Oct 17, 2018

How I Used My Forehead to Calm My Mother Living with Alzheimer's

Caring for a person living with Alzheimer's is difficult. Sometimes you just don't know what to do. Imagine my mother saying to me - "get out, I can take care of myself". Imagine what that felt like?

Caring for a person living with Alzheimer's is difficult. Sometimes you just don't know what to do.
I took care of my mother, Dotty, for eight and a half years, 3,112 days.I know what it feels like to be a caregiver. I understand.

One of the biggest, most hurtful problems I faced was when she would tell me - "get out, I don't need you, I can take care of myself".

There I was. I had quit my job, dropped out of the world, and I was taking care of her 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When she said those words it felt like she didn't appreciate me or my effort. Every time she said it, which was often, it hurt me, it hurt my heart.

Then one day I decided to try and do something different to diffuse this problem.

By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

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In the beginning when my mother would say

"get out, I can take care of myself".

I would try to explain to her that she could no longer live by herself. I would try to explain that if I left she would have to go into a "home". Assisted living or nursing home.

When I would do that she would go into her room, get in bed, and refuse to come out.

Me? I would be sitting alone in the living room with a heart and stomach that hurt.

I wracked my brain - what can I do. How can I stop this from happening. I had already tried everything I could think of and none of it worked. It fact, it only made things worse. Ever find yourself in this situation?

Then one day I did something that I could never have expected. When she said

"get out, I can take care of myself"

I simply walked over to her, put my arm around her shoulder, and put my head on her forehead. I said in a low voice, almost a whisper

"I'm here, and I am not going anywhere".

While my forehead was still attached to hers I added something like,

"I'm here to take care of you from now on".

What happened? She didn't run into her bedroom. In fact it seemed to calm her, and diffuse her anger.

I continued to do this each and every time she told me to "get out". Amazingly, after a while she stopped saying it, and never said it again. 

I had finally learned a new and important way to communicate with a person living with Alzheimer's. I learned a lesson.

I learned that trying to reason with someone living with Alzheimer's is like trying to jump over the empire state building in a single bound. It just doesn't work.

Over time, I realized that long winded explanations, trying to cajole, convince, or threaten an Alzheimer's patient don't work. In fact they make things worse.

After my new epiphany on how to diffuse my mom's anger I expanded the forehead technique and used it when she first woke up in the morning. It seemed to calm her.

The I got an even better idea - how about I give her a hug and say something positive like -

good morning, we are going to have a nice day today.

I decided to use the hug in concert with some good old fashion positive reinforcement.

One thing that amazed me as I hugged my mom was that she really warm in the morning. It felt really nice to hug her. It actually started making me feel good about myself. After a while, she started hugging me back. I felt joy - maybe she did too.

I started hugging Dotty 3 times a day. It is my belief that this raised our self esteem. It definitely lowered stress for both of us. One thing is certain, Dotty became nicer and easier to care for.

When I wrote about the hug for the first time I received a handful of emails from readers telling me they couldn't do it. They just didn't hug, or hadn't during their life with their parent.

To them I said - you can't change the past, but you can change the future. The hug will make you feel happier, and likely make you a better caregiver. It works.

As I continued my metamorphosis as a caregiver over those eight and a half years, I continued to learn and develop new and better techniques.

The bottom line

I became kinder and gentler and so did my mom.

Here are a list of articles I wrote as I developed my caregiver tragedy. I hope you will take the time to read and digest them. Keep in mind I developed these techniques over many years. You can learn what I learned and improve you daily life very quickly if you take the time to adsorb this information.

Always be Kinder than You Feel

Always Be Kinder Than You Feel

Kindness is a behavior marked by a pleasant disposition, and real concern for (an)other. Kindness is a virtue.
Aristotle defined kindness as "helpfulness towards someone in need, not in return for anything, nor for the advantage of the helper himself, but for that of the person being helped."


The Importance of Touch and Kindness in Dementia Care

The Importance of Touch and Kindness in Dementia Care

I understood that when my mother said something mean or nasty that it was the Alzheimer's at work. It was not hard to make this cognitive leap. She had never done it before, now she was. What changed? Her brain changed. It was sick.

I did have to remind myself constantly that her new difficult behaviors were - Not Her Fault.


How to Adapt the Caregiver Brain to Alzheimer's and Dementia

If you open your mind, relax, and ask all the right questions you might be surprised to learn that the situation you find yourself in is very different than you are currently imagining.


How to Give the Greatest Hug Ever Invented

I understand how Alzheimer's caregiver feel. I was one.
As part of learning how to communicate more effectively with my mom,

I invented the greatest hug ever.


An Alzheimer's Communication Tip - No More Blah Blah Blah

Eventually, I realized I was drowning my mother with too many words, I decided that I needed to say as few words as possible.

Interestingly, this led to greater use of nonverbal communication. Sometimes I didn't need to say anything. Ever tried that?


The Importance of Nonverbal Communication in Dementia Care

Alzheimer's caregivers are often frustrated by the inability to communicate effectively with a person living with dementia.

Is there a better way to communicate?


The Importance of Self Concept and Self Esteem in Alzheimer's Care

Be optimistic in all you do, not pessimistic.
Develop your own new positive Alzheimer's care concepts. Watch this new found attitude spill over on to your loved one who is living with Alzheimer's or a related dementia.
Remind them how to do things, let them do things, and watch as their self esteem grows and your day and life improves.


How I Stopped My Mother from Being Mean to Me

The bottom line - it is up to you. Wouldn't you rather live a more happy life while caring? Wouldn't you like to bring the highest quality of life possible to your loved one? It took me 3 years to figure out how to stop my mother from being mean to me.


Need Help? Search Our Award Winning Knowledge Base for Answers to Your Questions About Alzheimer's and Dementia

Epiphany an intuitive discovery, realization, or insight. A revealing scene moment. A moment of sudden or great revelation that usually changes you in some way.

Coping requires us to make our own conscious effort to solve personal and interpersonal problems. This allows us to minimize stress, reduce conflict, and to better understand our situation.

Empathy the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Self-esteem is shaped by what you think, by how you feel, by relationships and experiences. When you have healthy self-esteem, you feel good about yourself.

Compassion a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate their suffering.

Hug an act of holding someone tightly in one's arms to express affection, caring, and understanding.

Caregiver is a person who gives help and protection to someone who is sick or in need.

Dementia care is the art of looking after and providing for the needs of a person living with Alzheimer's disease or a related dementia.

Original Content the Alzheimer's Reading Room