February 3, 2016

Empathy Leads to Compassion Then Joy for the Alzheimer's Caregiver


The role of empathy in dementia care.

I am sitting here thinking about the role of empathy in dementia care.

How does empathy apply in the carer - caree model?

Empathy I believe starts with understanding.

Learning how to understand how a person who is deeply forgetful might be feeling at any given point in time.

This includes being sensitive to the actions that might be taken, and the cause effect of these actions.

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Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

The caregiver begins to acquire empathy by asking how, why, what. How is the person who is deeply forgetful feeling? Why is the person who is deeply forgetful acting this way? What do they need?

The only way the caregiver can come to understanding and then empathy is by looking at the world out of the eyes of the person who is living with Alzheimer's or the other types of dementia.

All to often, we spend our time telling others how we feel. We the caregivers.

We spend our time describing the actions of the deeply forgetful to others. Then relate how we feel.

The act of "venting" or "complaining" is negative. This negativity adds to our burden.

On the other hand, when we begin to examine the words, actions, and acts of the deeply forgetful we slowly come to the understand that because of the changes in their brain they perceive the world differently at times then we, the caregivers, perceive the world.

Some caregivers come to believe that the person who is deeply forgetful is not the person they "knew". It does not seem apparent to them that the person they "know" is changing. This change is being caused by the effect of dementia on the brain.

This change is not being caused by any intentional acts on the part of the person living with Alzheimer's. This change is being caused by illness. Not because the person who is deeply forgetful has intentionally decided to change, and change for the worse.

The first step in effective caregiving is to acquire empathy based on how the person you are caring for perceives and views the world. How? Why? What?

The next step is the coming to an understanding that dementia is the culprit; not the person who is acting differently because of the effect of the dementia.

Empathy and understanding lead to compassion.

Compassion diffuses much of the burden a caregiver might feel. Leading to new, different, and more positive feelings.

It is at this point that we can turn our attention to our mission -- caring.

Caring for someone is never really easy. It if often trying, and often difficult.

However, caring can be tremendously fulfilling. Emotionally and spiritually uplifting.

Empathy and compassion married with love make caregiving meaningful and joyful, not burdensome.

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About the Alzheimer's Reading Room

Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room (ARR). 
Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room