One of the things that has become increasingly obvious in our society – and it seems to have been underwritten by the ubiquity of social media – is an almost total absence of civility among the human race.
We have, it seems, cast off all restraints that might have led us to be gentle, kind, compassionate, empathetic, sympathetic, polite, respectful, and courteous, and we’ve become brutishly uncivil in our words, our behavior, and our actions toward each other.Continue reading →
This post includes an excerpt from chapter 3, which comprehensively looks at the the step in the journey through dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease where communication difficulties arise. It discusses the kinds of communication problems that arise and how we as caregivers can help our loved ones bridge those gaps.
Excerpt “Chapter 3: “’Don’t Think I Know What to Read or Write or Say'”
“As more cells die, the functions that these areas of the brain control become more profoundly affected. Language function is controlled in a deeper portion of the temporal lobe, so in the case of just Alzheimer’s Disease, communication problems might not show up for a while.
However, if our loved ones are suffering from other dementias, such as vascular dementia which causes clusters of cell death through the brain, even the innermost parts, because of a stroke or chronic small-vessel ischemia (usually the result of mini-strokes or transient ischemic attacks, also known as TIA’s), then communication problems may occur sooner.
Regardless of how long it takes, communication problems are the third definitive step in the journey, whether it’s a short step or a longer step.
Communication problems in dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease include fall under the general term of aphasia.”
As I stated in the first post, these 12 verbal and behavioral hand grenades should be eliminated from all our communication with all humans, because although our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease will visibly and negatively react to each of these hand grenades while non-neurologically-impaired people may not, we still damage and destroy relationships when we use them.
The last six verbal and behavioral hand grenades of communication that Dr. Mumby has identified follow below.
Slowly and insidiously tearing people down from the foundational level with regard to their abilities, their intelligence, their senses of self, their independence, and their character is devastating whether those people have dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease or not. It is literally the equivalent of ripping people apart one piece at a time until there is nothing whole left.
This verbal and behavioral hand grenade is especially destructive because it is thrown subtly at, in the shadows of, and behind the backs of its targets.
It is disguised in whispering about and frequently looking at the person it’s aimed at. It is disguised as joking with the person it’s aimed at, yet the words are always putdowns and the laughing is always at that person’s expense. It is disguised as help for the person it’s aimed at, but the tone and the words are anything but helpful.
We all struggle with pessimism in our lives from time to time and it can be difficult, if not impossible, for it not to spill over into human relationships. That’s normal. However, pessimism that is always expressed verbally and behaviorally is a hand grenade.
People like me, who see the glass as always being half empty, struggle more than anyone else with this hand grenade. From my earliest memory, I have always expected the worst – because if you’re at the bottom, you don’t have anywhere to fall, but if you’re way up at the top, the fall to the bottom is going to hurt a lot, if you survive it – and if anything other than that happens, then so be it.
I’m a pragmatic person, so I tend to keep my emotional hedges low enough to the ground so that I don’t spend my whole life on a crazy roller coaster with huge ups and huge downs. I could not survive that.
I generally keep my pessimistic tendencies buried deep within because it’s my perspective and one that I don’t want to color anyone else’s perspective with. If someone’s happy or enthusiastic or even just okay, then who am I to spoil that? I don’t want to, so I make a conscious effort not to.
(The few times in my life when my pessimism has gotten bigger than me and spilled out into my other relationships, the responses have tended to be brutal in their condemnation or dismissal accompanied by unsolicited “expert” solutions that I’m apparently too stupid to see on my own.)
I will probably never lose my pessimistic perspective in this lifetime because it’s hardwired into who I am.
However, just because I naturally possess a verbal and behavioral hand grenade doesn’t mean that I have to use it. I work very hard not to use it and it’s one of the big battles of my life to put the brakes on something that is naturally part of the way I think and am, but I do it because I know it’s the right thing to do and because I don’t want to hurt and upset other people.
It can make me unknowable at times. I hide much, if not all, of what’s going on inside myself and I do my best to let people be where they are and express that without me ever saying anything negative. But I also share next to nothing about myself because that’s the only way to keep this hand grenade in check.
For our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s disease, the verbal and behavioral hand grenade of pessimism can be even more potent than with people who don’t have these neurological diseases. It can lead to severe depression, a loss of all communication, and eventually a loss of the will to live.
This verbal and behavioral hand grenade marginalizes people and eventually makes them invisible. It is characterized by not listening and non-responsiveness, either in vagueness or silence, in verbal communication. Behaviorally, it is manifested by acting as those someone who is in the room isn’t.
We’ve all been in situations where we’ve been ignored both verbally and behaviorally. It’s dehumanizing, it’s disrespectful, and it’s painful. Most of the time when we experience this hand grenade, we simply want to really disappear and get out of the situations where we’ve already become marginalized or invisible because we already aren’t there.
When our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease are ignored verbally and behaviorally, we are telling them that we don’t respect them, they’re already gone as far as we’re concerned, and, most importantly, that they don’t matter.
The most obvious manifestation with our loved ones will be people talking around them, making decisions for them, and not including them at all.
The right tenor of human relationships is to guide where we can, advise when we’re asked, and contribute our strengths, when we are invited, to decision processes. It is not to force (control) or insist (control) or make (control) anyone else do or say anything.
The verbal and behavioral hand grenade of needing to control everything and everybody comes from fear in the person doing it. The effects of someone who needs to control are never good.
For those of us without dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, someone trying to control everything will be met with resistance, anger, rebellion, and, eventually, total disconnection. Taking choice away from people – which the need to control does – takes life itself away.
For our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, someone who needs to control everything will bring the same responses, except that the behavior will be different. Emotional outbursts (anger, screaming, yelling, crying) will be continual. Agitation (pacing or restlessness) will be on steroids. Wandering will increase and “escapes” will be frequent.
Wandering and escapes are particularly scary because they present the risk of mortal danger to our loved ones. Therefore, if we struggle with this hand grenade, it might be fortuitous to understand that if we use it, we are potentially putting a live or lives at risk. I wouldn’t want that on my conscience.
Have you ever had someone ask you repeatedly – after you’ve answered “Yes” – “Are you okay?” What was your response? Have you had someone ask so many questions that it seems invasive? What was your response?
Even though I just asked four questions, I crafted them in such a way to evoke you identifying with them, instead of getting annoyed by them (which is generally what our response to the two scenarios above would be).
Constant questions mean there’s a lot of uncertainty. For our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, the reality is that there is already a lot of uncertainty in their own minds. A constant flow of questions will likely enhance that uncertainty and cause confusion, followed by irritation.
The other aspect of questioning as a verbal and behavioral hand grenade is that of someone questioning everything another person does. This is commonly known as “second-guessing.”
What second-guessing says is that the person who is doing it has no trust, no confidence, no faith in anything the person they’re doing it to says or does. For those of us without these neurological diseases, this is a morale-killer, at best, and an anger-generator, at worst.
For our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, the effect is even stronger. Already wrestling with confusion and a sense of not quite knowing things in context, second-guessing confirms their worst fears. The result is anger, more fear, increased hesitation, and eventually complete withdrawal.
This verbal and behavior hand grenade is doing and saying things that we are aware irritate other people, but we do and say them anyway.
This hand grenade is both disrespectful and selfish. People who use this hand grenade say things like “Well, that’s just me” or “Take me or leave me” when they are called out for using it. The implication is that they are not going to change anything about themselves to accommodate or make things easier for everyone else. It expresses the height of both self-conceit and self-importance.
This hand grenade can be even harder on our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, since thoughtless words and actions are much more difficult to understand and process. Our loved ones will take things much more personally because they don’t have the neurological executive functioning to see them for what they are and to ignore them or recover from them quickly.
This can lead to anger and increased agitation, as well as withdrawal as a protective gesture.
I sincerely hope this series has been beneficial and helpful. We all can learn and change as we examine our own words and behavior to see which hand grenades we might have and not only will eliminating them improve our communication with our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, but every other human relationship we have and will have.
Communication – verbal and behavioral – is the cornerstone of human relationships. It turns out, as all of us have no doubt discovered along the way, that we humans aren’t all that good at successfully communicating with each other all the time.
Admittedly, some of us are better – but not always – at communicating well and consistently with other humans than others of us are.
Our propensity toward communication difficulties leads to a lot of problems in the normal course of our relationships with others. Misunderstandings develop. Feelings get hurt. Relationships are ripped apart irreparably, at least for this lifetime.
However, for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, where executive function, cognition, and understanding are compromised by neurological deterioration, these communication difficulties are even more devastating and can often lead to extreme agitation, volcanic emotional outbursts, and inappropriate behavioral manifestations.
Psychoanalyst Trevor Mumby, who has spent his career looking for ways to communicate more effectively with those who have dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, has identified twelve areas of communication that are verbal and behavior hand grenades that can create emotional havoc with our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.
I submit that if we eliminated these communication hand grenades in all our relationships, we’d be taking a huge step forward in better communicating with other human beings.
In this post, we’ll look at the first six verbal and behavioral hand grenades of communication that we need to eliminate, and in the next post, we’ll look at the last six.
Nothing gets emotional upheaval going in all of us like someone who is overbearing and knows everything about everything and will not stop pushing their opinions and their agendas over and over and over ad nauseum until everyone agrees (or just disappears by folding up within themselves and shutting down).
For our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, this communication hand grenade will evoke strong negative emotional and behavioral responses, ranging anywhere from being emotionally inconsolable to being physically violent.
Even in normal communication, constantly being interrupted or cut off while trying to express something completely is aggravating.
I tend to take longer, verbally, to express myself because I’m not a natural ad hoc speaker and it’s out of my realm of capability and temperament to think out loud, process and talk concurrently, and be engaged in unedited conversation.
I find myself frequently on the receiving end of being interrupted because I pause a lot to try to find the right word, tone, meaning before I say it. My response to interrupting is to stop talking and avoid verbal communication with people I know will interrupt me.
As a result, exaggerated pauses in speaking occur and it’s almost second-nature to interrupt and fill in the missing words and/or thoughts we think our loved ones are trying to say. And this can create extreme agitation and emotional upset because we are likely wrong in what we conclude they are trying to communicate and because we’re both being disrespectful to and taking away independence from our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.
This hand grenade can be both verbal and behavioral. Some people are unaware that they are provocating, while other people revel in it. My daddy, who didn’t like it any more than I do, used to call it “getting a rise out of someone.”
Verbal provocation is a conscious hand grenade. It is characterized by insistent, persistent, and increasingly abusive language toward someone else with the intended results being anger and fighting. Yep, there are actually people – and we all know them, unfortunately – who really enjoy doing this.
Behavioral provocation is usually an unconscious or unknown hand grenade. We all have things that we do and habits that we have that get on someone else’s last nerve, but oftentimes we have no idea that we’re provoking them in the process.
For our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, verbal and behavioral provocation can be a communication powder keg. We need to remember that the neurological damage in these diseases affects perception, reasoning, and understanding profoundly. We also need to remember that having dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease increases the fearfulness of our loved ones.
Therefore, verbal provocation, which can be threatening and scary to those of us who do not have dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, can create terror in our loved ones who do. And we all know that fear generates that adrenaline rush known as the “fight-or-flight” response.
Whichever of these gets triggered in our loved ones will be exaggerated. Evidence of this response can include frequent and uncontrollable agitation, constant pacing, increasing wandering with the intent of escape (outdoors), or fighting (hitting, biting, etc.) when they are provoked.
Behavioral provocation will most likely evoke anger and impatience in our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease. This can escalate to physical violence in an attempt to stop the provoking behavior.
Another hand grenade is the habit of disagreeing with, arguing with, and contradicting everything the other person says. Part of what is behind this verbal and behavioral hand grenade is the need to be right all the time (insecurity and/or inflated ego are at work).
We all know people like this and I personally steer clear of them as much as I’m able. When I have to be around them, I get quiet and stay quiet and try to escape them as quickly as possible.
However, the hand grenade of contradiction is very damaging to our relationships with our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease. Remember, these diseases, by their very nature, take sure knowledge away from our loved ones. It causes them to be tentative about everything because they don’t remember what they don’t remember.
Contradicting them on everything only adds to the tentativeness, the hesitation, the confusion and will eventually cause our loved ones to shut down and stop communicating altogether (you’ll note that this is not all that different than what I think most of us who don’t have dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease do only when we are around people who contradict us all the time) with everyone.
Let’s face it. Most of life is a pretty thankless task. However, part of human relationships is doing what you are able for others when you are able because it’s the right thing to do.
If we expect gratitude all the time, then the motive behind what we do is selfish and self-centered: we want recognition, we want praise, we want our egos stroked. In essence, our actions and words are all about us and never about those for whom we do or give them.
For people who expect the limelight all the time for all they do and say, we find that they will stop doing for and saying things to the people who don’t feed their egos with lavish praise and fawning gratitude. They basically just cut those people out of their lives.
Not expressing gratitude consistently among our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease is part of the neurological disease process. Remember that the brain is where the concept of thankfulness and gratitude are formed. As the brain deteriorates, concepts and ideas, which are high-level executive functioning, begin to disappear to one degree or another.
If we are expecting gratitude all the time, will we cut our loved ones out of our lives because they’re not meeting our expectations? Sad to say, this does happen. But shame on us if this is our motivation and our response.
Somehow all of us humans are innately wired to believe that if we just say something in a louder voice, it will be understood better by the person or people we are talking to.
Because my mom had a severe hearing loss most of her life, I saw this up close and personally with people who didn’t know her. Early in our childhoods, Mama explained that when people were talking to her she read their lips and that slowing down just a bit and enunciation, not volume, was the key to her being able to understand what was being said if she couldn’t hear it.
Even before her journey with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, she didn’t like to be around people who always talked loudly or people who talked loudly to her as a way of communicating with her.
And I’ve never been able to handle loud talkers either. It literally hurts my ears and I physically need to get away as quickly as I’m able when I’m around people who normally talk in a loud voice.
The same is true for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease (I’ve often wondered how much the double whammy was for Mama to have both a profound hearing loss and vascular dementia, Lewy Body dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease – I really can’t imagine).
Volume in speech will not help them understand more or better what our loved ones have already lost in understanding and comprehension because of dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease. What it is most likely to do instead is make them fearful because they know the noise is loud, but they don’t know why.
As we talked about before, fear can produce intense agitation, continuous pacing, frequent wandering to escape, and, at its worst, physical violence in our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.
These are the first six verbal and behavioral hand grenades that we need to eliminate in our relationships with our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease. The reality, though, is that we need to eliminate them in all our human relationships, so everybody on the planet could benefit from reading this series.
In the next post, we’ll discuss the last six verbal and behavioral hand grenades we need to eliminate.
Corticobasal degeneration (CBD) – also known as corticobasal ganglionic degeneration (CBGD) – is a rare (occurs in less than 1% of the population) and progressive form of dementia.
The onset of symptoms typically occurs after the age of 60 and the average duration of the disease from onset of symptoms to death is six years.
Although the underlying cause of CBD is unknown, what is known is that CBD is the result of extensive and severe damage in multiple areas of the brain.
Research into this form of dementia is relatively new (it was discovered in 1968), but the most current research has found that there are similar, but not identical, changes in the brain protein tau to the changes observed in progressive supranuclear palsy and Pick’s Disease.
These areas of the brain where damage is extensive include the cortex (especially in the frontal lobe and parietal lobes) and the deep-brain basal ganglia region of the brain, with the hallmark feature in that area being significant neuron degeneration and the loss of pigment in dopaminergic neurons (signifying a decrease in dopamine production) in the substantia nigra, which controls movement.
Dopamine is a chemical produced by the brain (a neurotransmitter) that plays a leading role in movement, memory, pleasure, cognition, behavior, attention, sleep, and mood.
When dopamine production decreases in the substantia nigra, movement is severely affected.
Often this is the first visible symptom of CBD. It presents as stiff movement, shaky movement, jerky movement, slow movement, and increased lack of balance, increased lack of coordination, and clumsiness. Generally, movement problems affect one side of the body almost exclusively, but as CBD progresses, both sides of the body are affected.
Since these movement disorders can mimic both Parkinson’s Disease and the effects of a deep-brain stroke – one of the classic movement disorders associated with these is ideomotor apraxia (a common example is the inability to initiate walking where the foot seems to be stuck to the floor and can’t be lifted spontaneously to take a step forward) – those must be ruled out as the causes of the movement disorders.
Other early symptoms of CBD can include difficulty controlling the mouth muscles, cognition problems, and behavioral problems. Language and speech difficulties – dysphasia (an impaired ability to understand or use the spoken word) and dysarithia (an impaired ability to clearly articulate the spoken word) – are also early CBD symptoms.
It is not unusual for CBD to be initially diagnosed, if the first symptoms are cognitive impairment and/or behavioral issues, as Alzheimer’s Disease or frontotemporal dementia. Similarly, if movement disorders are the first symptoms, CBD is often initially diagnosed as Parkinson’s Disease.
However, a clear diagnosis of CBD is usually made when both movement disorders and cognitive impairment and/or behavior problems appear simultaneously.
There is no known treatment for CBD. Unlike Parkinson’s Disease where dopamine-enhancing or dopamine-mimicking medications prove to be effective for some of the duration of the disease, these drugs have proven to be ineffective for treating CBD (this is likely because of the very different pathologies in the development and progression of the two diseases).
In the early stages of CBD, speech therapy and physical therapy may help with communication and stiffness and movement. However, as the disease progresses, these will become less effective and, in the end stage, they will be completely ineffective.
As CBD progresses, other symptoms appear and worsen, including:
Involuntary muscle contractions
Involuntary eyelid spasms
Loss of sensory functions
“Alien hand/limb” syndrome (hand or limb movement that the person isn’t aware of nor has control over)
Because of the increased rigidity and lack of muscle coordination and use as CBD progresses, usually within five years of onset, sufferers will be unable to swallow and will be completely immobile. Even before this, though, one of the potentially-fatal risks associated with CDB is aspiration of food into the lungs because of impaired swallowing and the high likelihood of pneumonia as a result.
While a feeding tube may be considered as an alternative when CBD has progressed to the point where swallowing is significantly affected, it is, in my opinion, inhumane because it only prolongs the suffering from a disease that is ultimately fatal.
This is a quality-of-life choice. I can’t imagine for myself a life prolonged where I am completely immobile and completely dependent on everyone else for everything and I can do nothing for myself.
A feeding tube would be my worst nightmare. And for me, it would be the most cruel thing those in charge of making medical decisions for me could do to me.
Fortunately, I already have all my documents in place to make sure this can’t and won’t happen to me when and if the time comes that the choice needs to be made, because I’ve already made the choices.
Not only is the wise and prudent thing to do, but it eliminates the agony of wondering what to do so often seen in families where the person affected never talked about what he or she wanted and never took the time to answer these questions when he or she could.
I’ll include the short summary from Amazon I wrote for the book:
“This book looks comprehensively at all the steps that occur in dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.
In my own experience with this and in counseling, supporting, and working with others who are going through these steps, I realized there is a basic lack of comprehension about the big picture of how these neurological diseases progress.
I know that because the same questions get asked and answered over and over again.
My purpose is to ask those questions and answer them in a way that, first, makes sense, and, second, works for everybody involved.
I know. I’ve been on the caregiving side of the equation personally. There were no books like this when I did it, so I had to learn on my own and figure out what worked and what didn’t. I made mistakes. You’ll make mistakes.
But, in the end, my mom and whoever you love and are caring for, got the best we have to give and we can learn some pretty incredible and good life lessons along the way.
If you don’t read another book on this subject, you should read this one. I don’t have all the answers, but the answers I have learned are the ones that probably matter most.
Not just now, but for the rest of our lives.”
This book also includes the last step that we take alone without our loved ones: grief. I’ve been there and I’ve done that and although I will never not feel the grief on some level, I’ve learned some lessons that I know will help each of you.
This post will discuss the next three most common stressors – communication, vision, and hearing – that our loved ones suffering with these diseases experience and practical, common-sense ways that we as caregivers can recognize them, address them, and minimize or manage them as a source of stress.
It is important to say at the outset that the stressors we’ll be discussing today require some creative solutions taking the guidelines listed here because of the integral link that each of these, standing alone without prior existence (which we’ll also look at) to the development and progression of dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, has to each other and to the diminishing functioning of the brain itself.
The first stressor we’ll discuss is communication. Issues with communication are often among the first signs of cognitive impairment with our loved ones and those issues become more pronounced as dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease progress. Common manifestations of early communication problems include:
Extensive searching for words when speaking
Misidentifying common objects (e.g., calling a pen a knife or a boy a dog) both verbally and in writing
Omitting words both verbally and in writing
Speaking and writing sentences or phrases that don’t make sense
Not totally comprehending or misunderstanding what is being heard or read
As the diseases progress, so do the communication problems, often resulting in a total inability to communicate verbally. Losing the ability to read seems to occur after this, but comprehension of what is being read generally precedes the inability to recognize written words.
Losing the ability to communicate – to express oneself in an understandable way, to participate in interactive dialogue, to understand the meaning of words – is frustrating and isolating for our loved ones suffering from dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease (it’s also frustrating and sad for us as caregivers because we so badly want to find a way to open that door wide open again), and the result of that frustration and isolation creates stress in our loved ones.
While we as caregivers may not be able to completely eliminate the stressor of communication, there are things that we can do to minimize the stress associated with it.
In the early stages, we can exercise patience in listening. This is easier said than done, but it is vital because it shows that we are interested in and care about what our loved ones are trying to communicate, instead of cutting them off because they’re taking a long time and faltering, and either completing what we think they’re trying to communicate, often erroneously, or simply dismissing them by interrupting them and saying what we want to say.
Here are a few strategies for keeping the lines of communication open for as long as possible and minimizing the stress associated with it:
Break complex ideas and tasks down into simple, understandable steps that are easy to comprehend and walk through the idea or process one step at a time. Repeating this step-by-step approach using consistent language each time, being a guide for our loved ones with each step, and going through each step at their pace will establish a routine of habits that eliminates much of the stress associated with what is essentially information overload for our loved ones.
Limit the number of options that our loved ones are presented with and make the options concrete. An example of how this would look is instead of asking “What do you want for dinner?,” ask “Do you want baked chicken or roast beef for dinner?”
For those situations where it applies, ask “yes” and “no” questions. (A caveat may be that as dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease progress, “yes” and “no” will get flipped around, so they may become an unreliable way to communicate.)
Use gestures, such as the motions of washing hands, brushing teeth, drinking something, or eating something.
For difficulties finding the right words, often times the easiest thing is to ask our loved ones to point to what they are talking about.
For sentences or phrases that don’t make sense, we should listen for meaningful words or ideas and then take those and ask questions about them to gain understanding into what our loved ones are trying to communicate.
For misunderstandings of what is being heard or read, it’s important for us to stay calm and not get defensive or reprimandingly corrective, because that will escalate our loved ones’ stress in a heartbeat. The easiest way I found to minimize this aspect of communication was to repeat what Mama had said and then ask her why she believed that or thought that. Once I gave her the opportunity to express herself and be heard, then I could find ways to gently steer her toward an accurate understanding and that eliminated both the stress of the immediate situation as well as the stress of the misunderstanding.
In cases where our loved ones are completely nonverbal, stress can be minimized by reading their nonverbal language (discomfort, pain, fatigue, etc. ) and by anticipating their needs (bathroom, food, drink, etc.).
Hearing and vision problems are often stressors for our loved ones suffering with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.
We discussed in detail many of the vision problems associated with these diseases in “‘I See Dead People’ – Vision, Perception, and Hallucinations in Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementias,” and how those vision problems (and the vision problems normally associated with the aging process) can be proportionately more severe as neurological damage increases, and we discussed ways to eliminate and minimize the stress related to those problems, so I encourage everyone to go back and read that.
Hearing is directly tied to neurological functioning as well, so as dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease progress in our loved ones, even those with normal hearing will experience auditory changes. For our loved ones with impaired hearing already, these changes are often complicated and compounded by the existing hearing loss.
Most auditory changes are in the form of auditory hallucinations – hearing someone who isn’t there – or auditory misperceptions – believing they heard something said that wasn’t said or believing they heard words said a certain way.
This causes stress in our loved ones, mostly because – and neither I nor anyone else explain definitively why this is the case – what they believe they’ve heard is negative, dismissive, rejecting, and abandoning and the fear associated with these possibilities opens their stress flood gates.
This stressor is manifested by our loved ones in the forms of verbal anger and, at times, physical anger, extreme agitation, and extreme restlessness.
The keys to managing this stressor – the best outcome is to minimize it, because since it is the product of fear of losing the most basic of human needs, it’s virtually impossible to avoid or eliminate entirely – lie with us as caregivers.
We must manage our emotions very, very carefully in both our speech and our actions, and this is one of our toughest battles in this journey with our loved ones.
Projecting gentleness, kindness, tenderness, patience, and equanamity at all times, whether we are experiencing any of those at the moment or not, is critical to minimizing this stressor for our loved ones who are suffering from dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.
The more we can do this consistently, the more reassurance our loved ones will have that nothing negative is coming from us and that we will not dismiss them, we will not reject them, and we will not abandon them and the less fear (i.e., stress) our loved ones will experience.
Here are some guidelines on how to accomplish this:
We respond in a way that lets our loved ones know that we understand they’re concerned or afraid. Examples would be, “I know this is upsetting for you” or “I know this is scary for you.”
We reassure our loved ones that we’re in their corner. Examples would be “I’m not going to let anything bad happen to you,” or “I’ll take care of you.”
We redirect our loved ones’ attention to something else that’s positive, if possible (this sounds good in theory, but it doesn’t always happen in reality – sometimes we just have to stop at reassurance, walk away for a little while, and be sure to come back and try again later, especially if our loved ones are so worked up that there’s no calming them down nor persuading them that we’re the “good guys”).
In our next and last post in this series on stressors for our loved ones suffering from dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease will look at how physical health can be a stressor and how we as caregivers can minimize and eliminate, within certain parameters, the associated stress for our loved ones.