By HAC Member, Margo W.
Our lives often take unexpected turns that can bring about new challenges and stresses.
This was my case with my husband’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease back in 2008. We were at a point in our lives where he had fully retired and I had cut back my work schedule to part-time with a plan for a future of travel and fun.
Ernie’s frightening diagnosis of early stage Alzheimer’s disease dramatically changed our outlook and our budding plans came to a screeching halt. Fear, confusion, anger, and denial started to wash over us. I had to take over the helm to navigate through the day-to-day responsibilities, dealing with a disease that takes away one’s mind, memory, and personality. As the spouse, I was forced into taking over with the roles of financial administrator and planner, real estate “broker”, legal subordinate, household manager, counselor, medical cohort, and social worker. Because of the complications associated with Alzheimer’s disease, we had to make big changes in all areas of our previously comfortable lives.
I lost sleep, weight, patience, and my identity during this frenzied time. My anxiety was overwhelming and the on-going stress affected my mind, body, and attitude towards life.
As someone who always valued exercise in my day-to-day life, I found myself too busy to make time for a workout in the midst of dealing with our new daily responsibilities. I missed this important outlet and desperately knew that I needed to get back to some sort of routine that would fit into our chaos. I realized that this was entirely up to me and decided I could work exercise back into my schedule by taking early morning walks while my husband was still in bed. I was surprised, however, to find myself short of breath and low on stamina. It was then that I understood the truth to the statement: Stress can be a killer. I set out to take my exercise slow at first, and eventually I built up my endurance. What a difference I felt in mind, body, and soul!
During this time, my husband, Ernie, sat in front of his computer and the television set most of the day. His interest in his favorite sports seemed to wane as he became more withdrawn. I felt it was my job to bring exercise back into his life as well. We began to take our walks together and slowly put routine workouts into our schedules. Despite his memory issue, he was physically healthy and I strongly felt that getting his adrenaline pumping would benefit him. We started with walks around the neighborhood or local parks. We hit golf balls together, and I even introduced a ping-pong table into our home. But Ernie’s favorite activity was dancing, and at every social gathering, if there was a dance floor, we were on it! Some days, I pumped up the music at home and we would dance around the house. His rhythm was still great and his feet could move as they always had in the past. These activities helped build both our stamina and our confidence. Most importantly, it helped our relationship to focus on something we could still do well together.
When we downsized and we moved closer to Hockessin, we found the Hockessin Athletic club – a gift, indeed! We joined right away and were very active with their programs. I tried yoga, spinning, and working out with a trainer. Ernie worked with a trainer who followed through with a routine that helped him stay focused and keep his body in shape. Ernie felt more independent as he was able to manage the treadmills and some of the weight equipment on his visits. He also felt valued as he socially developed new, accepting friendships with the staff and members.
Exercise made a difference for both of us in the toughest of times. Ernie is now in a senior facility and exercise is still an important part of his life. Outside of the exercise classes and activities that the facility offers, weekly I take him for walks, to a driving range to hit golf balls or to a park to kick a soccer ball. More importantly though, we still dance! Whether it’s at the facility’s social events or in our family room at home, Ernie’s rhythm is still spot on. His steps are masterful and he can still lead – what a great feeling for someone who has lost so much of his management ability.
I continue to have exercise as a priority in my life as a member of the HAC as well as in my outside hikes and rock climbing activities. The stresses still come and go, but I know that a good fast walk, hike, spinning or yoga class, or a rappel from a rock face can change my focus, relieve my tensions, and significantly help me to see a brighter side life.
To those who are facing personal and family issues and still have the ability to physically stay active, I urge you to get out and do so. Exercise is therapeutic for your mind, body, and soul.