Opinion: For Elise Habing and others

The best teachers I ever had were those that had the ability to create in their students an enthusiasm for learning.

It didn’t matter how they did it.  They could use stories, music or visuals to make the lesson a bit more exciting for their class.

I recently met Elise Habing, a retired teacher whom I met at her son’s self-service shop called Yogurt Twist.

Many people I know politely nod but not Elise.  She engages fully in the conversation, keeping eye contact at all times.

It certainly does not surprise me to know she taught second-through eighth-grade for many years, because she is as warm and inviting as any good teacher I know.

Make no mistake—Elise’s life is not all it appears to be on the surface.  Her son Doug tells me she has had Alzheimer’s for many years.

I almost didn’t believe it because she seems just fine.

I did notice that she held a Calvin and Hobbs book on her lap, though.  It was left by a customer who unfortunately never came back to claim it.

She said it was easier to read than a novel.  Due to her short term memory, she just doesn’t have the attention span she once had.

I read that Alzheimer’s patients benefit greatly from reading because it keeps their brainwaves active.

According to Melissa Wayne, M.A. and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. on helpguide.org, this condition is the “most common form of dementia, a serious brain disorder that impacts daily living through memory loss and cognitive changes.”

It’s a “degenerative disease, progressing from mild forgetfulness to widespread neurological impairment and ultimately death.”

There are also “chemical and structural changes in the brain that gradually destroy the ability to create, remember, learn, reason and relate to others.  As critical cells die, drastic personality loss occurs and body systems fail.”

Their study also shows that one in 10 people who are 65 (and half  of those 85 and older) have this disease.

For many who have just discovered that something is not right with them, they fear it is Alzheimer’s.

It begins with natural changes in old age, such as “processing speed attention, and short term memory,” but the important thing for everyone who is getting on in age to know is that there is a distinction in this disease and it’s best to get yourself checked out by a professional.

Elise’s short-term memory intrigues me, for all of us have forgotten something in our daily lives.

For me it’s keys.  I can never find them when I truly need them.  It drives my household crazy, but somehow I always find them (okay, so more often than not my kids find them for me).

Elise, on the other hand, deals with much more than this on a daily basis, yet she seems to take it all in stride.

I found that Elise adapts to her memory loss in an interesting way.  For instance, she couldn’t pronounce my name, so she asked that I write it down for her.  I spelled it out phonetically first (eh-nay-ah) and then wrote the name itself—Enea.

She read it and seemed quite happy that I did that for her.  I was so inspired by her enthusiasm that I added:

“To the best woman I met this week.”

She let out her sunshine smile.

Later on, I pointed out the walls of the shop to Elise.  I asked what she thought of all the customer-generated art on it and she told me she loved it.

She couldn’t believe the work put into each one.  Doug told me that the inspiration for the art on the wall is a door in the house he grew up in.

His mom allowed his brother and him to draw on it.  That’s one cool mom.

As much as she loves to see the drawings, she loves to see the kids even more.

Her eyes brighten when kids visit the shop with their parents.

Some studies show that Alzheimer’s patients benefit greatly when they are exposed to infants and children.

It can trigger memories of their own childhood and brings them back to a good time in their life.

“For Elise” is the title of this article and it inspires me to think about the song “Fur Elise” by Van Beethoven, which many beginner pianists learn.

To perfect it is an accomplishment.

I think it’s appropriate to dedicate this song to Elise, for she has taught me not to dwell on what’s hard in life, but to cherish all the things that come into your life.

When our former President Ronald Reagan had this disease when he was alive, I wasn’t aware of the intricate details of Alzheimer’s.

Elise has made me comfortable with the subject.

For the first time in my life, I am not afraid to find out what it’s all about.

Enea Ostrich is a resident of College Park East in Seal Beach.