Frances Cottrell sits with mother Nina Cottrell at Preston Place ll. Photo by David Grace
Frances Cottrell and her sister Gail Campbell understand all too well what it means to live in the moment with their mother.
At age 90, Nina Cottrell has little long-term memory. A resident of Preston Place II, a secured assisted living facility in Kingsport, she recognizes her daughters, but can no longer comprehend the written word or a television program. A former accountant with a minor in chemistry, she knows she was born in 1923, but she can’t calculate her age.
Cottrell and Campbell were helping care for their mother even before their father died in August 2010. Six weeks after his death, they started her in Preston Place II’s respite care program. Shortly after that, Mrs. Cottrell moved in as a resident.
For Frances, who is still working full-time, it’s a relief knowing that her mother is well cared for by staff who are specially trained to care for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Not being able to leave her mother alone was the most difficult part of being a caregiver, she said.
“Being tied down and you cannot go away. Her physical well-being is at stake,” Frances said. “It’s the same as dealing with a 3- or 4-year-old.”
Frances and Gail visit their mother often, but Frances is tired by the repetitiveness of their visits.
“Everything is repetitive. Over and over again. ... If my mother could talk about current events, about a book, about a movie, about a TV show, or enjoy looking at old photographs of people, places and things, it would be delightful to spend time with her. The tedium comes from not being able to do any of those things. Not being able to share any of her past life with her is sad and makes the time go very slowly. And like I said, Gail and I do so much together and it would have been impossible to do that if we had tried to keep our Mom at home,” she said.
Preston Place II’s motto is “We do not remember days, we remember moments.” It’s this motto that will take center stage at the upcoming Alzheimer’s Caregiver Conference, set for 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Sept. 24, at St. Dominic Catholic Church in Kingsport.
Jolene Brackey is one of two scheduled speakers at the conference. Author of “Creating Moments of Joy,” Brackey, of Montana, is an expert in Alzheimer’s education and a frequent keynote speaker.
Brackey said her talk will focus on helping caregivers understand that when they’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it isn’t possible to create a perfectly wonderful day.
“That is not possible, but it’s attainable for every one of us to create a perfectly wonderful moment, and five minutes later they won’t remember what you do, and five minutes later they won’t remember what you said, but the feeling will linger on,” she said. “If you give them a cheeseburger, that feeling lingers on. If you make them smile, that good feeling lingers on. Therefore, when we’re creating more moments of joy, everyone is going to get a better day.”
Brackey began her career as an interior designer, but realized that she derived greater joy from helping people improve the interiors of their lives. She found a job as an activity director for an Alzheimer’s special care unit. She didn’t know what Alzheimer’s was, but she knew she liked older people. Before long, she realized that God had given her a gift.
As a speaker at education seminars across the country, she said there isn’t a question about caregiving that she hasn’t been asked.
“The same struggles are happening. They want to try to figure it out — what stage are they in. I let caregivers know the insanity is trying to figure it out. How someone goes through Alzheimer’s is completely different from how someone else goes through Alzheimer’s,” she said. “All you have is the now. All you can figure out is what’s happening now. ... and even then, you can’t figure it out. All you can be is in the now, and experience is your teacher in the now. What worked yesterday won’t work today. Your whole goal with this is how can I make them feel everything is OK in the moment.”
The second featured speaker will be Dr. Monica Crane, a fellowship-trained geriatric medicine physician who has special expertise in Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Crane serves as director of clinical research and associate director at the Cole Neuroscience Center in Knoxville. She is also an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee Medical Center.
Crane’s talk will focus on understanding and treating Alzheimer’s, and she will address healthy aging guidelines. There will be a time for questions following her presentation.
Conference fees (including a light breakfast and lunch) are $40 for non-professional caregivers; $75 for professional caregivers; and $100 for an exhibit table. Six hours of CEU credits are approved.
For more information or to register, visit www.kingsportkiwanis.org, call the Kiwanis Club at 343-5310, email Sharon Durnin at Sharon@prestonplacesuites.com or call her at 378-4673.