Life’s curving path affords chance to learn

Day by Day:
Life’s curving path affords chance to learn

June 5, 2017

By Liz Thompson
This Week News

In 1969, I graduated from high school, like so many students did last month.

My granddaughter was one such graduate; she was home-schooled. That decision came about mostly because her father was in the military and moving was inevitable. The admiration I have for my daughter — my granddaughter’s teacher — runs deep.

All my grandchildren are musical and have their own band, with friends included. My granddaughter plans to study music and become a teacher. She already has young piano students.

Academic and music scholarships found her because of her hard work and God-given talent.

Choices were different for young women when I graduated. Typically, but not exclusively, if a girl went to college, she would choose nursing, teaching, social work or secretarial studies — all important professions.

Memories of my graduation day are few, but I recall feeling undeserving of the honor.

I was in a different place, by the time I was a senior, from where my granddaughter is today. My grade-point average was embarrassingly low — in part, I’m certain now, due to the hearing loss that kept me struggling to know what was going on.

Had it not been for music and drama, I likely would have failed.

The love of music was in my heart with every note I sang. Even with my hearing loss, I was active in church and school choirs and musicals. I went to the only state college that accepted me and chose music as my major — because people assumed that’s what I would study.

I didn’t really know what I wanted to do.

My second year, I switched to special education, with music as my minor.

But I never graduated from college. Out of necessity, I worked as a secretary at many levels of responsibility until my hearing loss prevented me from fully doing the job.

I became an unwitting advocate for myself and others. Thanks to a newspaper editor who believed in me, I became a deaf reporter.

A cochlear implant in 2002 made me a hearing person again. Words are clear, though the complexities of music are lost. Along the way, I learned tenacity, sign language, a healthful stubbornness, computer and writing skills and patience — for myself and others.

At 51, the Ohio University Experiential Learning Program allowed me to equate my life experience to more than 50 college credits, making me a college senior.

My last job as a teacher’s assistant for children with disabilities was a favorite because when you teach, you learn.

I learned that children with Down syndrome love to hug, and I had to brace myself and move them off to the side to be appropriate. These children show unconditional love — something they can teach all of us.

One child couldn’t speak, so I was her sign-language teacher. We hugged more than one palm tree (we were in Arizona) using her tactile skills.

Another child had muscular dystrophy. When it came time for a fire drill, I’d say to him, “Let’s hobble out to the field together!” My multiple sclerosis was beginning to slow me down enough to appreciate his struggles.

One boy had hearing loss but wanted to ignore it, or at least not talk about it. I’ve met adults with the same attitude.

My plans to be a music teacher failed, but I will cheer my granddaughter on as she pursues the same goal with a stronger foundation and more talent than I had. My grandchildren will carry on the music that I lost.

The best-laid plans often fail. Looking back, I see unexpected twists and turns in my path through life and obstacles I’ve overcome, with God’s help.

I didn’t finish college, but I never stopped learning. I’m still at it.

Day by day, figuring out how to build a bridge over obstacles to get to our goal and greeting the changes with open arms is worth the effort.

Hugging palm trees is optional.

 

 

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I might fall, but I won’t lie down for MS

Day by Day

I might fall, but I won’t lie down for MS

March 13, 2017

ThisWeekNews

By LIZ THOMPSON

Falling is hard. Suddenly my body is moving downward, either forward or backward, with nothing to grab onto to stop the fall. Impact is imminent and it will be painful.

I fall like a tree in the forest.

For some reason, many with multiple sclerosis don’t have the ability to react fast enough to fold our bodies for a closer fall or recover from a stumble, like the average person would.

I do know that imbalance, weakness and muscle spasms cause most of my falls. Other people with MS might have vision and fatigue problems.

Last year, I fell too often and fear of falling became my new reality. I’ve overcome that fear before.

After this last series of falls, I thought back at what I was doing when I fell to determine how to prevent a repeat.

I came to these five conclusions: I must always touch something when leaning over; carry nothing while walking; use my cane or walker; scope the landscape before that first step; and ask for help.

If you have ever fallen or watched someone fall when you couldn’t help them, you understand that helplessness is part of the pain.

All through our lives, we adapt — most of it’s good. Change and challenges are a part of life.

People with chronic illnesses, such as MS, tend to look at life with a unique perspective. As our illnesses wax and wane at their own volition, daily we learn to see what’s most important and are in a constant state of adaptation.

I see my circumstances as positive, urging me to make the most of each moment. When people ask how I am, I hope to be able to say, “I’m upright!”

So if you don’t have MS or know someone with it, why would you want to read about it? By writing about it, or sharing my experiences, I hope to build a bridge to understanding.

Years ago, when my daughter was in nursing school, some nurses were quietly joking about another nurse who walked like she had been drinking alcohol. My daughter saw this and asked them, “Did you ever think she might have MS?” I don’t know their response, but I knew my daughter showed compassion.

It’s easier to jump to conclusions than to learn the facts.

My MS was diagnosed in 1987 when I lost partial vision. Hindsight tells me I had symptoms as early as 1970. In 1987, there were no disease-modifying drugs for MS, proven to slow down relapses; now there are 14. There was no Internet. Today, patients easily can become overwhelmed with information. I always suggest to newly diagnosed people to talk with their doctors, and those with MS to visit nmss.org.

MS isn’t contagious. The immune system thinks the myelin sheath (a substance that protects nerve fibers) in the central nervous system, as well as the nerve fibers themselves, are foreign objects and attacks them, causing damage. The signals from the brain to parts of the body are interrupted, like a frayed electrical cord. The result can be vision loss, numbness, weakness, spasticity, motor-skill problems, fatigue and more, with varied degrees of disability.

My worst relapse since diagnosis was in the early 1990s. The numbness started in my toes and moved up my body. In a matter of minutes, my entire body was numb.

Six weeks later, the numbness disappeared, except for my right hand and forearm.

But I can’t live in a rubber room, so to speak. I have to be smarter than this disease and constantly reinvent how I go about doing the things I love.

I still cook, bake, garden, knit, read, write, visit and go to church, and I “walk” the dog using my scooter or power wheelchair to get around safely. Learning to adapt is part of life. I don’t sit home crying or being sedentary. That works against all reasoning for physical and emotional health.

I am one of more than 2.3 million worldwide living with MS. March is MS Awareness Month. The next time you see someone walking “funny,” offer a strong arm or a listening ear. That’s the kind of help we all need.

Those with MS appreciate help, understanding

Day by day

Those with MS appreciate help, understanding

By LIZ THOMPSON

This Week News
Tuesday March 8, 2016

When people see me walking with a cane, they typically ask if I had knee surgery. Or they might ask why I use a cane.

My answer, “I have MS (multiple sclerosis),” usually elicits, “Oh, I’m sorry.”

How could they know?

Each time I hear this response, I’m reminded that MS is invisible. I guess you could say I look normal, whatever that is.

The 2.3 million other people worldwide living with MS must look “normal,” too.

So every March, during MS Awareness Month, I write about it.

Why should people care about MS if they don’t have it and don’t know anyone who does?

Hopefully, to gain understanding and to think twice before criticizing a stranger who uses a motorized cart in a store (yet looks “normal”), walks into a display (been there, done that), or has trouble navigating a curb or step.

I don’t drink alcohol by choice, but when I walk, I can look like I’ve had “one too many.”

We can use a gentle offer of help and will be grateful for it.

MS is an unpredictable, often-disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body.

MS has what I call the frayed-wire effect. A frayed lamp cord often leads to flickering lights.

The covering of nerves, called the myelin sheath, is damaged by MS when the body attacks it, thinking it’s a foreign substance. So MS nerves have segments that are damaged, and the brain-to-body command is disrupted.

Instead of a flickering light, we have trouble walking or moving our hands and arms. We may have spasms, trouble thinking, numbness, balance issues and vision loss, among other symptoms.

In 1987, I lost most of my vision, had numbness in my limbs and couldn’t walk a straight line. Severe fatigue made putting one foot in front of another difficult.

After eight months of medical observation, an MRI led to a diagnosis of MS.

Doctors suspected I was having a series of strokes or had a brain tumor — though the tumor was ruled out early on — so I was relieved to hear MS. I was only 36. Most people are diagnosed between ages 20 and 50.

Once I knew MS symptoms, I looked back and realized I’d had MS since at least age 22.

Prior to 1980, the average time from a person’s first symptom of MS until a definite diagnosis was seven years. The MRI reduced the time to six months.

Before MRIs, when a doctor suspected MS, patients underwent a standard neurological exam and medical history, then sat in a warm bath for a period of time. If they were weak and had other symptoms, they could be diagnosed with MS. Heat is an enemy of MS, causing pseudo flare-ups.

When I was diagnosed, there were no MS drugs and no Internet to research the disease. There are now 13 disease-modifying drugs to reduce disease activity and progression for people with relapsing/remitting MS, the most common type.

In 2010, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society set out to raise $250 million.

This money launched 818 new research projects, 71 clinical trials, 141 projects testing rehabilitation and wellness approaches, and 137 grants to train promising MS researchers.

When people ask how MS affects me the most, the first thing I usually say is that I can’t just decide, “I think I’ll take a walk,” and step outside to do just that. But I refuse to give up, give in or become a miserable grump. I adapt.

MS is an unpredictable disease that can change in a heartbeat. When we put our feet on the floor each morning, if in fact we can do that, we don’t know for sure if our legs will work, at least well enough to carry us through the day.

A strong arm or helping hand is appreciated.

Knowledge is power, as the MS society says.

After all, we’re all just “normal” people getting through life one step at a time. We’re not alone in having something to deal with, invisible or not.

For more information about MS, go to nationalmssociety. org/chapters/oha.

 

Living with MS requires positive attitude

Day by day

Living with MS requires positive attitude
By
LIZ THOMPSON
March 3, 2015

It’s a good thing I didn’t take up dancing for a living.

My daughter has always been good about documenting our family times with videos and beautiful photographs.

Not long ago, she told me she found a video taken of me “dancing” with two of her children — obviously, my grandchildren — when they were very young. They are now 18, 16 and 14. So this was about 15 years ago.

She told me the children realized they didn’t remember ever seeing me without a cane.

“Want to see the video next time you are here?” she asked. “I don’t want to make you feel bad or anything.”

I told her I’d love to see it.

On our next visit, I watched the video and smiled the entire time. I wasn’t really dancing but bouncing to a VeggieTales video with Jacob, then about 3, and Elizabeth, about 2.

That’s when I said, “Good thing I didn’t take up dancing for a living!” while laughing. We all laughed.

In 2000, I was starting a career as a reporter. I didn’t use a cane and didn’t own one. While attending a meeting in downtown Columbus, I fell in a crosswalk on Spring Street. My papers and purse went sliding ahead of me as I lay face down on the street. My first thought was that I was glad I hadn’t worn a skirt that day.

The people were wonderful and helped me stand, gathered my things and a woman with a young daughter walked with me to the sidewalk. These two stayed with me till I caught my breath and took stock of any injuries, which was only a skinned knee. Later I thought about how that woman’s kindness taught her daughter a life lesson in compassion.

Since 1998, I have written this column, the duration of which includes two years in Arizona. I’m typically inspired by life experiences, and this certainly was one to write about. When I wrote about the fall in downtown Columbus, the editor titled it, “The people of Columbus are still picking me up.” Perfect.

And, yes, I bought a cane — a rather funky, handmade cane.

With my day-to-day advocacy for people with any disability, I find a common thread of need that everyone shares, disabled or not: to be treated with respect.

I’m on Social Security disability. Curious, I called the Social Security information number and asked what happens when I’m of retirement age in a few years. “Then we don’t consider you disabled, only aged,” the woman said.

I asked if that meant my multiple sclerosis would be gone then and she laughed. But aged? Wow.

March is MS Awareness Month and I support this awareness together with understanding.

I let people know what I need to safely get from point A to point B without falling: lend me a strong arm or hand up; remove the items from the floor for a clear path; reach that item up high for me; carry my hot drink. These are examples that give others a chance to do something to help, just like the people who helped me in the street when I fell.

But making sure my attitude stays positive makes life more enjoyable. Then hopefully friends and family won’t run the opposite direction when they see me coming their way. Instead, they will smile and ask how I’m doing. MS simply becomes a part of who I am, not the definition of my life.

I have talked with many people also living with MS who really were dancers and physically active in all aspects. Many are parenting young children, which is an active sport in its own right and just as physically challenging as playing some sports. Most have not given up. Instead we adapt.

My first symptoms appeared 45 years ago, but I am grateful I can still move. My middle name became “adapt,” as my MS became more active than me. Some people with MS literally stop moving.

There are more than 400,000 men, women and children in Ohio living with MS.

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, “More than 2.3 million people are affected by MS worldwide. Because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not require U.S. physicians to report new cases, and because symptoms can be completely invisible, the prevalence of MS in the U.S. can only be estimated.”

For more information, see nmss.org.

By the way, I still dance but only to slow music when I’m being held in my husband’s arms. No cane.

There are more than 400,000 men, women and children in Ohio living with MS.

 

My grandchildren

My grandchildren

Memory woes a sign of aging, or of dementia

Day by day
Memory woes a sign of aging, or of dementia
by Liz Thompson
Wednesday August 20, 2014
Thisweeknews.com

Where did I put my glasses? Why did I come into the kitchen?

Memory loss of any degree is worrisome. It can be a precursor to serious problems. I say my brain is a closet packed full of life’s “stuff” and I have to sort through to find what I want. I’m not alone.

Linda, 62, of Westerville recently retired from a fast-paced job and is learning to relax.

“I’ve decided it’s OK to forget the small things and just remember the most important, like picking up that grandchild or going to a doctor appointment. Forgive yourself for not remembering and enjoy what time we have left in this world,” Linda said.

Don, 71, of Columbus said, “Although I have had dementia in my family, I really don’t obsess about it. It’s one of those things over which we have little control.

“I was talking with a friend about the Hitchcock film North by Northwest,” Don said. “While we both agreed it was a classic, neither of us could remember the star who we were later told was Cary Grant. The friend who I was talking with is 66.”

“Bob,” 75, of Columbus, helps Habitat for Humanity build houses.

“I ride my bicycle whenever I can,” said Bob, who asked that his real name not be used.

When he’s not physically active, he is writing about his life. Both he and Don use calendars to track their activities but when busy, they sometimes forget things.

Bob has seen fellow scientists, family and friends struggle with dementia. Some made good choices when they recognized the onset of symptoms, while others chose to ignore them and eventually had to rely solely on others.

“My fear is that as I get older and need to have other people do things for me, I’ll accept some bogus, money-up-front offer. My question is how I will recognize that the time has come for me to turn such decisions over to one of my children,” Bob said.

According to the American Psychological Association, some memory loss is normal with aging, and some types of memory improve or stay the same. They urge people to watch for signs because physical conditions can affect the memory. These include anxiety, dehydration, depression, infections, medication, poor nutrition, psychological stress, substance abuse and thyroid problems.

Barb, 63, of Powell is proof. Multiple sclerosis affects her memory to the point where, at times, she may not know the names of family members. Yet she challenges herself physically by doing long fundraising bike rides.

Mari Dannhauer, program director for the Alzheimer’s Association, said dementia is a cornucopia of symptoms, not a diagnosis.

“If you get a diagnosis of dementia, ask what type it is. Ask lots of questions,” Dannhauer said. “Dementia causes short-term memory loss and confusion. Sometimes it is reversible and sometimes it is not. Alzheimer’s is the most common irreversible form of dementia.”

She urges people to see their doctor when they notice recurring problems and when others start to notice.

Amy Schossler, director of the Upper Arlington Commission on Aging, said the upcoming Memory and Brain Health Symposium was developed in direct response to a survey at an event sponsored by the Upper Arlington Civic Association.

“The survey asked many questions about the subjects seniors want to know more about. Overwhelmingly, two-thirds of all responses indicated that memory and brain health are a top priority,” Schossler said.

The symposium features Dr. Douglas Scharre, a cognitive neurologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center; Dr. Marla Bruns, a cognitive neurologist with Ohio Health; and Dr. Akhlaq Farooqui, a retired neurochemist.

Topics include brain health, diagnosis and treatment of dementia, and research associated with the disease. Scharre will discuss the Self-Administered Geocognitive Examination (SAGE) and have copies available for people to take; staff will be available to review and discuss the results.

The Memory and Brain Health Symposium will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 23 at Upper Arlington Lutheran Church, 2300 Lytham Road.

Registration is required by calling 614-583-5326. Seating is limited to 150 people. Free lunch and a senior expo of community organizations and businesses are included.

The majority of us will learn to live with minor memory issues and even learn to laugh about it — especially since we have company.

Now where are my keys?

Help available for local seniors

Day by Day

Help available for local seniors
By Liz Thompson
ThisWeekNews

Wednesday April 16, 2014

Like it or not, we are aging, every day. When we find our first gray hair and start noticing how many stairs there are — everywhere — life starts changing.

Most of us, once settled in a home and community, want to stay there and keep our independence. To do that safely takes planning, but it can be done.

Two Ohio legislators, state Reps. Cheryl Grossman (R-Grove City) and Michael Stinziano (D-Columbus), have taken steps to help that happen. They sponsored House Bill 84, the Ohio Home Renovation Tax Credit.

According to the legislation, it “would provide up to a $5,000 non-refundable income tax credit for the costs incurred to modify an existing home.”

The bill states, “The accessibility features promoted in HB 84 represent an evidence-based prevention strategy that has been shown to reduce the incidence of falls among older adults.”

HB 84 says home modification promotes independent living. Getting the legislation passed is still in the works.

Some safety measures homeowners can take include having good lighting and working smoke alarms, clearing walkways inside and out, removing loose rugs, and installing grab bars in the bathroom/shower/tub and sturdy handrails on both sides of stairs.

If falling is an issue, especially when living alone, an optional alert system might be a good call. A person wears a bracelet or pendant with a button to push when he or she falls and needs assistance. Learning to use a cane, walker or scooter can help a person get around safely and is worth thinking about.

When help becomes a necessity, we may not know where to turn. The good news is there are answers.

The Franklin County Office on Aging has a Senior Options program that funds three suburban call centers that offer well-being checks via telephone and other services.

Judy Lewis, activity and outreach leader at the Evans Senior Center in Grove City, said its Senior Call program ( 614-277-1060) began because Jackson Township paramedics saw many seniors or people with disabilities who were alone and had few resources. They contacted her and with her help, the fire and police departments developed the program in 2004.

“We get calls from all over, not just the Grove City area, because we are in the Senior Options brochure,” Lewis said. “I can’t turn them away.”

She meets applicants in their homes to learn about their needs, when they want a phone call and to match them with the right volunteer.

“It’s a rewarding opportunity for the volunteers,” Lewis said.

Grove City offers Smart911 for residents. This free service allows citizens to create a safety profile on smart911.com for their household that includes any information they want 911 to have in the event of an emergency.

Upper Arlington offers Kind Call (614-442-4016), a telephone check-in service that is free for residents. The automated calling system tries each phone number up to three times; if there is no answer, a dispatcher tries. If that fails, a police officer checks the residence.

UA also has the File of Life program. Information pouches were mailed to residents age 60 and older to fill out with medical and contact information to display on their refrigerators. It helps emergency personnel know where to look when responding to a 911 call.

“It’s important to stay engaged physically and socially. Stay strong and have a system in place where someone checks on you. We need to watch out for each other,” said Amy Schossler, director of the Upper Arlington Commission on Aging.

She suggests contacting local senior centers for information and to find ways to stay involved in the community.

Westerville’s Safe Call (614-901-6790) is free to anyone who is homebound, disabled or elderly and lives within city limits or in Blendon Township. If no one answers the automated call at the set time, the call goes to a designated backup person to check on the resident. If that fails, a paramedic and police officer go to the home.

“It has no restrictions of age or need. Anyone who feels the need to receive a check-in call can sign up,” said communication technician Kippy Shurman.

Westerville Chief Fire Marshall Paris Smith-Higbie is in charge of fire inspection, investigation and public education.

“Prevention is important and we offer home fire safety inspections upon request,” he said. “We point out fire and tripping hazards and how to correct them and we make recommendations for things like handrails.”

Call (614-901-6600) to request an inspection.

These towns offer more than I can write here. Check your city offices for what might be available or contact the Franklin County Office on Aging at 614-525-5230 or officeonaging.org for more information about available assistance.

 

MS changes lives, families

Day by day

MS changes  lives, families
By LIZ THOMPSON
THISWEEKNEWS.COM
Tuesday March 18, 2014

Tim and Tyler Heaton, 19, of Westerville, know firsthand that life holds no guarantees. “Many people take things for granted such as financial stability and a healthy family,” Tim said.

“I have learned that these things are not guaranteed.” Tyler added, “We have kept a positive family attitude which has had a huge impact on our lives.”

Their mom, Leeandra, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Tim and Tyler were 10. They remember the day the world changed for all of them when she couldn’t get out of bed and had to be hospitalized. They had planned a vacation with another family, and their mother insisted they go without her. Their sister, Brynna, 8, stayed home.

Tim said, “Upon returning home, my mom explained that the doctors believed her to have multiple sclerosis, and I recall just blankly staring and — as much as I hate to admit it — just dismissing it as some kind of ailment obtained from age. I first thought that she would simply take some kind of medication to get better or go through physical therapy to strengthen her body, but I turned out to be incorrect about a lot of those things.”

“When anyone hears someone say that they have a cold or strep throat … people always say, ‘I hope you feel better and take it easy,’ but when a 10-year-old hears the word ‘disease,’ there is a different reaction,” Tyler said. “I did what I was best at and just smiled and said everything was going to be OK. This was not the day that we as a family really understood that this disease was going to negatively impact our life.”

These boys reacted much like anyone might without knowing exactly what this diagnosis might mean. Their comments make perfect sense, especially given their age at the time. Years later, their compassion for their mom has only deepened.

The twins each won a scholarship from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society that is helping them as electrical engineering students at Ohio State University.

Tim uses a metaphor to express his thoughts. “If high tide and low tide are compared to sunrise and sunset, then everything in between can be compared as the events in a day. If the ocean is calm and predictable, it is manageable and pleasant. Once the storm hits, though, the ocean no longer is simply ‘manageable.’

“Rather, there are precautions, steps and planning that is necessary to ride these waves. I sailed the waves, and sailing the roaring ocean has taught me life lessons that I feel that some people will not realize for several years, specifically that financial stability and a healthy family are taken for granted. Growing up in a not-as-typical environment prepared me for college and the world ahead of me, and I am quite thankful for everything that has happened to me up to date.”

When their mom was diagnosed with MS, things became financially difficult. The process to apply for Social Security benefits is long and tedious.

The family chooses to turn it into a positive outcome. When her MS flares up, they make sure that everything else she experiences is positive.

Leeandra said the disease brought changes to her life, but it has not taken joy away. “I think that when I was first diagnosed, I didn’t know what to expect. I have figured out that it is just best to not expect the worst.”

“(We) believe that all a bad situation needs is a little bit of happiness to fix things,” Tyler said.

March is MS Awareness Month. More than 20,000 people in Ohio have MS and, as you can see, it affects the entire family.

When I was diagnosed in 1987, there were no drugs for MS. That was 27 years ago, and thanks to research, there are now 10. The largest portion of donations to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society is used for research and programs for those living with MS.

MS is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system. Symptoms are unpredictable, ranging from numbness and weakness to total paralysis. It is typically diagnosed between ages 20-50, although the disease has been diagnosed in children as young as 3, with an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 children under the age of 18 living with MS.

The Ohio Buckeye Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society offers assistance and information for people living with MS and their families.

For more information, call 1-800-FIGHT-MS (344-4867) or http://www.msohiobuckeye.org/