Aug 14, 2016

Dementia Care, The Power of YES!

When we enter the world of caregiving, we leave our comfort zones behind; we set out on a journey that is demanding, exhausting and often frightening.

By Tom and Karen Brenner
Alzheimer's Reading Room

We all have our comfort zones; those places, experiences and people who validate us and give us the opportunity to relax and feel comfortable in our own skin.

Because these places, experiences and people make us feel comfortable, we tend to seek them out.

It’s great to be able to kick back, to not worry about anything, to just be ourselves.

Comfort zones are, as the name implies, really nice places to be.

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Hot house tomatoes do really well in their protected, safe environment. But, have you ever tasted the difference between a hot house tomato and a tomato grown in your back yard, a tomato that had to fight storms and droughts and bugs to thrive?

Which one looks the best? The protected hot house tomato looks the best, of course, There are no scars, no holes, no split tops. Ah, but which tomato tastes the best?

There are so many examples in life that demonstrate the importance of leaving our comfort zones.

It takes a great deal of courage, strength and sheer grit to do those things that make us uncomfortable or fearful. It isn’t necessarily physical courage we need to leave our comfortable world, but rather it takes a spiritual courage to understand that our needs, our comfort must be put aside to be of service and help to others.

When we enter the world of caregiving, we leave our comfort zones behind; we set out on a journey that is demanding, exhausting and frightening. 

Caring for another person is all of that, it is also a place where we can test our mettle, give ourselves the opportunity to stretch and grow, to become much more than we ever knew we could, to leave our comfortable world and enter a world we didn’t ask to visit and one we never truly understand.

Here we are and so we must dig deep and bring forth the very best in ourselves: saintly patience, heroic faith and valorous love.

Saintly, heroic and valorous are not adjectives we hear much anymore in the wider world; but we find them everywhere in the world of caregiving.

Take a moment, please, and think of ways in which you demonstrated these adjectives today as you performed your caregiving work.

The one word that we don’t seem to find as often as we should in our caregiving life is a very simple one: the word YES.

Being a caregiver for a person living with dementia, we must, of course, be very concerned with their physical safety, emotional well- being and their health. All of these concerns mean that there are many times when the answer, for safety’s sake, must be no.

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Every time there is an opportunity to say yes as a caregiver, we should strive to do so.

There is such power in this one little word. Yes is filled with validation. ‘Yes, I understand that you want to go home. Can you tell me about your home?’

Yes is filled with opportunity. ‘Yes, let’s paint a picture together.’

Yes is filled with courage. ‘Yes, I know you want to see dad. I do, too. Let’s sing that song together, the one dad always sang in the shower.’

Gather up all the grit and the patience and the love you’ve shown when you left your comfort zone and take that next big step. Say YES!

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You Say Goodbye and We Say Hello

You Say Yes

I am slumped in a wheelchair
My eyes staring and vacant
I tell you I want to see my mother
And you say yes.

I see an old woman looking out of my mirror
I do not know who she is
I tell you I need to take care of my baby
And you say yes.

I look down at hands purple and bruised
I don’t know who they belong to.
I tell you I need to get ready for the dance
And you say yes.

Inside of me lives
A frightened little girl,
A caring young mother
A woman in love

And you know that we are still here
Still living inside of this old woman
Who sits in a wheelchair
Staring at her hands.

You see a life well lived
In my eyes, in my face, in my hands
And so you say yes.
You say yes!

Tom and Karen Brenner are Montessori Gerontologists, researchers, consultants, trainers and writers dedicated to working for culture change in the field of aging. They are authors of You Say Goodbye and We Say Hello: The Montessori Method for Positive Dementia Care. This book earned the Alzheimer's Reading Room seal of approval.

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