Give Yourself a Break

field of purple flowers

 

When I became responsible for my dad’s care, I felt like I was instantly expected to know what to do. People kept looking to me for answers, but I didn’t even understand the questions half the time.

Recently, I was reading Self-Compassion in the Realness of Life, a blog about dealing with the ups and downs of life. It’s written by Kim Fredrickson, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. What she wrote was what I desperately needed to hear when I was drowning in the newness of my dad’s dementia.

Give Yourself Permission to…

~ Not know what you are doing

~ Learn how to navigate this new life change

~ Have mixed feelings, even about something positive

~ Be resentful, angry, hurt and sad about this life change

~ Take time to gather information, talk to others and seek help as you navigate through what is new and unexpected

Say Some Kind Words to Yourself…

~ I’m overwhelmed right now, and with good reason

~ I’ve never been through this before

~ I’ll figure out how to do this new ______ a piece at a time

~ I’m not supposed to know how to handle something I’ve never been through before…no one does

~ I’ll look for whatever little bits of encouragement and support I can see

~ I’ll ask God and others for help, and look for unexpected answers

On Fredrickson’s website, she writes: “Most of us are used to showing compassion to others. We often have trouble showing that same compassion to ourselves. We often say things to ourselves we would never say to a friend.” That sure rings true to me! How about you?

Let’s make a deal, ok? Let’s be kind to ourselves.

Please share this with anyone who’s going through a rough time and needs encouragement. Thank you.

To find out more about Kim Fredrickson’s blog or her upcoming book Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend, visit her website: http://www.kimfredrickson.com (The excerpt above is from her March 27, 2015 post.)

Dementia is a Full-Time Job

If you feel like you’re drowning in paperwork, phone calls and all the other “stuff” that comes with taking care of someone with dementia, you’re not alone. It’s never ending.

The challenge is to keep all this “stuff” in perspective and not let it overshadow the person you’re doing it for.

For me, dealing with my dad’s finances and legal issues, educating myself about his condition, figuring out who all his doctors were, and updating family and friends about his situation . . . It was a full-time job.

At the same time, I was heartbreakingly aware that dementia had stripped away my dad’s independence and sense of purpose. He was hurting.

He needed to know he was still valuable and loved. As much as possible, I wanted that to be my priority.

Not that he made it easy! There were days I would have preferred to wait in line at the Social Security office or to balance his checkbook than to visit him and be pelted with his accusations and complaints.

But he was a good, generous, hard-working person all of his life. He deserved to be acknowledged, appreciated and loved – regardless of what dementia was making him say and do on any particular day.

Ultimately I knew that the paperwork could wait; my dad couldn’t.

So, I prayed for patience and strength. I prayed a lot! I had a few “nervous breakdowns” along the way, but I survived.

It’s been several months now since my dad died. I’m still not done with all the paperwork, but I know this too shall pass. In the meantime, I am grateful for the hours and days I was able to be with him.

 

 

My dad with me and our dog Trixi - 1965 or so.

My dad with me and our dog Trixi – 1965 or so.

Why Should I Go to a Dementia Support Group?

After spending all day dealing head-on with dementia, the last thing I want to do is spend an evening sitting around and sharing my feelings about it with a bunch of strangers. I want to get away from dementia, not spend more time talking about it!

That was my thinking the first several months after entering the world of my dad’s dementia. But at some point, out of desperation or politeness – I’m not sure which – I finally accepted an invitation to a support group meeting, and I was pleasantly surprised. And now, even though it’s been several months since my dad died, I continue to attend the meetings.

Yes we share “feelings,” but it isn’t a pity party. The all-encompassing sadness of slowly losing a loved-one to dementia is well understood by everyone there; it isn’t necessary to explain or dwell on it. This allows us to move past “poor me” and onto “How do we get through this?”

There is comfort in knowing you’re not alone in the journey, but there are practical benefits to a support group as well. The other members have “Been there – Done that.” They have current, local referrals and information. There is always someone who has experienced something similar to your current situation and can offer advice or encouragement.

The support groups I’ve gone to are hosted at assisted living communities with dementia care; they are open to anyone who wants to come. The Alzheimer’s Association website (alz.org) can also help you find a group.

And you don’t have to be a family member to benefit from a support group; if you care about someone who is dealing with dementia, the insight and information you pick up will be a blessing.

 

Susan Plath McKee

                                              Susan Plath McKee

What’s the Difference between Alzheimer’s and Dementia?

What’s the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease? The two terms tend to be used interchangeably, but there is a difference. Here’s a quick clarification.

Dementia is an umbrella term that describes a set of symptoms.

Alzheimer’s is a disease and is the most common (but not the only) cause of that set of symptoms. Strokes, brain injuries, and other diseases can also be responsible.

Sometimes, dementia is the result of a vitamin deficiency, hormone imbalance, or medication interactions; in those cases, it may be reversible.

All dementias are not the same, because different diseases and conditions attack different parts of the brain.

In general, though, the symptoms that make up “dementia” are memory loss along with personality changes, problems with communication, or impaired reasoning. Occasional forgetfulness or grumpiness is not dementia. When a combination of these issues becomes severe enough to interfere with normal daily functioning, then we’re talking about dementia.

Short-term memory loss is sort of a hallmark of Alzheimer’s Disease, so that’s what most people think of when they hear “dementia,” but depending on the part of the brain being effected, dementia might manifest itself with things like a short attention span, poor judgment, angry outbursts, inappropriate sexual behavior, loss of peripheral or depth perception, inability to find the right words, not recognizing familiar objects, or asking repetitive questions. The important point is that it’s not just memory loss.

Whatever you call it, and whatever the cause, dementia is a sad, difficult experience for everyone involved. Knowing some of the basics of what it is – and what it isn’t – allows us to be more helpful and compassionate to those afflicted with dementia and to those who are caring for them.

Please spread the word.

Finding Help and Information

When you suddenly find yourself caring for someone with dementia, there’s a tsunami-like realization that you are woefully ignorant and unprepared.

In the beginning, I expected my dad’s doctors to tell me how to deal with his weird behaviors and how to balance his safety with quality of life. Unfortunately, when it came to the day-to-day challenges of dementia, my dad’s doctors seemed to know less than I did.

Books and the internet are awesome, but, especially in the beginning, I needed answers now. I read a lot of books, but for those “oh-my-gosh-what-am-I-going-to-do?!!” moments (and there were many), I needed to talk to someone.

Fortunately, an astute and thoughtful cousin pointed me in the direction of a series of “dementia basics” classes at a local assisted living community. What a godsend! The classes were free, open to the public, and gave me a really good starting point.

Through those classes, I discovered that the people who work at assisted living communities are a goldmine of knowledge and encouragement. Even though my dad wasn’t going to be moving into their particular community, they generously shared their time and knowledge with me. I got quite a bit of free “counseling” from them.

It wasn’t until well into our journey that I realized the Alzheimer’s Association provides resources for all kinds of dementia, not just Alzheimer’s Disease. I wish I had known sooner, because they offer a multitude of online and live workshops as well as a telephone hotline.

Support groups are another wonderful resource I didn’t discover until well into the journey. Talking with people who understand what you’re going through is the such blessing! I learned something new and simply felt better after every meeting. The Alzheimer’s Association website or a local assisted living community can help you find a group.

Alzheimer’s Association website: alz.org

If you have suggestions about other resources you’ve found to be helpful, please share!

Looking for Diamonds in Dementia

During the worst of my father’s dementia, I longed for an easier, less stressful existence. There were many times I wanted to turn my back on the situation, but I was committed to him and his well-being, so walking away was not an option.

A story called “Acres of Diamonds” helped me through some of those tough times. In the story, a hard-working farmer, wishing for a leisurely life of riches, sold his farm so he could to go out and search for a diamond mine. The guy who bought the farm discovered that his newly-purchased land happened to contain one of the richest diamond mines on the continent. Without realizing it, the first man had owned acres of diamonds and walked away from riches beyond his imagination.

With that in mind, I constantly looked for and found diamonds in my dad’s dementia. Here are just a few.

• His illness opened doors for me to reconnect with relatives and family friends I hadn’t seen in years. Some the most meaningful support and encouragement I got during that time came from those people.

• Dad had always been busy working and had never told me much about his childhood. The forced slow-down of his illness created an opportunity for me to enjoy extended, one-on-one time with him when he could share those stories.

• In public situations when Dad’s testy behaviors could have caused people to react with annoyance or impatience, I was surprised by their compassion and willingness to help. Again and again, I was humbled and deeply touched by the kindness of strangers.

My challenge to you: Whatever difficulty you may be experiencing, look around and see what diamonds you can find right where you are.

Diet, Diabetes and Dementia

Researchers think Alzheimer’s may be a type of diabetes that effects the brain. I read an article in Readers Digest recently that said some scientists have even begun referring to Alzheimer’s as “Type 3 Diabetes.” In a nutshell, here’s what I understood from the article:

A diet that is consistently high in sugar and fat overstimulates insulin production. With so much insulin always floating around in the bloodstream, the body becomes less sensitive to it. As a result, the body requires more insulin to get the same amount of work done. This sets off a downward spiral which eventually overwhelms the insulin-producing organs to the point where they just can’t keep up, and you end up with an insulin deficiency.

Insulin is best known for controlling blood sugar levels, but that isn’t its only job. It’s also involved in brain signaling (sending information/instructions throughout the body), creation of new neural pathways (learning, understanding and remembering) and the general survival and function of the brain.

Researchers suspect that in some people, the downward spiral of insulin overload and insensitivity impairs the brain’s ability to think and form memories. Long term, if untreated, this can cause permanent neural damage. Possibly dementia. Or, as they’re calling it now, Type 3 Diabetes.

Apparently, research on this is still rather new, and scientists say insulin deficiency may be just “one of many” triggers of dementia. However, tests are being done to see if existing drugs for diabetes can improve dementia symptoms.

This information seems more useful for prevention than for a cure, but there is the possibility that in the early stages of dementia, dietary changes could slow the degenerative process. In any case, here’s yet another reason for us to clean up our diets.

. . . Although, I’m absolutely certain that homemade chocolate chip cookies are always good for you, regardless of sugar or fat content!

* The article I read in the February 2013 Readers Digest  was written by Bijal Trivedi and was called “Can You Eat Your Way to Dementia?” It first appeared in New Scientist, September 2012.