Jul 17, 2015

Alzheimer's Communication, Label Your Feelings and Breath

Learning to communicate with a person living with dementia is a difficult task. I say this because it requires change and developing new communication skills.

Early on in the caregiving process, caregivers often become confused at the actions and behaviors of a person living with Alzheimer's.

Label Your Feelings and Breath | Alzheimer's Reading Room

These behaviors can be distressing even though most of us know and understand these new found challenging behaviors are being caused by Alzheimer's disease.

Let's look at it this way.

We have known the person living with Alzheimer's all or a large fraction of our life. As a result, we have learned specific ways to communicate with them. We have certain expectations about how they are likely to behave.

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By Bob DeMarco
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Let's look at it this way.

We have known the person living with Alzheimer's all or a large fraction of our life. As a result, we have learned specific ways to communicate with them. We have certain expectations about how they are likely to behave.

When dementia strikes the person starts to act differently. We, on the other hand, remain the same.

This sets up a natural breeding ground for confusion in our brain.

This confusion causes a kind of cognitive dissonance. A real discontent and contradiction in our brain.

Our brain tells us the person is one way, their actions tell us something very different.

We, the caregivers, become confused.

Is this the person we knew? Or, a different person?

Some caregivers conclude this is the not the person I knew? This sets up a situation that is fraught with peril and a situation that can only end badly.

Of course this is the person you always knew. Go ahead, take a look at them. Same person.

Of course there is one difference -- their brain is sick and as result they start to relate to the world in a different way.

Alzheimer's and related dementia are hard to understand. Our brain has a real problem understanding what is going on. The brain can actually resist understanding.

Change is unsettling to our brain.
When I moved to Delray Beach, Florida to take care of my mother one of my most difficult problems was learning how to communicate with her. If you are caring for a person living with Alzheimer's or dementia you know how difficult this can be.

When my mother would say something mean, nonsensical or just downright crazy it would bring up emotions like anger in me immediately. Imagine a person being very mean to you and how you might feel.
I realized early in the game that I needed to learn how to deal effectively with this new, unfamiliar, communication with my mother.

The first thing I decided to do was work very hard to learn a new set of skills to deal with these situations.

I decided I needed to learn how to label (identify) and accept my initial feelings.

What was I feeling: anger, frustration, confusion, sadness or a combination of all of these feelings?

I found that by identifying my feelings I could corral and contain them. Then, I could deal effectively with my mother and the situation at hand.

When the communication was going badly I learned to try and diffuse the situation by saying less, and by trying to get my mother settled down.

As soon as I had the chance, I would go into a separate room and let my feelings come to the surface.

First, identify what I was feeling. Second, allow those feelings to come to the surface -- feel them. Third, dismiss those feeling as part of the sometimes craziness called Alzheimer's disease.

I tried to focus on a simple fact, my mother didn't mean what she was saying and I knew from my previous 50 years with her that she would never say or do the things she was doing if she could help it.

The next thing I would do is take a few deep breaths (usually 4, sometimes more).

Before I knew it, I was able to use this technique to blow away all the bad feelings and find myself relieved.

Start this breathing exercise by taking a deep breath in your nose, and then slowly blow the air out of your mouth. Release all the air. Do this slowly.

When you take these deep breaths you will most likely feel the stress coming out of your body, out of your neck actually.

Later on, I learned to take a few deep breaths once the communication episode with my mother was starting (while it was happening). This really helped me get in focus and reminded me about what needed to be accomplished. The task at hand.

Once you learn to label your feelings, understand them, and then diffuse them by deep breathing, the result will be obvious, you will feel less stress.

What I mean is, you will be diffusing stress, confusion, and anger as you go.

So instead of allowing all the negative emotions to build up inside of you until you explode, you will be dealing with each situation one and a time; and as a result, you will avoid the big "nuclear" explosion that usually leads to one thing - great sadness. Great sadness all the way around.

Here is what I imagined before I did my deep breathing.

I was standing under a very dark cloud. Being under this dark cloud would make me feel very disconcerted. I wanted to get rid of that dark cloud, get it out of my life.

So I started taking deep breaths. Walla. The dark cloud blew away and I was standing in the sun light.

I was standing in the light of acceptance and understanding.

I soon learned that I was re-wiring my brain to deal effectively with common behaviors associated with Alzheimer's that seemed to be driving me nuts.

The behaviors were no longer driving me nuts.

In fact, over time I became calm when my mother would start up with these hard to understand behaviors.

Once I became calm, I learned something new and different. I learned that the best way to communicate with a person living with dementia was to meet their meanness or erratic behavior with an equal and opposite behavior.

I learned how to be kind and gentle.

Guess what happened over time?

Dotty stopped doing most of the things that drove me nuts. Not all of them, most of them.

It might take you a while to learn how to label your feelings, and breath away the dark clouds. But all it takes is a little practice.

Please remember this.

Always be kinder than you feel | Alzheimer's Reading Room

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