Bob DeMarco Alzheimer's Reading Room

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Meeting Alzheimer's With an Equal and Opposite Reaction


The most amazing outcome of my new found communication strategy was that Dotty became kinder, gentler, more caring, and she started laughing and smiling.

By +Bob DeMarco
+Alzheimer's Reading Room 


Meeting Alzheimer's With an Equal and Opposite Reaction
I want you to sit down and think. I want you to imagine what it might feel like if you could not remember anything you did today.

Do it.

You can't remember what you ate, or anything you did. Did you eat? You don't know because you can't remember. You can't remember no matter how hard you try.

Did you go anywhere today? See anyone today? You don't know. You don't know because no matter how hard you try - you can't remember.

What does this feel like? Are you completely confused? Do you feel disconcerted? As you try to remember and can't, do you get scared, confused?

If you were so thoroughly confused, how would act act, react, and feel. Is it possible you might be mean or ornery?

Is it possible that you would conclude that you didn't eat today. Wouldn't it be perfectly normal to conclude you didn't eat if you couldn't remember eating.

Perfectly normal, memory loss?

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I promise you if you sit down and start imagining what it would be like to be unable to remember if you ate, if you went anywhere, what day it is, what month and what year it is, eventually you are going to feel confused. You might start to feel stress, or a pain in your stomach, or, totally out of control.

This is how persons living with dementia or Alzheimer's often feel.

Now you are back into your role as a caregiver.

When your loved one tells you at night that they did not have anything to eat today - how do you feel? You know they had breakfast, lunch and dinner and even a couple of snacks.

Do you somehow feel unwanted, or feel like your loved one doesn't appreciate you when they say they had nothing to eat all day?

How do you respond when they say they had nothing to eat all day.

Do you try to explain to them they did eat, and then try and tell them everything they had to eat that day? Or, do you bark at them in a mean voice and tell them it is not true that they did eat.

So let me ask you who is at fault. Is the person living with Alzheimer's to blame because they can't remember? Or, are you to blame because you have this need to tell them they are wrong.

One thing I learned in dealing with my mother Dotty was that it was more effective to say and do the exact opposite of what my brain told me to do as an initial reaction of her inability to remember.

Let's switch gears - case in hand.

My mother would say, get out, I don't want you here, I can take care of myself.

My brain would tell me this was not true. My initial reaction would be to tell her should could not take care of herself, and tell her this in no uncertain terms. You can't take care of yourself.

This interaction always resulted in my mother jetting off to her bedroom, jumping in bed, and refusing to come out for a long period of time.

I had to look at my mother, curled up in ball, sometimes whimpering, all anxiety ridden, and completely uncommunicative.

The result  for me - enormous burden. The burden of caregiving. My heart hurt, my stomach hurt, I felt confused, and a real sense of hopelessness.

This continued until I finally had a real inspiration - Something had to Change. That something was Me (You).

I wondered what can I do?

One day I thought, I don't know what to do. So the only thing I can do is the exact opposite of what I am doing.

When Dotty would say, get out, I don't want you here, I can take care of myself, I did something that even surprised me.

I went over, put my arm around her shoulder, put my head on her head, and said in a low calm voice - I'm not going anywhere, I am here now, and its you and me.

It took a little practice but guess what happened. Dotty stopped telling me to get out.

Over time it got even better. When I put my arm around Dotty it would completely diffuse her anger. It would completely diffuse her mean spirited, challenging behavior. Instantly.

My point here is straight forward. If you don't know what to do, try kindness, reassurance, and do the exact opposite of what you are doing.

The most amazing outcome of my new found communication strategy was that Dotty became kinder, gentler, more caring, and she started laughing and smiling.

So I guess you could say, Dotty could change.

One thing for certain, I changed.

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Bob DeMarco
Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver. The ARR knowledge base contains more than 4,000 articles with more than 306,100 links on the Internet. Bob lives in Delray Beach, FL.

Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room