Recently I read a book entitled – Dementia Reimagined by Tia Powell MD. It was a disappointment to me personally because I believe that I judged this book by its title. I was hoping for some sort of expert thoughts on how I can deal better with my personable anxiety, emotion and smoldering anger with Cheryl’s disease of Parkinson and her accompanying dementia. I was hoping for; when this comes up, do this. Life is not that easy but my engineer training wants to make it so.
Dr. Powell’s book is a good argument for changing the way government programs, insurance companies and the like perceive and fund help for those with dementia. I know that the funding albeit private or public is screwed up. A few months ago I met with a lawyer to discuss end of life issues especially since I felt certain that Cheryl’s chronic illness would eventually bear a heavy toll on our family finances. He asked why I still lived in Ohio.
All states are different.
No Help There
That does not really help me. These tips on dementia (copied from a website somewhere) do seem to be useful:
Always approach from the front. – or do that as much as you can. When I first read this it was not meaningful to me but I have noticed that Cheryl startles easily. Her startle reflex shows itself at seemingly random moments. If we are traveling somewhere in our car, she will react to other drivers with jerky motions or a surprised little noise from her lips. I used to point that out to her and she reacted with both embarrassment and a little anger. I have learned to ignore these little things but it is hard for me to do.
She no longer drives a car having given up her license several years ago.
I have noticed that she will jump if approach her while working on something in her office which causes her to face away from the doorway so that she does not see me coming. I am not moving quietly when this has occurred but I may be mistaken about that idea. I may be more stealthy than I think myself to be. We are both older. Our hearing may not be as acute as in our youth.
Watch your body language and tone in addition to the words you use. – frustration or surprise at the immediate situation may easily be interpreted as anger. This is the hardest concept for me personally to deal with. I am concerned for Cheryl’s safety and I also hate to clean up messes. I apologize a lot and she apologizes a lot for making a mess even though I tell her that no apology is necessary.
I recognize that I am perceived as angry by her when one of these situations occurred. The aweshit reflex is strong in students and practitioners of engineering. So far I have been able to tone it down to oh-poop but it is a work in process with some small progress. I keep telling myself it is anger with this disease and what it has taken from her. I cannot tell you if there is truth to that statement but I keep repeating it to myself quietly at night when a combination of sun-downers and dreamy illusions and hallucinations creep into her perception of the world.
Sometimes I merely lose it, however. I can be mister cranky pants in the middle of the night.
Smile and wait until they acknowledge your presence before touching them. – Hugs are always welcome but Parkinson’s patients may be unsteady, so be prepared to steady her and accept some weight change. Hugs are always smoother from the front than from the rear. (see startles above)
Regardless of acknowledgment touching, hand holding, hugging are preferable to distance. The combination of Parkinson’s and dementia are frustrating, depressing and scary. Cheryl has expressed this to me often in moments of perfect lucidity. Those moments are still there. Savor them like fine wine or life as it used to be.
Validate their point when they are upset even if they are wrong. – and be aware that it is not important to correct anyone’s perception of things. Never start a response with; you are wrong, dear. … and continuing with the rest of it.
Let’s face the fact that “you are wrong” is a manifestly stupid way to start with no dementia present. Relax and take a deep breath and decide between two things, is it important to correct her perception or do you merely have a need to be right. Try, yes, that could be true… and go from there if concepts are way off and you want to help her find the way back. Or just ignore it, after all, her memory is not very good any more. She will not remember that you are right but she will remember that you angrily corrected her.
Say you are sorry at the first sign of their frustration to keep situations at a minimum. – I say I am sorry a lot because I am sorry that I tread on her heart. This disease is frustrating for us both.
Cheryl sees a nurse practitioner a couple times a year. Maureen is pretty practical when it comes to nuanced care partnering. These are her words;
I get lots of questions on how to deal with dementia. I could give you a list of resources to look up on the internet, workshops to attend, books to buy. All of that takes time which most of us have too little of. A great caregiver website, caregiving.com, offers these 5 tips for dealing with dementia.
PRACTICE PATIENCE – This can be incredibly difficult to do. Try to remember when you were dealing with your children when they were young, especially the toddlers. You probably had more patience then, than now. Remember those days of taking a deep breath before saying something. With practice, it will get easier.
PROMOTE PHYSICAL HEALTH – This is for both the care giver and the care receiver. The care receiver can benefit from practicing chair yoga, dancing, gentle stretching. Since the pandemic there are abundant resources on You Tube which can be helpful for both the care giver and the care receiver. A walk outside in the fresh air can help clear the mind for the care giver and give a person a brief respite.
USE PHYSICAL TOUCH – Touch is a powerful form of communication and connection. It can also be a valuable expression of reassurance particularly to someone living with dementia. All of us need a hug now and again. My own mother would remind me I forgot to kiss her good night!
FIND RESPITE – If you’re focusing most – if not all – of your time, energy, and resources on caring for a loved one with dementia, you may find you cannot sustain doing so over the long-term. With proper self-care, you can relax and recharge, manage caregiver stress, and become a better and more effective caregiver. Consider sitting on the porch and reading a book, a brisk walk, a cup of Starbucks, an ice cream cone, a massage, a warm bath with soothing scents. These things need to be done regularly in order to maintain your own health.
REDUCE WORKING HOURS – If you are still working full time, care giving becomes a second full time job. Consider scheduling a meeting with your human resources manager to propose temporarily working from home, flex-time opportunities, job sharing, and/or even paid leave due to your caregiving demands. You may be pleasantly surprised by the accommodations your employer is willing to make.
Maureen is a wonderful practical person. (I also wish she was not in our life because then there would be no disease of Parkinson or dementia.)