Recently, I have been reminded of the importance of looking outward from oneself. I have an uncle and an aunt, the brother and sister of my late father. Both are probably in their eighties. Aside from their biological relationship, they could not be more different in their outlook on life. Both serve as examples of the way to look at life...and not look at life.
My uncle began running marathons when he was 70. He worked for Coast and Geodetic Survey for some 60+ years and just retired last year! Uncle Joe was a regular singer using Karaoke at a local restaurant near his home in Alaska. He has recently undergone major surgery for cancer and is having a hard time gaining his strength back. This must be a very trying time for him, but, instead of dwelling on his weakness, he looks forward with hope that he will gain his strength once again. He chooses NOT to look at his limitations.
On the other hand, his sister is just the opposite. Her entire life (well, as much as I know of it) has been spent lamenting about her allergies or other ailments. Most of her conversation center on herself. This causes her to suffer from what I call the "poor me” syndrome. Now, please note that I love this woman dearly, but I must be truthful here. Talking with her can be a real downer!
My cousin Deidre wrote me and told me that she had spoken with both our aunt and uncle this weekend, and, as usual, Uncle Joe was matter-of-fact about his condition but still upbeat and hopeful for a better future, whereas our aunt concentrated on her litany of problems...until my cousin reminded her of Uncle Joe's condition. And, Deidre continued talking, telling our aunt how thinking about others helps diminish our own problems...at which point, my aunt got quiet and then changed her direction of thought, improving her mood.
This all got me to thinking about changing your direction of thought. If you have dementia, don't dwell on what you can no longer do. Focus your energy on making your life work for you. Okay, so:
• you have to have reminders around the house
• you have to use the GPS when you go out
• you have to refer back to that recipe a hundred times
• you forget to brush your hair
• you need to make lists...which you sometimes lose or forget to look at
• You have to re-arrange your life...
It IS okay! Look at how much worse it could be! There are people who are so much worse off! People with cancer or emphysema or Muscular Dystrophy or...whatever.
And, if you are a caregiver, you are not alone in your frustration. But just think about this:
• Your loved one DOES have some memory. Use it to draw them out.
• Your loved one can be touched on some level. Try physical things, like painting or listening and/or moving to music.
• Your loved one with dementia may get depressed...it often goes hand in hand...when he/she begins to lament his/her limitations, try to change the subject. Go on to something more positive. As your loved one's focus changes, bring up some positive reinforcement. Show that person how well they are doing...give ‘em an "attaboy"!