Image of our Veteran, Eleanor, as a young Marine sitting on the steps at Camp Lejeune

99 Year Old Veteran Stays Connected to Family


When asked to describe her mother, Katherine chuckled a little bit. She used words like loving, caring, strong, and focused. Eleanor, a wife, mother and 99-year-old Marine, displayed deep-seated values, faith, and morals throughout her life. She grew up during the Depression so saving was always a priority. Serving as a Marine during WWII also shaped Eleanor’s life in many ways.

Lessons Learned in the Military Became Life-Long Lessons

Eleanor applied many of the lessons she learned in the military in her everyday life. For example, when chores were to be done, it was all hands-on deck. Katherine remembers many days that relaxing was a luxury that was seldom to be had. All the chores had to be done before any leisure time was to be enjoyed. Priority was to keep the house nice and tidy just like a Marine.Many happy days were spent with family and friends. Various activities that Eleanor enjoyed during her lifetime included square dancing, playing cards with friends, enjoying time at the cabin, sewing club, and working at church. She enjoyed cooking and baking; whether it was delicious pies and cookies or homemade soups, boiled dinners, and lasagna.

Connecting with Family is a Priority

A photograph of Eleanor with her large extended family.
Eleanor enjoyed many family get togethers.

A big part of her life with her husband, William, was spending time with family. She especially enjoyed her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They enjoyed a long life together, 64 years, but unfortunately Eleanor became a widow 8 years ago. It was a devastating loss for her because they did so much together and relied on each other for support. William was a gentleman and always took care of the love of his life.

An image of Eleanor in uniform saluting at Camp Lejeune.
An image of Eleanor in uniform saluting at Camp Lejeune.


Everyone Could Benefit from Service to our Country

Eleanor describes her service to her country as one of the best things that happened during that time of her life. She feels that everyone would benefit by serving our country. Her Marine experience was at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina ( during WWII where she did office work. It was a new camp at the time to help to prepare warfighters for combat and humanitarian missions abroad.


Katherine and her husband, Brian, come to visit her a few times a week when indoor visiting is available. Visits outside her bedroom window were even made during the cold winter months as was displayed on the front page of the Star Tribune paper recently.

Eleanor moved into Prairie Senior Cottages during the pandemic in July. Katherine shared that our staff helped make the transition an easy one. “The staff did an amazing job in setting up her room and having it all ready for her the day Eleanor arrived.” Cottage Director, Jamie, lovingly described Eleanor and her family as being sensitive, kind and big huggers. She said, “Eleanor’s biggest joy was her family and it showed throughout her entire lifetime.”

Eleanor celebrated her 99th birthday in December and made it to her heavenly home recently. The team at Prairie Senior Cottage of Isanti ( )are so thankful to have gotten to know Eleanor and her family and care for her.

Caregiver Training Making a Difference

     The world of dementia care is constantly evolving, and our goal at Prairie Senior Cottages is to always be at the forefront of discovering new developments. By pursuing the best care practices for individuals living with dementia, and ensuring that our staff has not only up-to-date but continued training, we can best provide a safe, welcoming environment for our residents and staff.

Working Together for Dementia Care

      We are proud to work together with Jane Unzeitig, RN, our dementia care specialist certified in the Positive Approach to Care (PAC) training method developed by world-renowned specialist Teepa Snow ( ). Unzeitig is a seasoned nurse, and has worked with seniors for the majority of her career; the last seven years she has been almost exclusively in memory care. Jane attended an initial talk from Snow, and was mesmerized by the knowledge and positive approach to dementia care that was shared. From there, Unzeitig attended a two-day training in St. Louis, and has since been sharing what she has learned and educating our directors, nurses, and staff at each of our Cottages. Snow’s approach is centered around three things: developing awareness, spreading knowledge, and teaching skills to transform what exits into a more positive dementia care culture.

What Sets Us Apart     

     What makes the PAC trainings different from other forms of healthcare education is that they are hands on. They allow caregivers to experience simulated dementia symptoms as well as to practice methods of care with their coworkers. Additionally, special attention is given to explaining how the brain is physically impacted by dementia, and how that manifests as behaviors and reactions in residents. These tools are invaluable to caregivers. Unzeitig recalled a story in which a caregiver told her that they were planning to put in their notice after really struggling with the job. But, after that caregiver went through the PAC training with Unzeitig, they decided to stay.

Positive Responses

     Christina Hebrink, the director of our Cottage in Willmar ( ), noted that after her staff completed the PAC training, several of them approached her to share things that they had learned during the program that they found interesting. Additionally, Hebrink has observed how the tools her staff learned from the training have been highly effective, promoting a better experience for both staff and residents. Willmar is currently in the process of scheduling a second round of training for their newest staff members. However, other members of the staff that were present for the first training asked Hebrink if they could sign up to do the course again. Says Hebrink, “That tells me they not only learned from the experience but they also enjoyed it so much they wanted to do it a second time.”

     The profound impacts that the PAC trainings have had in our communities continue to amaze us. A dementia diagnosis is a challenging journey, but we have seen so many people flourish by focusing not on the things they have lost, but on the skills that they still have. Helping people living with memory loss to live their lives to the fullest potential is our ultimate goal, and we strive for that at every step along the way.

Caregivers practice using the PAC hand under hand technique while feeding. 

The goggles help our caregivers understand resident’s diminished perception. 

8 Treatable Conditions That Mimic Dementia

photoWorried about forgetfulness? It may be a problem you least suspect

Author: Margery D. Rosen, AARP Bulletin, April 2014

Dr. Milton Newman, 7 Conditions That Mimic Dementia

Your dementia-like symptoms may be reversible. They were for Milton Newman. What appeared to be the beginning of Alzheimer’s was eventually diagnosed as NPH and successfully treated. — Jeffery A. Salter

With headlines trumpeting the rising rates of Alzheimer’s disease, it’s easy to get that distressing feeling that a misplaced coffee cup or forgotten dry cleaning might mean that you (or a loved one) are losing your mental edge or, worse, sliding inevitably toward dementia.

But you should know that more than 100 disorders — from the side effects of medication to urinary tract infections — can also trigger dementia-like symptoms. “Some of these conditions are not serious, but they’re often missed or misdiagnosed in seniors,” says P. Murali Doraiswamy, coauthor of The Alzheimer’s Action Plan and chief of biological psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center. “Caught early enough, they may actually be reversible.”

Here are eight common disorders that can masquerade as dementia, with information on what you can do about it.

1. Could it be normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH)?

Milton Newman knew something was wrong. For more than 33 years he’d had a thriving dental practice in Peekskill, N.Y. But over a period of about 15 years, his memory became fuzzy and his ability to do simple things around the house deteriorated to the point that his wife, Phyllis, was afraid to leave him home alone. “That was a terrible period,” Newman says. “I was a vegetable.”

Are you sure it is dementia? Join the discussion

He saw a series of specialists and endured a battery of tests, but no one could figure out what was wrong. “They all said it was the beginning of Alzheimer’s,” says Phyllis. It wasn’t until the couple sold their home and retired to Arizona that a new doctor recognized what was really happening. His problem wasn’t Alzheimer’s disease — it was normal pressure hydrocephalus, and it was largely reversible.

Following surgery, in which a permanent shunt was inserted into his brain, Newman started to feel like his old self. “It was really a miracle,” says Phyllis. “I knew I had him back.” The couple has since moved from Arizona to Florida to be closer to grandchildren, and celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary in December.

Why it happens: Newman’s symptoms were caused by a gradual buildup of spinal fluid in the brain. The resulting swelling and pressure over time can damage brain tissue.

The symptom that’s usually noticed first is a distinctive gait problem. “People shuffle slowly, their legs wide apart for balance,” says Richard B. Lipton, director of the division of cognitive aging and dementia at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y. Other clues: problems with thinking and memory; a lack of concentration; and urinary incontinence or a frequent need to urinate.

What to do now: See a neurologist for a complete physical and medical history. A CT scan, MRI or spinal tap can verify the diagnosis. A shunt surgically inserted into the brain can drain fluid and usually corrects the situation.

2. Could it be your medication?

For nearly three decades, Sidney Watson, 72, of Griffin, Ga., took a long list of drugs. Some lowered her high blood pressure, calmed her asthma and eased the pain of osteoporosis; others quelled her deepeningdepression. Her longtime family doctor had prescribed them all and, good patient that she was, she took them all.

“But I kept feeling worse, not better,” Watson recalls. “I had severe dizzy spells, I’d lose my balance and one time I couldn’t find the post office.” Each time she saw the primary doctor, he’d say, “Let’s try this,” and hand her another prescription. By the time she was referred to Armon B. Neel Jr., a geriatric pharmacist and AARP medication expert, she was taking 17 different drugs.

“It was no surprise to me that she was so sick,” says Neel. “No one had bothered to check what she was taking, let alone how each drug interacted with others.” Today Watson takes five pills a day — two are vitamins — and feels much better. “Dr. Neel helped me see that the doctor was treating the disease, not the patient,” she said. “I’ll never take another medication without asking a lot of questions first.”

Why it happens: Because the body metabolizes and eliminates medication less efficiently as we age, drugs can build up and cause memory glitches and other side effects that look very similar to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

What to do now: Tell your doctor about every drug you take, including supplements. If troublesome symptoms develop after starting a medication, you may be having a bad reaction. Don’t just stop taking your meds, but ask your doctor about options. The American Geriatrics Society publishes the Beers Criteria, a list of drugs that should be used with caution, or not at all, by older people.

3. Could it be depression or another mental health disorder?

“Depression, either caused or exacerbated by stress and anxiety, is a serious illness that affects mood, memory, reasoning and behavior, particularly in older people,” Lipton says.

Why it happens: When someone is depressed, regions of the brain crucial for memory, thinking, mood, sleep and appetite are impaired, says Majid Fotuhi, founder of NeurExpand Brain Center in Columbia, Md. How to tell the difference? A depressed person would express sadness and say, “I don’t know what’s the matter with me” or “I can’t concentrate.” Someone with Alzheimer’s-related depression may not realize he or she has memory problems and might not want to start new activities, but wouldn’t necessarily feel sad.

What to do now: Get evaluated for depression by a psychiatrist, neurologist or geriatrician affiliated with a memory disorder clinic or major medical center. Depression isn’t something you can “just snap out of,” but it can be treated successfully with medication, regular exercise, cognitive therapy and stress-reduction techniques such as meditation, yoga or prayer.

4. Could it be a urinary tract infection (UTI)?

UTIs are often missed in older people because seniors rarely have the typical symptoms of a high fever or pain. Instead there may be memory problems, confusion, delirium, dizziness, agitation, even hallucinations.

That’s what happened to 80-year-old Dorothy McGlinn from the Chicago area. One morning, her husband noticed that she was speaking strangely. Over the next week, she began to make no sense at all. She was in a lot of pain, couldn’t get out of bed and seemed to be getting worse by the minute, so her husband rushed her to the hospital. “When I arrived at the hospital, she didn’t recognize me,” says her daughter, Mary Meyer. “We were panicked.” They were lucky. Doctors quickly realized that Dorothy was suffering from a UTI. She was put on an antibiotic and improved dramatically within 24 hours.

Why it happens: Due to an overall weakened immune system as well as weak bladder muscles, older people may not empty their bladders completely. As more urine is held, bacteria can build up in the bladder, leading to infections that interfere with the brain’s ability to send and receive signals. Confusion and delirium may be the only sign of the infection in older people. Whereas dementia is often a long, progressive change, the mental changes brought on by a urinary tract infection will happen quickly and “often can completely resolve with treatment,” says Tomas Griebling, vice chair in the department of urology at the University of Kansas School of Medicine.

What to do now: Most urinary tract infections are easily treated with antibiotics, lots of fluids, a healthy diet and rest.

5. Could it be your thyroid?

According to the American Thyroid Association, roughly 30 million people (most over age 50) have thyroid disease — and half of them don’t even know it. They just feel sluggish, depressed, forgetful or anxious.

Why it happens: The thyroid, a small butterfly-shaped gland that straddles the lower windpipe, secretes hormones that keep every system in the body running smoothly. “Thyroid disorders develop slowly — one reason symptoms are often mistaken for normal aging,” says Borna Bonakdarpour, a professor of neurology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and an investigator at its Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center. Both too little and too much thyroid hormone may trigger dementia-like symptoms.

What to do now: See your primary care doctor or an endocrinologist for a simple blood test to measure thyroid levels. Thyroid problems can usually be treated successfully with medications but sometimes require surgery.

6. Could it be a vitamin B-12 deficiency?

This essential vitamin — necessary for the development of red and white blood cells — is found in animal products, such as meat, poultry, eggs and milk. Unless you’re a longtime vegan, you probably get enough from your diet. However, some people as they age become unable to absorb vitamin B-12, a condition known as pernicious anemia. The result: nerve damage such as numbness or tingling in the hands and feet, confusion, personality changes, irritability, depression and forgetfulness.

Why it happens: Pernicious anemia is an autoimmune deficiency that develops when the stomach stops making the substance necessary to properly absorb B vitamins.

What to do now: See your doctor for a complete physical and blood tests. Unlike other anemias, pernicious anemia does not respond to iron. But for most people, supplemental B-12, taken orally or by injection once a month, corrects the problem.

7. Could it be diabetes?

According to the American Diabetes Association, 25 percent of Americans over age 60 have diabetes.

Why it happens: Your body needs a certain amount of glucose (sugar) to keep blood vessels functioning properly. Too much or too little glucose damages blood vessels in the brain, robbing it of the energy needed to create new neurons. The result: memory problems, confusion, irritability, inattention.

What to do now: Reversal of diabetes-related cognitive symptoms depends on how severely the disease has affected the brain. “That’s why it’s so important to catch it early or prevent it in the first place,” says Duke’s Doraiswamy. It’s crucial to carefully monitor blood sugar levels and insulin if you have diabetes. Losing weight, exercising and eating a healthy diet can make a big difference.

8. Could it be alcohol-related?

“Alcohol abuse, even binge drinking for a short time when you’re young, destroys brain cells in areas critical for memory, thinking, decision making and balance,” says Fotuhi.

Why it happens: Besides destroying brain cells, heavy drinking can also lead to an unhealthy diet that deprives the brain of key nutrients, such as thiamine (vitamin B-1). Severe thiamine deficiency may also lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS), a chronic memory disorder characterized by confusion, memory loss, hostility and agitation.

What to do now: Depending on the damage, the effects of long-term alcohol abuse can sometimes be reversed. WKS can be treated with thiamine replacement therapy. If you suspect you have alcohol-related memory problems, seek help to stay sober.

Original Source:

Taking Care of You – Dealing with Caregiver Guilt

caregiver with a seniorCaregiving can be extremely rewarding, but all caregivers will eventually feel some degree of frustration, anger and guilt. These are all normal emotional responses to an incredibly emotional journey.

As a caregiver, you may feel frustrated and angry at your chaotic life, or your lack of control over the disease’s progression. Anger often evolves into guilt. You may feel like there isn’t a light at the end of the tunnel, and have the guilty thought, “how much longer can this go on?” But understand, feelings can’t be denied. They can however be changed to some degree by adjusting your perspective; for example, you may feel less frustrated with your loved one’s acting out if you can remind yourself that they are not doing it on purpose, it is part of the disease.

Feelings can also be softened by certain self-care strategies. Journaling your feelings and daily relaxation techniques can be helpful. Identifying guilt triggers can also help. Does missing a child’s activity make you angry, with guilt setting in as you are later abrupt with your loved one? Maybe you need to find a Plan B so you can balance caregiving with your other roles. Respite is a great strategy to reduce guilt.

Are you feeling guilty about thoughts of sending Mom to a care home because you can no longer do it all? The thing you need to remember is that there is a difference between caring and doing. You may love. You may care. But at some point, sooner or later, you won’t be able to do. And you need to figure out a way to live with that. Those “unable to do moments” may come in increments; today you may need a respite day and decided to send your spouse to day-care for the day. A month from now, you may need to incorporate day-care twice a week in your caregiving calendar. All of that’s OK. The important thing is that you try and identify those points, those limitations you can’t get beyond, prior to actually being confronted by them.

So how do you do that? First, get support. Join a support group, if possible focused on the disease stage of your loved one. Participate in the AlzConnected online support forum and read everything you can. Share your feelings and gain others’ coping strategies. It will help. Another tip, live in the day; focus on any positives from that single day. Look for a sign of your loved one’s remaining personality – perhaps a smile in hearing music – and connect with that. Prepare for, but don’t dwell on the future. Don’t just grieve for all the losses, but reflect on the good memories, maybe by sharing a photo album with your loved one and others. Let go of unrealistic expectations. “I should never take time off to enjoy a movie with friends when it upsets Dad so much,” is just not realistic in the long haul.

Bottom line is to listen to your feelings and know they are normal. Focus on the helpful and positive differences you have made in your loved one’s life, not on the things you didn’t do. And remember, as the disease progresses and you find yourself no longer able to have your loved one at home, that isn’t giving up. It is just a different way of caring.

About the  author: Stefanie is a family care specialist who blogs regularly for Alzheimer’s Association, Northern California and Northern Nevada Chapter. To read more blog posts by Stefanie, click here.