Remember–Super Heroes Are NOT Real People

The gradual losses experienced by caregivers can lead to sadness, depression, anger, guilt, sleeplessness and other physical and emotional problems. Family Caregiver Alliance Site

Caregivers are frequently referred to as heroes, even super-heroes. But, they aren’t. Caregivers are not super-human or intended to be heroes. They are simply human beings doing their best to take care of someone they love whose brain is not working properly. Perhaps they may wish they had super powers or mystical abilities but to stay sane they must acknowledge that they can’t fix all the challenges that accompany a dementia diagnosis.

The Family Caregiver Alliance recommends that a caregiver identify her losses, her feelings about the losses, and her corresponding grief. The Alliance also recommends keeping a journal, attending a support group, and doing relaxation exercises. If you’re a caregiver, my heart goes out to you as you deal with the challenges you face.

Affirmation: I take care of myself as I take care of another.

Coaching questions: Whether you are a caregiver or not, in what ways do you try to be a super-hero? How’s that working for you? If you are a caregiver, what do you do to take care of yourself? What else do you need to do to remain healthy?

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Photo by Paul Stickman on Unsplash

Keeping Our Brains Young

Aerobic exercise can change the brain’s anatomy, physiology and function. Wendy Suzuki, PhD, author of Healthy Brain, Happy Life.

Perhaps you think exercise is all about your body—building muscles, conditioning your heart, circulatory systems, etc. You’re right, of course, but exercise is also about your brain. Exercise, along with fresh food, adequate sleep, and socialization, helps keep your brain healthy. “What virtually no one recognizes,” warns John Rately, MD, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, “is that inactivity is killing our brains.”

Scientists believe that physical activity stresses our brains similarly to how it works our muscles. Neurons break down, then recover, becoming stronger and more resilient. The good news is that exercise keeps our brains young. Rately adds, “Everything we’ve learned continues to confirm that exercise helps prevent cognitive decline as we age.” Exercise makes our brain stronger and protects it from a variety of diseases including dementia. If this doesn’t motivate us to exercise, what will?

Affirmation: I exercise regularly.

Coaching questions: How much do you value your physical and mental health? What steps will you take this week to honor this value?  

 

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Photo by Bewakoof.com Official on Unsplash 

Telling the Hard Truths

Better the hard truth, I say, than the comforting fantasy. Carl Sagan, American astronomer

I recently had the opportunity to talk with a honest, straight forward, 60-something daughter whose mother has dementia.  She said her mother is belligerent, sharp-tongued, even mean at times. I asked her if this behavior is the result of the dementia. “No,” she replied, “she’s always been like that.”

Not all mothers, dead or alive, were/are sweet, loving, caring people. It is just fantasy, as Sagan says, to believe so. Sometimes when people die they become “saints” in our memories. Hiding or denying real experiences and feelings slows recovery and keeps us from being our authentic selves.

Affirmation: I am a gentle truth teller.

Coaching questions: Is there some truth telling you need to do about someone in your life?  How can you move towards being truthful with yourself?

Take a Moment to Appreciate Your Brain

Forgetfulness is a form of freedom. Kahill Gibran, Lebanese-American writer, poet.

How often do we say, I forgot….the keys, the sweater, the name, the birthday, the number? For most of us of a certain age, some forgetfulness is routine. But what about those whose past has slipped away, those whose last five minutes are gone? 

As I interviewed daughters for my book on mother loss, I found it particularly heart-rending when I talked to daughters who are losing or have lost their mothers to Alzheimer’s disease. One woman said, “My mother is lost but not gone.” This mother has forgotten her daughter and everyone else who was important to her yet she is still alive and may live for many more years. One daughter’s story exemplified Gibran’s quote. She said, “My mother used to have great anxiety and worry. As a result, she was often angry and depressed. Now, because of her dementia, she is free of worry and is experiencing joy.” This daughter knows her mother’s situation will worsen but in the meantime she is embracing the moment.

Perhaps you have lost or are losing your mother or other loved one to this terrible disease. I can’t imagine what pain you’re experiencing but I can stand beside you and support you through it.

Affirmation: My brain is alive and well.

Coaching question: What does your ability to think, remember, reason mean to you? Don’t take it for granted, be grateful.

Ever Considered Fasting?

Periodic fasting can help clear up the mind and strengthen the body and the spirit. Ezra Taft Benson, American farmer, Secretary of Agriculture under President Eisenhower, religious leader

Japanese cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2016 for his research on how cells recycle and renew their content, a process called autophagy. “Why should I care about this?” you’re asking. Because motherless daughters—early loss daughters and daughters who have/had mothers with dementia in particular— are frequently concerned with their health and longevity. 

Ohsumi’s research shows that fasting activates autophagy and autophagy has a role in protection against inflammation, cancer, and in diseases like dementia and Parkinson’s. So, whether you simply fast from 7 pm to 7 am or take on a bigger challenge like 4 pm to 7 am or go to periodically eating two meals a day, fasting is something you might want to consider. 

Affirmation: I try new things to improve my health.

Coaching questions: If you’ve fasted in the past, what was the outcome? If this is a good time in your life to bump your fasting up to a new level, today is a good day to start. 

P.S. Fasting also aids in weight loss. 

Don’t Forget About Me

I want to tell you how much I miss my mother. Bits of her are still there. I miss her most when I’m sitting across from her. Candy Crowley, CNN Chief Political Correspondent

Alzheimer’s is a cruel, cruel disease. The entire family suffers. Interviewing daughters who have lost or are losing their mothers to this horrible disease has taught me much. Early-onset Alzheimer’s and other early dementias are particular horrific.

 I had the honor to interview, Allie, a young daughter whose mother started showing signs of Alzheimer’s at age forty seven, Allie was eleven. This is a portion of a poem Allie wrote while she was her mother’s part-time caregiver for six years.

Allie is now a successful college student and her mother is in memory care. 

Don’t You Forget About Me

I cannot say the words, they are too hard to say

I rue the moment that I fade, the memories went away

I had a beautiful mom whose mind went one day

I had a mom who was too sick to stay

I blame the disease that stripped her that way

I hate that I won’t see her on my wedding day

Affirmation: I care about the suffering of others.

Coaching questions: If you are a care-giver of someone with dementia, in what ways are you taking care of yourself? How can you reach out to others for support? Write a poem or a letter or draw a picture to help release some of your emotions. 

 

Patience Is More Than a Virtue

Patience is not simply the ability to wait—it’s how we behave while we’re waiting. Joyce Meyer, author

Taking care of loved ones who are sick, dying, or have dementia requires a great deal of patience. It’s also important to be patient with ourselves and others as we process our grief.

Here are a few tips to improve your patience:

  • Keep a journal about what causes you to feel impatient. Be specific. This will help you acquire greater awareness of your feelings and their cause. 
  • Stop and be still for a few minutes everyday with no TV, no reading, no music, no electronics. This will help quiet your impatient mind.
  • Use small experiences requiring patience…i.e. waiting in line at the grocery store or the doctor’s office… to practice dealing with your impatient feelings. Read, write, think, knit…use this down time to be creative and side-step the stress caused by impatience. 
  • Have a back-up plan. We are never 100 percent ready for someone to die, but as you envision your life without this person, plan how you will live, consider the inner strength/faith you will call upon, you will be able to execute more patience as you deal with death and your grief in the future.

Affirmation: I am patient.

Coaching questions: Think of patience as an exercise, practicing a bit every day helps you to achieve a stronger peace of mind. What will you do today to exercise your patience muscle?

Don’t Try To Be A Superhero

The gradual losses experienced by caregivers can lead to sadness, depression, anger, guilt, sleeplessness and other physical and emotional problems. Family Caregiver Alliance Site

Caregivers are frequently referred to as heroes, even super-heroes. But they aren’t. Caregivers are not super-human or intended to be super-heroes. They are simply human beings doing their best to take care of someone they love whose brain is not working properly. Perhaps they may wish they had super powers or mystical abilities but to stay sane they must acknowledge that they can’t fix all the challenges that accompany a dementia diagnosis.

The Family Caregiver Alliance recommends that a caregiver identify her losses, her feelings about the losses and her corresponding grief. The Alliance also recommends keeping a journal or gratitude journal, attending support groups, and doing relaxation exercises. 

Affirmation: I take care of myself as I take care of another.

Coaching questions: Whether you are a caregiver or not, in what ways do you try to be a super-hero? How’s that working for you? If you are a caregiver, in what ways do you take care of yourself?

 

Get Your Sleep!

A lot of people underestimate rest, especially sleeping and recovery time. Jason Day, Australian professional golfer.

Did you know that you have a brain-cleaning crew that works the night shift only? While you are sleeping, your brain’s glymnphatic system flushes cerebrospinal fluid through your gray matter to remove proteins that accumulate during the day.

If you deprive yourself of restorative sleep, waste begins to accumulate in the brain and causes a loss of neurological function. In the short term, this might mean poor memory or absent-mindedness. In the long term the trash buildup may be a contributing factor to dementia and Alzheimer’s. Sleep isn’t a luxury. 

Affirmation: I get good sleep.

Coaching questions: How much sleep do you get? How much do you need? What’s keeping you from getting the sleep you need for maximum health?

 

Gentle Communication

When communicating with someone with dementia, we always want to focus on the person and meet him or her where they are. Ruth Drew, MS, LPC, director of information and support services at the Alzheimer’s Association

Daughters I interview who have experience with dementia know that, over time, their mothers will have difficulty finding the right words or expressing a complete thought. It may be difficult, but connection remains possible (for a while) if these communication guidelines are followed.

…Connect at eye level by sitting next to or in front of your mother. Speak slowly and deliberately to her so she has time to process.

…Clear away as much of your own anxiety and frustration as possible. Your mother can read your mood and your anxiety can contribute to her shutting down.

…People with dementia are playing with a different set of rules. Don’t argue with them or try to correct facts. If your mother is frustrated and unable to express what is wrong, don’t bombard her with questions. hold her hand and acknowledge that she is having a bad day.

Affirmation: I can adjust my communication style.

Coaching questions: If you don’t have someone with dementia in your life, how can you use these suggestions to enhance communications with others….a grandchild, a disturbed friend, etc?