Do You Really Know Whom You’re Caring For?

By Robert Elmer III on December 11, 2017 in Uncategorized
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We’ve all heard the expression “walk a mile in their shoes” or try to see things from their point of view. If you’re a formal or informal caregiver of someone with Alzheimer’s or other dementia you need to be doing this daily. I recently took an on-line course with Jolene Brackey of Purdue University and she shared some insights that I’d like to share with you.
As I’ve shared many times, their environment is what will dictate their behaviors. In fact, its been said that their behaviors aren’t really behaviors at all but reactions to what’s happening in their environment or a result of the combination of their life experiences and their current state of mind. Are they afraid, thirsty, hungry, in pain, confused, angry or unable to process all that’s going on in the room or home they’re in? Remember, the number one thing they look to us for is to feel safe so our job is to keep them in a happy place. As, Jolene says, we should always remember our mission is to create wonderful moments for them not necessarily wonderful days. Although their short term memory is compromised, in most cases, they will not forget how we made them feel and that’s why we should always assure them that we’re the good guys. It’s easier than you think to trigger positive memories from them with sight, smell, taste and feel. Family photos, the smell of bacon or an apple pie baking, the taste of coffee ice cream or the warm gentle touch of a hand massage using their favorite lotion goes a long way to making them feel safe and secure.
I wonder how many of you have ever asked your loved one how old they are? You may be surprised at the answer. Because of their confusion, their minds will often take them back to a time in their life when they had more clarity, meaning and purpose. If you learn that they are looking at their life now as a teenager you’ll understand that when they say they want to go home (when they are home), it’s the home they lived in years ago they are thinking of. One of the points that Jolene made that really resonated with me was that if their behaviors, although not necessarily normal by our standards, aren’t hurting anyone, let them go. Moving items from one room to another, emptying drawers or wearing the same outfit every day makes perfect sense to them. “They don’t know they’re doing anything wrong” said Ms. Brackey, “and they don’t get confused until we show up to correct them” or worse scold them for doing something that’s perfectly normal in their world.
This is just one of the many reasons that formal and informal caregivers must put forth a diligent effort to understand those they are caring for. What are those things that will get them to or keep them in a happy place. What are those things that you should avoid that bring them to a “dark” place? One of my favorite stories to make this point is about a gentleman that lived in a community and he was looking for “Betsy.” He was walking all over the community asking if anyone had seen Betsy. A well meaning aide responded with, “I wouldn’t worry Mr. Brown, I’m sure she’s at the hairdressers.” Her very strange answer actually scared him. You see, Betsy was his cow and even though he had dementia, even he knew that cows don’t go to the hairdressers. For a while he actually thought there was something wrong with the aide. The good news is that with Alzheimer’s dementia, in most cases, you can change the answer 10 minutes later and make it all good.
We can’t control the the disease but we can control the way we react to it. If you have any questions, please email me at repe@careforcaregivers.org. Remember, Join the Journey.

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Robert Elmer IIIView all posts by Robert Elmer III