Sunday, June 17, 2012

Avoiding Unpleasantness

This summer I have worked out an exchange with a friend whose son needed tutoring in reading. I spend 35 minutes a day teaching her son to read, and she spends that time with my mom. It is a lovely arrangement; Mom receives focused one-on-one time from a caring and kind visitor while my friend's son receives the help he needs to begin the next school year reading at the same level as his peers.

This arrangement has been a blessing and I would urge other caregivers to find similar ways to exchange work assignments. The change itself is refreshing; I'm so happy to be using my teaching skills again and to have a bit of respite from caregiving. 

However, I'm sure you know that most Alzheimer silver linings contain a cloud or two!

The difficulty that has emerged with Mom's daily time with my friend is it elicits a "That was really nice I want more" response in Mom.  Although I am in her room a minimum of seven times a day and often take time to sit down face to face and spend a few minutes chatting with her, she feels a new discontent. It's as though this time with my friend has ruffled her emotional feathers and she lacks the ability to put them back into place on her own.

So she calls. A lot.  She wants " hear a human voice...a diet coke...some talk come in and watch you work...some company..."  In short, although she has no memory that my friend has been to see her, the interaction has somehow roused discontent and she wants more attention!  If I do not respond instantly to her or, Heaven forbid, miss her phonecall, she writes things like this in her journal:  "Called Linda just to talk--was told she was just in here a while ago. Courtesy to the elderly not required. Call no one for anything. Not even if dying. No one can be bothered to reach out to the elderly."

This just makes. me. want. to. SCREAM!  Facts and logic make no difference at all to an Alzheimer patient; lacking memory, Mom's emotions provide the most reliable source of information that she has. If she feels discontent she assumes there is some viable reason for her emotions.  Thus, as her caregiver, it is important that I recognize I am responsible for her emotional well being as well as for her physical comfort.


But, with the Lord's help, and if I can keep myself from reacting as an offended daughter rather than responding as a concerned caregiver; this isn't too difficult for me.  I am learning to ask "What would make Mom happy?"

Oddly, quality time is rarely the answer regardless of the fact that Mom thinks this is what she wants.  When I attempt to spend some extra time with her when she is feeling unhappy, she can't be sweet talked out of her bad feelings.  She will stare at me accusingly and say things like this: "Linda, do you think the elderly deserve good treatment?"  Now let me promise you, there is no right answer to this question. If I answer in the affirmative, as I recently did, she replies, "Well then why don't you think I am getting that kind of treatment?" 

I've learned that what invariably makes Mom happy are gifts--preferably food gifts--but a pretty flower, a new c.d., or any lovely object that I can set on her chairside table work well too.  This afternoon (after the "don't call even if dying" post) I felt a gift of the highest caliber was called for and, since it was her snack time, presented Mom with a fudgy chocolate cupcake and a cup of coffee. Worked like a charm.'s a summary of this rambling post.  1)  Don't shoulder the entire burden of caregiving yourself. Work out an exchange with friends or family so that you and your care recipient both receive a refreshing change of scenery and/or company.  2)  Respond to your care recipient's unhappiness from the perspective of a loving caregiver rather than according to the rules of past relationship roles. 3)  Recognize that although changes of scenery and company may cause emotional upset, the cognitive stimulation such things provide help maintain a higher level of functioning. 4) Find out what makes your care recipient happy and blatantly utilize this strategy to avoid unpleasantness!

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