at his follow up appointment. Still looking very red and angry...
So, I'm just waiting for the phone to ring again for when we have to take him back to the ER. Poor guy.
We would like to share the good news!!! Dad was accepted into the West Los Angeles VA Memory Care facility! Three business days after his assessment, we received the letter in the mail! I couldn't believe it! It just seemed so simple and matter-of-fact. After this entire process, we're so happy to have some stability for Dad's future.
Now if only they would announce the opening date of the facility.
After my last blog, I think everyone was nervous for our Assessment at the new VA home in West Los Angeles, but I'll get right to the point... THE DAY WENT VERY WELL! Success!... in my opinion at least.
The facility is big, clean, and brand new with wide hallways and delicious food. Despite terrible traffic on numerous freeways, we arrived just a few minutes late and were able to get a bite to eat with some of the assisted living folks. I got shrimp cocktail, Dad got cod with rice and veggies, and we finished off with chocolate covered bananas and strawberries! Wow! Oh, and Dad was eager to eat everything on his plate, so he grabbed a slice of lemon and ate it like a slice of orange. When I looked up and saw the look on his face, I knew immediately what he had done. Then he pointed to the lemon and stated that it was "spicy... watch out". Hahahaha.
Our "tour" really just consisted of visiting one of the rooms. The rooms are designed for roommates, but there is a wall down the middle of the room, so each resident has their own private area, tv, shelves and cupboards... they only share a very large closet and bathroom. The room we saw actually had a distant ocean view. Apparently The Memory Care area where my Dad would be living is on the 3rd floor but has a couple terraces so that the residents can spend time outside.
I was most worried about how the staff would approach Dad and how he would react. After dealing with his current home, which is supposed to be well trained in handling Alzheimer's patients, but clearly is not, I don't trust anyone. Well, I had nothing to worry about... because it appears that they know what they are doing there! What a relief. The Social Worker walked right up to Dad, spoke loud and clear, shook his hand and Dad was delighted. He even patted the guy on the shoulder while shaking his hand. They spoke privately in a room for about 4-5 minutes and then I was allowed to join them. After speaking with us for a while, it almost seemed that the Social Worker was watching us with a slight sadness in his eyes at our situation. He was seeing a 72 year old man with moderate/advanced Alzheimer's sitting with his 28 year old daughter... both in good spirits, but both obviously dealing with a very frustrating disease.
Basically the same thing happened when we saw the Nurse and the Doctor. Dad handled all of it really well, and I answered all the questions once they realized he couldn't.
It really felt like the staff was approaching my Dad's application in the manner of 'when he gets accepted, not if', so we left with high spirits. The only bad news, is that it could still be 3 months before the facility opens, but we're hoping it's sooner than that.
Below is a picture of us celebrating that the day went well.
And of course, as promised... a picture of Dad with his Grand-daughter Emry!
We have some movement in Dad's ongoing future housing/financial prospects. As I reported a couple of months ago, we had completed his application to a Veterans Association facility for Alzheimer's Patients and were waiting for the next step. That next step is today. The Assessment.
Dad's appointment is at 12:15 today at the new facility and will start with a tour and then end with an assessment by 3-4 different people. We're all a little worried. If you count from when we pick him up at Valley View Gardens to when we drop him off... this is shaping up to be a 6 hour excursion for my Dad. (A 2 hour excursion is pushing it for someone at my Dad's level.)
The biggest worry is that the letter we received in the mail states "The assessment portion will begin at 1:00... and should be completed by 3:15.... The assessment includes sharing information with a physician, registered nurse, and social worker individually." And apparently I'm not allowed in the room with him. Um, Hello? What kind of answers or conversation do they think they will get from an Alzheimer's patient? And two hours? It's difficult to keep his attention for 10 minutes. And I'm also worried about his mood or if he will be scared to go into a room with a bunch of strangers. There are so many unpredictable factors that make us uneasy.
So, the truth of the situation: this is our last hope. It has to work. Dad's money runs out soon, and this is the only place that will work with him financially and give him a decent place to live. There are no other choices. This is it.
Cross your fingers for us today.
On a personal note... Dad's Grand-daughter was born on March 10th. Emry Phebe Hardin is beautiful and healthy and will get to meet her Grandpa today! It's also my husband's 30th Birthday today! We have a lot to celebrate. Hopefully that will continue to be true after Dad's assessment.
Just wanted to share a picture we took last month of "Grandpa" sort of acknowledging my 8 1/2 month belly... very sweet. (I am almost 40 weeks now, and baby girl will be here very soon!)
It's also very amusing to find out what kind of outfit Dad is wearing on any given day... the following are two examples of how the staff is probably avoiding a tense situation by just letting him wear whatever he wants to wear.... Cracks me up every time. I call this picture "Gangsta style" since he has one leg pulled up to his knee and the video below showcases Dad dancing in pajama pants with some random, thin, button-up sweater that is definitely not his.
I always thought that if I turned my blog into a book, I would include a list in the form of an 'afterward' of what I've learned while going on this journey with my Dad. This list would include advice or what to expect...
When I hear about friends who are about to embark on an Alzheimer's journey with a relative, I feel compelled to share what I've learned. It's possible that if I was armed with some of this knowledge, it would have helped.
A recent conversation with a friend has prompted me to make my list. Make of it what you will... and feel free to add your own advice in the form of a comment.
My list is geared more toward finding a facility that works for you etc... since I don't have a live-in Alzheimer's patient, I don't have much to add in the area of being a full-time care giver at home.
(I would say the first 3 on this list are incredibly important)!!
1. You may not think that your relative's dementia is "advanced enough" to be in a lock-down, Alzheimer's facility, but chances are that by the time you have started considering that option, it's absolutely a necessity.
Our Dad was 69 years old (relatively young for an alzheimer's patient), completely ambulatory, very talkative/active, dressed himself, put his dentures on... etc, so we thought that he just needed partial supervision and care. We learned the hard way after he ran away from a non-secure facility. In reality, since we were not around him all the time, we had no idea how bad things had gotten and how much he needed that secure environment. His safety and our peace of mind became more important.
2. Once your loved one is taken out of their personal/familiar environment, and placed in a home, you will inevitably see a decline in memory, confusion, or behavior. This is normal.
My Dad could no longer clean his dentures, he was confused about where the bathroom was, and he was constantly trying to escape among many other things. Every move results in a decline.
3. Move your loved one to a facility close to you. There is no point in keeping them far away just so that they can stay in a familiar city or town. A move is a move is a move. Whether it's down the street or across the country, your loved one will be equally confused and upset about their new home.
When we moved my Dad, he automatically forgot where he had lived for the past 20 years and instead could only remember his childhood home in Pasadena. In some of the worst months after the move, Megan and I would need to visit him up to 4 or 5 times a week, so it was imperative that we be nearby.
4. Do not allow your loved one to take his/her valuables to their new home. They will get lost or 'stolen'.
Unfortunately, there were two items of value that we are sorry to have lost. A turquoise watch and ring that we let him take with him. In a home, many of the residents "shop" in the other resident's rooms. My Dad was a big shopper and we always found things that didn't belong to him. Naturally, things get moved around and none of it is done maliciously, but we couldn't expect the staff to take care of my Dad AND all his things...
5. Once you truly do believe that your loved one needs help, trust your instinct, gut, and intuition.
With this disease you learn quick and you learn to quickly trust yourself.
6. Listen. And Agree.
When my Dad would get upset about his living situation, we would usually try to change the subject. But once we learned to listen to him, and re-assure him that we will fix the problem tomorrow, he would become happy and trustful again. He wanted to be heard and he was happy when we agreed with him. There is no explaining or reasoning with an Alzheimer's patient. Appease them as much as you can in the moment.
7. Use the things that they hold dear. By talking about their hobbies or loved ones, they are able to keep a sense of who they are for a while longer.
Any time we talked about The Dodgers, Fishing, Frank Sinatra (or any music for that matter) my Dad came to life and felt like himself again.
Dad also likes to laugh and tell jokes... and even if we had no idea what he was talking about, laughter went a long way every time.
8. Be prepared for anything and everything. This is the most unpredictable disease.
9. Form a relationship with the care-givers at his/her home.
10. Don't be too hard on yourself and don't let guilt get in the way. There are professionals who know how to deal with this disease and that's why a home can be a wonderful place. You have the chance to spend quality time with your loved one instead of being their full-time caregiver.
(For those of you who are full-time caregivers... your strength, commitment and love are immeasurable. And I commend you for that.)
Please feel free to add your comments and opinions. :)