Tag Archives: mental health

Lost in a crowd of familiar faces

My dear friend Sylvia, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, was very agitated when I visited her at the nursing home. She was sitting in her wheelchair, banging it against the nurse’s medication cart. As I approached her I heard the nurse address her like this, “Sylvia you’re missing a shoe.” That meant nothing to Sylvia.

Later on, my dad tried to tell my friend, “This is where you can set your water glass.” Sylvia looked blankly at him and held on to her glass.

loneliness in a crowd copyEven though my dad felt that he was clear in his explanation, at a certain stage of Alzheimer’s disease sufferers can no longer follow simple instructions. We also can’t expect them to take part in or to understand our conversations, especially in large groups.

Part of what I do through my speaking engagements is help people understand what it’s like to be with familiar faces, but still feel totally lost in everyday conversation.

The closest I have been to understanding how Alzheimer’s disease can impede communication was when I was on a semester abroad in Norway. I remember one such time where I was the one completely adrift in a crowd.

A friend invited me to a party where I met a number of his friends. My Norwegian language skills were good, but nowhere near good enough to keep up with the rapid-fire conversations that were happening all around me. I felt lost, confused and totally exhausted by the end of the evening.

To top it off, I took the wrong bus to get back to where I was staying. When I finally arrived at my apartment, I was in tears. My roommate greeted me with, “We’re only going to speak English and tomorrow I’m taking you to the American Lutheran Church.” That’s how she helped me regain my footing and feel connected again.

I offer three ways to help you stay connected with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease and struggles to communicate:

  • Connect with your eyes—stand or sit at the same level with your loved one and look them in the eyes. Look at them when you’re talking to others, even if they aren’t able to contribute. Let them know that you see them and that they are included.
  • Slow WAY down—speak clearly and in short phrases. Allow pauses in your sentences and space for them to respond. Their response may come out in “word salad,” but nod and acknowledge them; don’t correct them. If they have lost most of their ability to speak, refrain from asking them questions that require complex responses.
  • Use touch—if they can’t form sentences, include them in the conversation by holding their hand or sitting close to them.

If you’re able to shift how you interact with a loved one suffering with Alzheimer’s disease, you also take care of yourself. You stay SANE* in a challenging caregiving world.

*Supported, Appreciated, Not Guilty and Energized, explained in my new edition of The Unexpected Caregiver

3 quick tips to re-energize yourself

Last night I heard my friend coughing all night. I’m concerned that she’s not taking care of herself as she splits her time between caring for her dad and her children. With each visit, I see more of her time being eaten up by the needs of others. Acquaintances say, “Oh you’re so good to your mother.” Yes, she is—but I also want her to be good to herself.

Caregivers feel drained. It’s a tiring and energy-robbing role. In the midst of feeling exhausted you must sneak in ways to regain necessary energy. Try these three suggestions:

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  1. Go for a quick walk around the block or into the woods. Breathe in the fresh air and imagine the oxygen filling up your brain.
  2. Crank up the music and dance. Both the physical movement and the energy of the music will give you energy. (My dad and I often break into random dance. As you can see in the picture, we enjoy!)
  3. Talk with someone about a fascinating book you’re reading. Get into it and share feelings and ideas and research even more about the topic.

You need energy to give care. You also need energy to enjoy the parts of your life that are not about being a caregiver.

How to beat the “Not-Enoughs”

“When will I see you again?” my Grandma Gladys would often ask as I was getting ready to leave. Instead of giving her a time and date I would answer with, “Well you know I’m awfully busy at college.” Part of that answer came out of frustration that my current visit didn’t seem to count. The other part was sheer ego. I wanted her to know that I was important and had a life. I rarely felt good after a visit that ended like that.

Was I doing enough? Could I have visited her more? I loved my grandma dearly, but had a lot of guilt about not doing “enough” for her. It’s hard to say what is enough and feelings of guilt only fuel your uncertainty.

guilt-1A simple way to beat the “Not Enoughs” is:

  1. Put yourself in a rational state of mind. (You may have to do math problems to move your brain from an emotional to a logical place. Try it. It works!)
  2. In that logical state, write down all that you do for your loved one. (Make no judgments as you write.)
  3. Stay in that unemotional place and look at your list.
  4. Ask yourself, “Could I do more? What would I do? How would it affect my life?”
  5. If it makes sense to do more, add in the time. If it doesn’t, look at your list again, but this time with a sense of gratitude for the time and energy you give.

Guilt will be a constant companion on our journeys as a caregiver, but you’re in control. Erase the guilt and embrace what you’re doing as enough.

Yes. The Holidays™

I’ve heard from many of you in response to my last blog. My heart goes out to all of us who find this time of year less jolly and more complicated. My wish is that we each find our own version of Santa belly laughs. (The coffee shop in which I find myself just had TWO Santas come in. That was confusing. Not so much for the babies, but for me. How can there be two?)

I give you Dak and his creative version of The Holidays…now a brand.

By Dak Gustal

Part 1. In which I set out this year toward Christmas instead of away from it.

For ten months of the year, The Holidays™ are ridiculously easy to survive.

Just outside the Denny’s parking lot in Big Eel, two normal people enjoy a conversation about Christmas from the safety of September:

old coupleEdith; Christmas? What’s the whoop?

Corwin: I know, right? What’s the big whoop?

Edith rattles her free weekly newspaper already blossoming in holiday style

Edith: How would we fall for fake Christmas anyway?

Corwin: I don’t know, right?

Edith: ‘S so stupid!

Corwin: Ridiculous!

Corwin stands, pulls himself to his full height, clenches into a knot then releases a stream of curses across the park at an offending red squirrel. He then resumes sitting in the exact spot the same way, as if nothing happened. Edith does not seem to notice.

Edith: You’re not gonna fall for it this year?

Corwin: I don’t know. No, right?

Edith: I’m just going to enjoy the season for what it is.

Corwin: Yeah! Just enjoy the season for what it is.

Pause.

Edith: It’s about love and peace and joy to the world and stuff. It’s no big whoop!
Corwin: I know, right? What’s the big whoop?

Part 2. In which I begin to realize the flaw contained in Part 1.

It’s December. Krampus, in the form of Our Hero’s Life Partner, explains exactly what the Big Whoop is all about:

Krampus : What’s the big whoop! I’ll tell you what the big whoop is! I got Santa infesting my brain and you don’t have any Santa in you at all and I keep getting things for Billy but Sally just has the one thing even though it’s a big ticket thing and who knows what Kevin thinks about anything, he’s so full of…

[We interrupt this Important Diatribe of Complaints to remind you that when you need to get into The Holidays™ Spirit nothing says “I love you!” like The Holidays™ Spirit of The Holidays™ 64 Calorie Tribute to The Holidays™ Holiday Nog. Get yours today!]

…when she pulled the whole tree down on top of her which is why you always have to put the biggest…are you even listening?

Hero: I wasn’t listening, but now that I know a very good reason to not ask about the whoop anymore, I was wondering if you were going to get to the part where we all come together as one big happy family and the snow falls gently outside but inside everyone is warm and happy to be together and everyone got what they really wanted which was to be seen and heard and enjoyed and cherished and to love their lives and the life you live with the people we love.

Little Girl: But the people we love are often terrible people when they’re around people that love them!

Her Brother: And as it turns out, you’re the worst one!

Uncle in the back: It’s a cultural thing!

Woman in red hat: I blame the ads!

All in Chorus: Yes! Ads are making The Holidays™ conform to their will!

Dad, pounding the table solidly, once: That’s enough! Out All Of You.

Part 3. Total Defeat. Keep Eating?

In the silent aftermath, over the soft grunting and chewing and scraping of silverware on bone china, you can hear music low in the background. Familiar, intricate music designed to hone time to the singular emotion we are all expected to share and overcome; the music always there in the background of The Holidays™, hearkening heraldic angels to sing over and over again. And once more.

The Holidays™ brought to you by It’s Just What I Always Wanted!™ For Men™
Available now everywhere!

Dak Gustal is a freelance writer and poet living in Randoph, VT. You may contact him at st.augustus@gmail.com

 

Getting Unstuck

“Open your new brain” I suggest to audiences and individuals. This means setting aside the rote response “I can’t do this; this won’t work in my situation.” By opening your ‘new brain’ you listen to ideas with the attitude, “I wonder how I can apply this new information?”

We all get stuck now and then. For some of us, it feels like we’ve been stuck in those glue traps set out to catch unwanted mice. And we continue doing the same thing over and over, hoping that today, the result will magically evolve. When it doesn’t it can easily throw us into a maelstrom of emotions.

Here are my suggestions to loosen the grip of the proverbially glue trap and open your new brain:

  • Get creative. I know, hard to manage when feeling stuck. So get up and dance! Call a friend or sit and color. Just do something. Don’t think about it. I have adult coloring books, if you’d like to order, and I also provide excellent suggestions for creatively interacting with your loved ones when giving care in my book.
  • Stop the mind chatter. Focus on someone else. Turn your attention to listening to another person and set your self talk on a shelf. This small act brings a double blessing—that person is truly listened to and you let go of your mind chatter for a bit.
  • Walk outside. In all weather. Look up at the trees. Breathe deeply. Listen for nature’s conversation and let it take over your mind chatter if just for a little time.
  • Use humor. Watch a stand up routine or just listen to people laugh. If nothing else, humor will shift your physiological makeup and automatically make you feel just a little better. What will it hurt?

If there’s any way I can help you get unstuck—either with caregiving issues or aging issues or heck, just living issues, let me know. I’m here to help.

I’ll Eat You Up

It’s “Heart Attack Monday” and I’m often more than amazed how many people are feeling the stress of not only Monday, but of life. At the same time. Dak’s blog is worthy of taking a break to read and reap from his insights.

By Dak Gustal

I know you know this, but maybe you, like me, keep forgetting: stress is hurting us now and in the long term. Here’s a study out of Sweden linking stress in middle age with increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

A lot of us are prone to stress. Offhand I would say that most of the people I know are stressed out much of the time. We get into habits of worry and deadlines and getting to the church on time and we have headaches and heartburn and midsections that buzz as if from one blow after another as well as shoulder blades that want to lodge in our earballs. There are so many things that seem so important and so needing of our attention and we want to be good and we want to do right and I don’t want my kids to miss out on anything good or get into anything bad and all you talk about is how your relationship is in trouble again and then there’s the economy and politics and religion. How’re things going at work?

Where is the good news? Or if there is no good news, which prescription can I take?

All I got is the good news today, but you are going to have to want to hear it:

Let it go.

See? I know you read that and something inside of you slumped and was disappointed.

“I already know that.” might be one response, but chances are you think if you let it go you will tumble off into space like Sandra Bullock in “Gravity”, only you don’t have George Clooney in a jetpack to save you, right?

Your mind is designed to think and solve problems. It’s really good at it. It also thinks that it is what’s holding everything together. But every day other people don’t do what we think is right, politicians come to conclusions we simply can’t stand, kids forget to close doors, and if we don’t keep marching around setting things to order, the whole kit and the whole caboodle will cascade into chaos. All of this happens in our minds, but it translates to stress in our bodies. Our physical brains are part of our body.

I know you know you need to get control of your stress, but maybe you don’t know that your mind is probably not the best ally for doing this. Remember, minds think. Let’s get our body’s opinion.

Just sit there for a moment and feel your body from the inside. Let your thoughts get caught up in mapping out your feet, your legs, your torso, your arms, your neck and head. Feel all that electricity bunched up in all the usual places that ache? Imagine that you could let it all go. Imagine that you could forget how important everything is.

What if you forget to think about it a little?

You lose your stress a little.

Take another look at what can happen if you don’t get out of your stress habits.

Come on now, you have a choice.

Dak Gustal is a freelance writer and poet living in Randoph, VT. You may contact him at st.augustus@gmail.com

Three Taboo Subjects to Raise with your Aging Parents

Finances, Mental Health and Sex: Three topics of conversation avoided in the calm times and poorly handled under crisis—especially when a conversation needs to take place between an aging parent and their adult child. Read more »

Music Makes the World Go ‘Round

(Thanks for your patience! I’ve corrected the radio link at “Listen in.” I will get this!)

I had the pleasure of interviewing Music Therapist Michele Hirokowa. Her explanations of just how music can be used as a therapy with your loved ones is clear and right on. Music can change a mood, calm you down, or simply keep you company in the background. But music also has powers to evoke memories, both good and bad. Melissa explains how working with a trained therapist can help process those emotions. Besides that, she’s just a whole lot of energy and fun. Listen in.

And speaking of using music to bring people together, Read more »

Kari Berit raises awareness on Showcase Minnesota 11/23/10

Kari dropped by the Showcase Minnesota studio to talk about her latest book, The Unexpected Caregiver, a practical resource for anyone providing care to an aging parent. Read more »