Halloween? My Grandfather Richter? Little Debbie…

Visiting my mother this weekend, we stopped for dinner at McDs.  The local gathering point for everyone in Oakwood.  While there we noticed two of my cousins having dinner – from my grandfather RIchter’s twin brother Lesley.

Getting a chance to talk to family is always high on my list!  I let them know how dad was doing – not great, he wasn’t even speaking during our visit. I’m pretty sure my dad had no clue who I was.  That’s never easy… I had just listened to a podcast (to get off topic) about how dementia patients can be retaught things at each stage.  Talking to dad and telling him about what is going on around him, what’s happening with everyone from his life and the area should help keep some part of his mind available for a little while.  I try so hard to remember while there that he may not react and may not know me or speak to me, but some part of his mind may have a spark of understanding of who I am and what I am telling him.  Something to keep a little more grey cells alive a little longer in his brain….  Anyway back to cousins.  My cousins were at dinner and we were talking about dad and the topic came up about DNA tests, family history and what our future looks like.

Family History:

We have a lot of family members with a history of stroke.  My dad also has damage from a car accident when he was in his teens, and several farm accidents… My cousin’s (at dinner) mother was the one that held my dad while he was bleeding after the accident.  Their father was the twin to my grandfather…  Strokes are something to keep in mind as we move forward.  I know I don’t have the gene tested for late onset Alzheimer’s, but that’s totally different from Vascular Dementia.

DNA Tests

Now with DNA tests you can be tested for all sorts of things that can be passed down.  Luckily I found that everything that is currently in the companies list is not in my DNA, but as I mentioned to my family… I think if it had been I would then be very careful about who I told that I had been tested.  My assumption is that sooner or later that data will make it out.  Will it count against some people for insurance?  I  was lucky to be negative on everything.  I can see a time though where kids who haven’t even been tested get denied for insurance because their parents were carriers for the — fill in the blank — gene.  If the data is out there you have to assume that sooner or later it will be accessed.  With the  current climate my assumption is that it is even more likely.  Your medical records already contain the answers to the questions – do you have a family history of?  How long until it’s expanded to include do you know anyone that has a gene for? A company now is even offering free DNA testing to expand their database and research….  How long until the group that doesn’t know their full DNA make up is a minority?

Grandpa Richter

While talking the topic of what happened to my grandfather came up.  I was in grade school (2nd grade I think)  It was Oct 30, 1974 and my grandfather had a stroke walking into his house. He was half in and half out.  My parents didn’t let us come see and they took care of everything.  My grandfather had a housekeeper that had been taking care of him as a live in.  As he passed away each of the brothers and sisters had to be tracked down to let them know… of course no cell phones.   My Aunt Linda was teaching and her principle drove her over, my Aunt Dorothy had her phone off the hook and a neighbor had to be asked to run over and let her know, and my Aunt Norma was just leaving for a tractor pull in a semi.  Aunt Norma and Uncle Lloyd owned a trucking company, big purple trucks, and an employee was able to reach them by CB. His passing away had been a complete surprise…

I remember going down and having the Little Debbie Oatmeal pies and the crust off his pot pies.  Those two things still remind me of him.  I don’t remember much about him, except those two things and pictures, but I do remember those things.  He would take the crust off his pot pie and give it to me at a formica table in the kitchen.  The oatmeal pies I remember being in the living room.   I do remember one other thing, but it could be from years later as my aunt Linda was living in the house…. Concord grapes growing on the vine in the front yard. To this day I still love concord grapes!  I can distinguish the taste from all the other grapes, I have no clue any other type of grape.


My mom has stories about us going to my cousins (Harold and Olives) for Halloween that year while they planned everything.  I don’t really remember that part, which is probably a good thing since I still enjoy Halloween.  Living in the country it was rare for us to get to go trick or treating except to relatives houses.  A couple years we got to go in to town and go door to door with friends.     My mother tells stories about me answering peoples questions about whether we lived in Oakwood with ‘Nos’ since we lived out of town….  I now am faced with the same feeling I’m sure she felt when I take my youngest in to the parade in Oakwood.  We have a place right outside town, we have been in the area forever, but anyone that asks if we live there and I know my son’s answer will be nope!

Another Stroke?

Visiting my family this weekend, a trip to the nursing home to see my dad was part of the visit.  Now that my youngest has started school, and living 6 hours from the rest of my family I’m stuck with just weekends to come and help out.  I’ve been lucky that my mother is still able to take care of herself as much as she is.  This trip my husband and youngest came with and we got to attend a Jurrasic Quest event also.  My youngest was super excited about that.

My dad has still been having issues at the nursing home and we’ve been dealing with – is there another place to put him?  Surprisingly my mother was told that the nursing home he is in has a five star rating and so he needs to move so that they don’t loose their rating.  I’ve been surprised with the number of times they call and tell us that he has fallen.  The stories they tell give the impression that despite being unable to walk without assistance when anyone is watching – he appears to be a super quick ninja the rest of the time and get to places and then fall down when they aren’t looking.  He is on their list to always be watched yet in the last two days he has fallen twice – and once last week so badly that he has fractured his hand…

While in to visit (Before the last two times he has fallen), we noticed on Sunday that he is now dragging his left foot behind him when he walks with a walker.  It appeared obvious to me that he has had a stroke again.  The nurse when questioned, said that he has been like that as long as she has known him, but also mentioned that she only works every other weekend.  I realized that means that this was the first weekend she had ever seen my dad, as he just moved to that section.

My dad’s medicine seems to be making him pretty tired all the time.  It’s pretty sad to see, but even with all that we can see small glimmers of my dad.  Strokes do change behavior and physical characteristics.  Seeing my dad drag his leg, and unable to stay awake to carry on a conversation reminds me that we have moved from the stage where my parents were caretakers to the next step where my brother and I move up to care for our parents (and our kids).

Dementia? Brain Damage? What’s the Difference?

My father is growing old.  We’ve said he has dementia, but the true story is a little tougher to deal with…

At 16 my dad wrecked a motorcycle.  I’m pretty sure he didn’t have a helmet on, not even sure helmets existed yet – and I’m sure they weren’t common.  The story I’ve heard is that my Uncle Tom saw him wreck and ran to get the car.  He then drove him to the hospital, where it was expected my dad would not survive.  Dad had brain swelling (this was the 50s!)  and I’m sure the drs said there wasn’t anything they could do for him.  Amazingly my father survived though.  He was in such bad shape that my grandfather, being a widower farmer couldn’t take care of him, so my dad was sent to live with my Aunt Dorothy.  (She’s fairly colorful, so there are lots of stories there too)  I should mention the year I was born my father wrecked a convertible Corvette – TOTALED.  He was with my cousins Joellyn and Judy and they only survived by being thrown from the car.  It rolled over…. Luckily no head trauma then though.

My dad went on with headaches and more, growing up to be a farmer himself (and having me and my brother).  Not fond of medical care, my dad didn’t see a doctor for years.  I do remember a kidney stone when I was in grade school where my mother had to take him to the ER, but other than that, NADA.  Then finally a few years back my father has a seizure and they find his blood pressure is sky high. Not only that, but his blood pressure has been sky high for quite a while.  (High blood pressure can cause capillaries in the brain to burst) My father’s blood pressure had went on so long it had caused damage!

My dad is convinced that people die in hospitals, which leads him to try to escape every time he’s in one….  This has led to him removing his own IV and being found in other people’s rooms a few times and the inevitable calls asking everyone to come and take him home….  BUT at that time the drs thought they had gotten it under control.

Skip forward a few years and my dad has a stroke (they run in our family).  The doctors had a really hard time with the stroke due to the mass of brain damage (see the motorcycle wreck mentioned above), but finally they decided it was a stroke.  Since then he has had a couple as well as his heart valve replaced (because it was leaky?).

So when we look at my dad and know he can’t remember, or is having a bad day – how do you decide.. Does he have dementia or brain damage?  My thought is that dementia steadily gets worse where as brain damage (if the underlying conditions are treated) will  not get worse unless there is more damage to the tissue.

Even knowing all this, really knowing the cause in this case is just knowledge.  Does it help with his treatment?  Would it change anything?

I think my answer is yes it does change a little, I have his genes.  I need to decide whether I check off Alzheimer and dementia in my close family history.  No one else in my direct line had dementia, so does my dad or is it brain damage?  Is it my future?

I thin on my family tree medical conditions is something I need to start adding.  I think I should add not just COD (Cause of Death) but also major chronic illnesses.  My father also has Padget’s disease. I know that is hereditary!  It’s something I need to watch out for just in case I received those genes.

Do you track medical conditions in your family tree?